The members of Rochester’s first class of permanent deacons are celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year. After receiving diaconal training at Rochester’s former St. Bernard’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Institute (now called St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry), the 30-year deacons were ordained April 17, 1982, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Permanent deacons celebrating their 25th jubilees also received diaconal training at St. Bernard’s Institute and were ordained at the cathedral by Bishop Clark on May 30, 1987.
Parish ministry has been a constant source of satisfaction for Deacon Dominick Abballe throughout his three decades of ministry.
Deacon Abballe belonged to St. Michael Parish in Rochester as a child, and as an adult he joined and was actively involved in St. Christopher Parish in North Chili.
After ordination he served at St. Christopher, where he and his wife, Joan, were instrumental in launching the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. In the late 1980s he left St. Christopher and briefly served at St. Paul Parish in Webster before being assigned to St. Patrick Parish in Macedon in 1988. He was involved with that parish’s RCIA and adult-education programs until his retirement in 2004, but continued to assist at the parish for several years after his retirement.
After leaving St. Patrick, he began ministering to a senior-citizen community in Webster and helping with the RCIA at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption. Over the years Deacon Abballe had worked with a variety of other ministries and groups, including the former Genesee Hospital and a community organization in Rochester’s inner city. He also had served as the deputy lay director for the region’s Cursillo movement in the late 1970s.
A retired school principal, Deacon Abballe marked his jubilee by meeting with classmates for a celebratory lunch at Cherry Ridge. The deacon said he’s grateful for the joy his vocation has brought him.
"It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me and a great experience and a great blessing," he said.
Deacon Stephen Carroll of Brighton works full time as a bus driver and lunch aide for the Pittsford Central School District and Monroe No. 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services. He said he considers his work to be an extension of his ministry as a deacon, especially when he has the opportunity to work with children with special needs.
"(Special-needs children) have taught me a whole lot about life," said Deacon Carroll, who is assigned to Church of the Assumption in Fairport.
After attending McQuaid Jesuit and John Carroll University, he worked as an engineer with Xerox Corp. before his diaconal ordination and going into ministry full time.
He served at St. Mary of the Lake, Ontario; St. Joseph, Penfield; St. Michael, Newark; Church of the Assumption, Fairport; St. Ambrose, Rochester; St. Patrick, Victor; St. Francis de Sales, Geneva; St. Felix/St. Francis, Clifton Springs/Phelps; and St. Thomas More, Brighton.
One of the highlights of his service has been the opportunity to minister to people of all ages, from children up to adults, Deacon Carroll said. He also has had the opportunity to officiate at the marriages of his four children and to baptize all of his nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He said he is looking forward to the birth of two more great-grandchildren in the early fall.
"It has been a very special journey," he said of his diaconal service.
"It’s just overwhelming to be a part of that particular history," Deacon Ray Defendorf said of being part of the inaugural diocesan class of permanent deacons. "I’ve had so many opportunities over the years because of that ministry."
Deacon Defendorf grew up in Rochester’s Holy Redeemer and Greece’s St. Charles Borromeo parishes. A graduate of Monroe Community College and SUNY Buffalo, he has worked as an elementary-school teacher, radio disc jockey, nursery-school administrator, children’s television producer, hospital audiovisual coordinator and hospital director of community relations/fund development. He also has been highly active in theater and music.
In 1996 he became pastoral associate at what is now All Saints Parish in Corning/Painted Post. From 2001-04 he served as pastoral administrator at St. James in Waverly and St. Pius X in Van Etten. He then was pastoral administrator of St. Mary in Bath from 2004 until retiring from full-time duty in 2009.
Deacon Defendorf is currently a parish deacon at All Saints. He assists Catholics who have been away from the church; ministers at Steuben County Jail; and helps with Health Ministry of the Southern Tier, which he cofounded.
He and his wife, Patricia, have three children and two grandchildren with a third on the way. They are summer house managers of Catholic House at the Chautauqua Institution near Jamestown. The couple also has led many pilgrimages and faith-based cruises around the world, particularly the Holy Land.
