Diocesan News

One Year in, Permanent Deacons in the Diocese Reveling in Their Faith

Deacon Timothy Gladson

MARINE PARK — Thomas Gleason has stood in the sanctuary of St. Columba Church in Marine Park many times in his life, dating back to his childhood when he served as an altar boy. But when he stands on the altar these days, it’s a different feeling because now he stands there as a deacon.

“I was an altar boy as a child, so I know my way around a sanctuary. But as a deacon, it’s more of a pivotal role,” he said.

Deacon Gleason, a retired New York City Corrections Officer, was one of 19 men ordained as permanent deacons by Bishop Robert Brennan at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph on May 27, 2023. He summed up his first year as a deacon in four words. “It’s been a whirlwind!” he said.

Deacon Gleason was one of four deacons ordained in the Diocese of Brooklyn last year who recently spoke to The Tablet about their first year — the joys as well as the challenges.

Permanent deacons differ from transitional deacons. While transitional deacons are men studying for the priesthood who serve as deacons for a year prior to ordination, permanent deacons are ordained into the role for life and are often married men with jobs.

Deacon Thomas Gleason

Permanent deacons have taken on more responsibility in the Catholic Church. That includes baptizing babies, witnessing and blessing marriages, leading prayers at wakes, and presiding over the Liturgy of the Hours. 

Their service is needed. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) the number of priests in the U.S. has decreased by more than 50% over the past 50 years.

One of the joys of serving as a deacon came quickly for  Deacon Gleason. “My highlight was that shortly after ordination was my first baptism,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ I’ve always sat there as a spectator, never as a baptizer. You really feel that special glow of the Holy Spirit working through you.”

Deacon Gleason not only serves St. Columba Church, he works there too. He’s a plant manager. As a deacon, he found the preparations for Christmas and Holy Week to be his biggest challenges. “I didn’t realize how much went into the planning and preparation into things like the Easter Vigil. That was kind of surprising. Years of being a spectator is one thing, but then when you’re involved, it’s a whole different ball game,” he explained.

Deacon Timothy Gladson

One of the best parts of Deacon Timothy Gladson’s role at Our Lady of the Snows Church in Floral Park is the relationship he has with the parishioners. People often come up to him and ask him to pray for a friend or relative.

It’s always a very powerful moment, he said. “It is such an intimate close moment. People tell me, ‘My cousin has cancer or a friend of mine is having family issues’ and they ask me to pray for them. I feel that I become an interceder for all of them,” he explained.

Like many deacons The Tablet interviewed, Deacon Gladson had to hit the ground running. In the first month following his ordination, he baptized six babies. Over the past year, he has baptized many more and has delivered numerous homilies. 

He believes that teaching others about the faith is part of his duties, and he tries to do that whenever he gets the chance.

Take baptism, for example. “I feel that this is a great catechism moment for people. So I explain the rituals, why we use the oil, what is the reason for the candle, and why are we inviting parents to the entrance. I tell them the reason why we do this at the entrance is because we’re welcoming a new member into our family,” he said.

Deacon Gladson, a senior vice president for Wells Fargo Advisors, said he hasn’t faced any significant challenges his first year, although he admitted that he found Holy Week more hectic than he thought it would be.

Deacon George Velez

Deacon George Velez

Settling into his role as a deacon wasn’t challenging for Deacon George Velez of Sts. Peter and Paul-Epiphany Parish in Williamsburg. His new life as a deacon helped him cope with a tragedy in his personal life. Three months after his ordination, his wife of 25 years, Amarilys Velez, passed away after a 17-month-long battle with lung cancer. 

It was she who had encouraged him to become a deacon, so it meant a great deal to him that she was somehow able to have the strength to attend his Mass of Thanksgiving a few days after his ordination, “which was the first time I got to preach,” he recalled.

“By the following week, she was in the hospital,” he added. She passed away on Aug. 11, 2023.

Father Jason Espinal, the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul-Epiphany, was understanding of his situation and encouraged Deacon Velez to spend every minute he could at his wife’s side. “He told me, ‘Go, be a husband.’ I was so grateful to him,” he said. Deacon Velez delivered the homily at Amarilys’s funeral Mass. It was her dying wish.

After enduring the passing of his beloved wife, he felt that he could handle anything in life. His personal suffering has brought him closer to the parishioners, he said. He feels a greater empathy to those who are going through difficult times in their lives.

Deacon Velez, who performs administrative duties for a clinic that works with the Family Court system in New York State, delivers the homily at Mass at least once a month — a task that he loves. “I had the opportunity and was granted the grace to preach at the Vigil Mass,” he said.

He has baptized many babies and led prayers at numerous wakes over the past year. In addition to his duties as a deacon, he also leads pre-Cana classes for English-speaking and and Spanish-speaking couples and teaches a Bible study class. “I’m busy. But that’s good,” he said.

Deacon Dimitri Santana with Bishop Witold

Deacon Dimitri Santana

Deacon Dimitri Santana of St. Michael’s Church in Flushing said he has found his first year to be humbling. 

“There is a reinforced awareness that this isn’t about me. It’s about how I can serve people,” he explained. “We have to be available to those in need. And that is at the forefront of my ministry, especially in this parish, where people are not as affluent and therefore the need is there, both spiritually and economically.”

His most important duty as a deacon, he said, is to listen. “It’s true that sometimes people will come up to me after hearing my homily at Mass and tell me, ‘You said exactly what I needed to hear at this moment in my life.’ And that’s meaningful to me. But I think people sometimes just need someone to talk to and it’s important to listen — not talk, just listen,” he said.

Deacon Santana, a software engineer, said it is challenging balancing his work life and his duties at church. “But I have very understanding bosses,” he added.

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