OZONE PARK — Becoming deacons was never part of the plan for brothers Jose Jr. and Diego Oviedo. Despite their father being a proud deacon, it was not a ministry they ever felt a strong calling toward. But when their father, Jose Sr., died in 2019, something changed. They heard the calling.
In the years since, both Jose Jr., 54, and Diego, 49, started the five-year process to become permanent deacons. Exactly five years apart in age themselves, the two brother’s journeys run parallel to one another. Both are aspirants, the first stage of formation, in their second year, and are hopeful to become candidates next year.
Jose Sr. was ordained in 2007, and he served at St. Sylvester’s Catholic Church in Cypress Hills — two miles from Diego’s parish at St. Mary Gate of Heaven in Ozone Park. His deep love for the community and devotion to the ministry was prevalent in his everyday life.
“I know he is watching me. I know he is proud of me and he is proud of what I am doing,” Diego said.
Going through the program together, Diego and Jose Jr. support one another through phone call conversations, since the latter lives in North Carolina. They are already planning how they will be at each other’s ordination ceremonies, and how in each they want to wear the vestments their father wore during his own ordination.
“He’s really a role model. When I need advice, I remember him. Every single word that he told me. Every single thing that he taught me. That will really help me move forward with this,” Jose Jr. said.
Jose Jr.’s journey began after seeing his father terminally ill toward the end of his life. He decided to attend a retreat through Christ Renews His Parish, where he heard testimony from “fellow brothers” from Central America and Mexico about when they immigrated across the border.
“I really heard Christ when he told me I got to help these people,” Jose Jr. said. Soon after, he took two years of lay ministry courses, but still felt there was more he was called to, and after a conversation with his wife, he decided to begin the diaconate program. He was surprised when he got the call from his brother, saying that he felt he was called to do the same.
Jose Jr. and Diego, two of nine children, inherited their faith from their parents, as many in the Hispanic community have. They were born in Colombia, a predominantly Catholic country, before immigrating to New York City in 1986.
“I think that is one of the biggest things that drives me to the diaconate: to unite the Spanish community with other communities,” Diego said.
Latinos remain about twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic, according to a report released in April by the Pew Research Center. The report also shows that 65% of Latinos say that they were raised Catholic.
This trend is reflected in the Diocese of Brooklyn, according to data from Deacon Julio Barreneche, secretary for clergy personnel. Nearly half of the diaconate, 96 of the 206 in total, is Hispanic.
To become deacons, Jose Jr. and Diego must take classes on subjects like theology, philosophy, and deacon spirituality alongside periodic retreats. If they complete the process, they will be able to assist at the Eucharistic liturgy, witness marriages, lead vigils at funerals, administer baptisms, and preach. Jose Jr.’s children have already begun insinuating that they want him to officiate the weddings of his grandchildren when they get older.
“They are really happy that they have someone they can trust and talk to about things,” Jose Jr. said.
A vast majority of deacons are married, and their wives play significant roles in the church. Diego’s wife, Jenny Oviedo, participates in holy hours, marriage groups, and is a catechist at St. Mary Gate of Heaven. Their roots to the parish stretch back decades — it is the church where they were married 21 years ago.
“It just seemed natural,” Jenny, 47, said of her husband’s decision to become a deacon. “Although we didn’t think about it beforehand, when we actually got the call [from God] and we listened, I think it just kind of fell into place. We knew it was going to be hard work, but I think that God was going to open the doors.”
Interacting with fellow Latinos at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, Diego seamlessly transitions to speaking in Spanish, a skill that parishioner Daisy Mendoza says is undervalued. An immigrant from El Salvador, Mendoza says Diego is perfect for the ministry, “if God wants him to be a deacon.”
Mendoza, 57, is a 27-year parishioner of St. Mary Gate of Heaven and has been a catechist for five years alongside Jenny.
“There is no doubt that he will be a good deacon,” she said. “We are so, so happy. I’m praying for this.”