One of Deacon Bill Dougherty’s fondest memories from his lengthy diaconate occurred in 1994, when St. Casimir Parish in Elmira became clustered with St. Charles Borromeo, where he was already serving as deacon.
"They had never seen a deacon at St. Casimir," he noted. "But they were so gracious and generous and accepting."
These days, deacons have become a much more familiar presence than was the case in the early years.
"It certainly has evolved. It is an entirely different operation, for sure," he said.
Deacon Dougherty is a native of Andover, N.Y. He attended Alfred University and Syracuse University and was a longtime administrator in the Elmira Heights Central School District, serving as superintendent. Upon his 1982 ordination, Deacon Dougherty began as deacon in St. Charles Borromeo Parish and remained in that role until retiring from active duty in 2007.
Deacon Dougherty and his wife, Mary, have three children and one grandchild. He said he enjoys meeting occasionally with other Southern Tier deacons, which he said "kind of keeps me in touch." With his 1982 deacon classmate, Deacon George Welch, he also helps provide pastoral care at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira.
In addition, Deacon Dougherty has been involved over the years with Elmira College campus ministry; the Knights of Columbus; Elmira Heights Rotary; and as chaplain of the Elmira Heights Police Department.
Although the first class of permanent deacons didn’t know what to expect in their new roles after ordination, priests and parishes soon began turning to them for help, recalled Deacon Stanley J. Douglas.
"I’ve loved every minute of it," said Deacon Douglas, who is retired from his role as director of community relations and fund development at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira.
In addition to his work at the hospital, Deacon Douglas hosted a morning radio show in Elmira and a radio polka program and served as a program director for a radio station. Before becoming deacon, he volunteered his time as an announcer, speaker and emcee.
He worked as chaplain at Elmira’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and at the parishes of St. Mary in Elmira, St. Helen in Gates, St. Rita in Webster, and St. Cecilia in Irondequoit. He still assists at parishes in Webster.
He is a native of Erie, Pa., who attended Cathedral Preparatory in Erie and Cambridge School of Radio/Television Broadcast in Boston, Mass. He served as president of the board of directors of the Southern Tier Office of Social Ministry, which was renamed Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier in 1994.
He also was recently named an honorary life member of the Trinity Council 4618 of the Knights of Columbus in Webster.
Deacon Douglas noted that his ministry would not have been possible if his wife, Joanne, had not given her blessing when he was taken away from family time by such duties as attending to car accidents or hospital visits. The couple has three children and six grandchildren.
"She got me through this, and she’s always been supportive of it," he said.
When deaf ministries across the country needed to interpret in sign language the new English translation of the Roman Missal, they turned for help to Deacon Patrick Graybill.
Deacon Graybill has been featured in video presentations about the new translation and has led workshops across the globe about religious sign language. A native of Overland Park, Kan., Deacon Graybill graduated from the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe and from Gallaudet University, where he taught at the Kendall School for the Deaf.
As an actor with the National Theater for the Deaf from 1969-79, he became known nationally for his theatrical performances. Yet he moved to Rochester at the urging of Father Thomas Erdle, who encouraged him to study here and become a deacon.
He ministers at Rochester’s Emmanuel Church of the Deaf, and retired from NTID’s chaplaincy and professorship in 2004 after 23 years. He also has taught Old Testament and New Testament studies in the program of pastoral ministries for the deaf at St. Thomas University in Miami, Fla.
He is a missionary with the International Catholic Deaf Association, and he presents weekend retreats nationally, preaches homilies and visits deaf parishioners. He also enjoys storytelling and poetry.
Among highlights of his ministry are translating and narrating the Gospel of Mark, the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke, which were distributed by Sign Media Inc. He also translated and narrated a Mass in American Sign Language for a videotape distributed by the National Catholic Office for the Deaf.
Although he spent much of his ministry helping families at area parishes, now that Deacon Dan Kinsky has been assigned to serve at St. Ann’s Community, he is focused on a different population.
"At St. Ann’s I’m dealing with the people who are closest to heaven, and who are in the final stages of their life on Earth," said Deacon Kinsky of Fairport.
He grew up in St. Anne Parish in Rochester and St. Louis Parish in Pittsford. He attended McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton and St. John Fisher College in Pittsford before earning a master’s degree in business administration from SUNY Albany.
After ordination, he was assigned to Church of the Resurrection in Fairport (1982-97), where he led the baptismal program and was involved in the parish’s Stephen Ministry and sacramental-preparation program. He worked for the diocesan Office of Family Life from 1982-85, and developed pre-Cana programs and activities geared toward families and marriage.
In 1997, he was assigned to St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport, where he and his wife, Sheila, ran the baptismal- and wedding-preparation programs.
He has witnessed the weddings of all of his five children, including one at Rochester’s Blessed Sacrament Church, where he and his wife were married. His youngest daughter was born after his ordination, so he was able to baptize her, and he has baptized all nine of his grandchildren.
Deacon Kinsky retired in June 2011 from his position as a technical-sales specialist for Strategic Computer Solutions. He previously had retired from IBM.
When Deacon Nemesio "Vellon" Martínez was reassigned to Holy Apostles Church a few years ago, it felt like a homecoming, he said.
"I was coming back to my home parish after 26 years" with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, he said. "It was not difficult for me."
He also had an edge as his wife, Bruni, is the parish’s coordinator of Hispanic ministries.
But, he explained, the Spanish Mass at Holy Apostles has evolved from what he recalls during the early years of Hispanic ministry at the church. Parishioners now represent more than 14 Latin American countries, whereas a majority previously were from Puerto Rico, he noted. He himself moved to the Rochester area from Humacao, Puerto Rico, in 1974.
"It’s a challenge to get to know the cultures and ways of worship," he said. "But it can be done."
He also has seen new challenges in his job as chaplain of Livingston Correctional Facility in Sonyea.
Because of a shortage of chaplains, his duties have expanded to counseling not only Catholic prisoners but also of other faiths. In that role, Deacon Martínez said he mainly serves as a liaison between the prisoners and prison administrators. He also helps organize special events for them.
"I’m just their voice in administration," he noted. "I only serve as a pastoral adviser for my own faith."
Deacon Martínez first became interested in prison ministry when he used to visit prisons as a volunteer with his wife. He became a prison chaplain in 1992.
At 63, he said he may retire in a few years so he can focus on doing more community work.
Deacon William Maune has traveled around quite a bit in his lifetime, but he’s lived out his faith in each place he’s resided.
A native of the New York City area, Deacon Maune worked for a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Co. and was transferred at least five times throughout his career. The first move took him to Chicago, where he and his wife, Winifred, settled in Park Forest. After 10 years there he was relocated twice more, first to Connecticut and then to Boston. While in Connecticut his pastor told him about the permanent diaconate and urged him to think about it, but he didn’t seriously consider the vocation until his pastor at St. Lawrence Parish in Greece also broached the topic with him.
The Maunes had joined St. Lawrence after relocating to Rochester in 1974, and after Deacon Maune was ordained the couple became very involved in the parish’s religious-education and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. Several years later he and his wife left their positions at St. Lawrence and took new assignments in religious education at Rochester’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. Deacon Maune also served as associate director of the diocesan Office of the Diaconate during that time.
He later served for several years at St. Mark Parish in Greece before he and his wife moved back to Park Forest and joined St. Irenaeus Parish in 1994. There the Maunes found a new place to serve and began visiting ill parishioners and running the parish’s Bible-study group.
Race riots in Houston and a job opportunity prompted Deacon Anthony Mercadel to move his young family to Rochester more than four decades ago.
Not only did he and his wife, Jean, never leave, but Deacon Mercadel said he found a calling in ministry at Guardian Angels Parish in Henrietta.
When the New Orleans native took a job at Eastman Kodak Co. and moved to the Rochester area with Jean and their four children, they found themselves without furniture because of a mix-up, he explained with a chuckle. But neighbors quickly took action and set them up in their new place, he noted.
In the meantime, they also had discovered Guardian Angels, he added.
"They welcomed us with open arms," Deacon Mercadel remarked. "It really was a white parish. We were the first African-Americans the parishioners had ever seen, but they were going out of their way to welcome us."
That warm reception made such an impression that the Mercadels quickly got involved in parish life, he noted.
"My wife and I had always been very close to the church," Deacon Mercadel said. "We attended Mass almost daily, so it wasn’t hard to make the transition."
The couple began overseeing the parish’s Marriage Encounter ministry, he said, noting that they were married 47 "wonderful years" before his wife died more seven years ago. But upon seeing the challenges faced by parishioners with developmental disabilities coming to church, Deacon Mercadel said he soon turned his attention to how their needs could be better served. He went on to offer Communion services and other gatherings for the residents at Monroe Developmental Center with help from parish volunteers, he explained.
"God was working in all of this," Deacon Mercadel noted.
Following his retirement in 1991 after 23 years with Kodak, he began visiting nursing homes and extended-care facilities.
"It’s a whole new way of life for many of them," he said of the people he met. "They no longer have a home. Their families many times are not even in town anymore. So, I go and talk with them and help them reminisce. That’s a big part of ministry as far as I’m concerned."
He continues making such visits to this day.
"All I can say is it’s a blessing," he remarked. "God has been very good to me."
Deacon Kenneth Scarciotta became a permanent deacon because the vocation provided him with a way to fuse his Catholic faith and love of God with his talents in teaching, music, community building and organization.
Before discerning his call to the permanent diaconate in the late 1970s, Deacon Scarciotta studied at St. Michael’s College, St. Bonaventure University and the University of Rochester, and taught middle-school Spanish in the Brighton Central School District. He hoped that becoming a deacon would help him live his life in a way that would reflect the Gospel and be an example of his faith and love of God and the Catholic Church.
He and his late wife, Mary Agnes, belonged to St. Ambrose Parish in Rochester at the time of his ordination, and he served there during the early years of his ministry. He also served at Holy Redeemer Parish in Rochester and St. Joseph Parish in Penfield. He worked in a variety of ministries, but said he especially enjoyed visiting ill parishioners in local hospitals and developing friendships with them. He also enjoyed preaching and sharing God’s message with others.
After retiring from active ministry he served for several years at Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish and until recently at St. Ann’s Community, where he distributed Communion and sometimes preached. He currently resides at Webster’s Cherry Ridge, which is part of St. Ann’s Community.
Deacon Scarciotta marked his jubilee by meeting with classmates for a celebratory lunch at Cherry Ridge and assisting at an April Mass, also at Cherry Ridge.
Upon reflecting on his 30th anniversary of ordination. Deacon Carlos Vargas said a lot has changed for him during the last five years.
He said the biggest change in his pastoral life was his reassignment from Rochester’s Holy Apostles Church to Our Lady of the Americas Church, which is part of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish.
"It disrupted my whole life," remarked Deacon Vargas. "It was tough."
But fortunately, he explained, his initial discomfort was eased by the welcome he received from the community at his new parish, especially from the non-Hispanic parishioners.
"The acceptance was great," he said. "It turned out well."
Demands on his time also have increased as he works on diocesan initiatives to improve overall ministry for Hispanics and reach out to youths. For the latter initiative, he is striving not only to keep Latino teens and young people active in the church, but also doing well in school and in the community, Deacon Vargas explained.
"A lot of things are coming along," he added. "God’s work is never done."
Deacon Vargas first moved to the area from his native Puerto Rico when he was 12. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Roberts Wesleyan College in 1990. Additionally, he studied computer sciences at Rochester Business Institute and Monroe Community College. He worked at Taylor Instruments for 24 years, and retired last year after nearly two decades with Gannett Newspapers, most recently as a computer-programmer supervisor. He and his wife, Cerefina, have been married nearly 44 years and have five children.
Following retirement, Deacon Vargas took on another new role as an instructor at El Instituto de Pastoral Hispano at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. He said he began teaching courses on liturgy and spirituality last year.
He said he is especially proud to be so active in ministry — along with Deacon Nemesio Martínez — as one of the pioneer group of Hispanic deacons who were ordained 30 years ago. The two other deacons in that group have passed away, he said.
And as long as he is able, Deacon Vargas said he plans to continue providing service to others.
"You’re done when … (God) is done with you," he said.
Over his three decades in the diaconate, Deacon George Welch has gained a growing appreciation that his duties cannot be compartmentalized into certain days, times, activities or places.
"The way you start to see your life, you begin to see God in everything," he said. "I’m a deacon, a person of ministry — and that’s in everything I do whether at the altar, at the hospital or helping with a community agency."
A native of St. James Parish in Waverly, Deacon Welch obtained his bachelor’s degree from St. Bernard’s Seminary and master’s from Elmira College. He was a longtime elementary-school principal in the Elmira City School District, and immediately upon his retirement in 2002, he began full-time chaplaincy at St. Joseph’s Hospital. In July 2011, he became the director of pastoral care for both St. Joseph’s and Arnot Ogden Medical Center when those two Elmira hospitals consolidated.
He also remains active as deacon in Elmira’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, and thrives as coordinator of a contemplative prayer outreach across the Southern Tier. (Visit www.cosoutherntier.org for details.)
"Contemplative outreach has been just a very powerful experience for me and the people who are involved in it," he said.
Deacon Welch added that being there to assist people — especially those who are hurting in one way or another — has been vital in his career and diaconate. "It’s a ministry of presence," he said.
He and his wife, Paula, have two children and two grandchildren.
Deacon Eugene Edwards had only been a Catholic for a short time when he applied to the formation program for the permanent diaconate.
Deacon Anthony Mercadel, a friend of Deacon Edwards and his wife, Karoly, urged the couple to consider the diaconate program. Having just gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Henrietta’s Good Shepherd Parish five years earlier, Deacon Edwards was certain that he hadn’t been Catholic long enough to be accepted into the program. But but Deacon Mercadel was persistent.
"He said to try it and I did, and to my surprise they said, ‘Welcome.’ It’s been a wonderful time ever since. I just love everything I do for the church right now," Deacon Edwards said.
Parish ministry always has been enjoyable for Deacon Edwards, who served for a number of years at Good Shepherd before retiring from active ministry. He later joined St. Rose Parish in Lima, which is clustered with St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls and St. Agnes Parish in Avon, and he currently helps out at those three parishes. He assists at weekend Masses, leads Communion services, and visits hospitalized and homebound parishioners.
Deacon Edwards and his wife were heavily involved in Marriage Encounter, logging 100 Marriage Encounter weekend retreats over the years, he said. The deacon also is chaplain for the Rochester Fire Department Protectives, to which he has belonged since 2002.
He will celebrate his jubilee with a June 26 chicken barbecue at St. Rose.
Deacon Jim Fitch originally started discerning a potential call to the permanent diaconate because he saw a need in the local Catholic community.
"I thought there was a need there with the decreasing number of priests … and there might be something I could do to help," he recalled.
Deacon Fitch grew up in an evangelical Protestant household, but converted to Catholicism after meeting his future wife, Donna. He began attending Mass with her at St. Michael Church in Newark, where he met Father Joseph McDonnell. Under the pastor’s instruction he converted to Catholicism several years before marrying his wife in 1958 at St. Michael, where they later taught religious-education classes together. The couple also served together at Church of the Resurrection in Fairport and in the diocesan Family Life Office. For a number of years, the Fitches, who have six sons, coordinated marriage preparation for the diocese, ran the pre-Cana program at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish and brought to the diocese the Retrouvaille program, which is designed to help troubled marriages.
Deacon Fitch served again with his wife in the parish cluster of St. Anne in Palmyra, St. Gregory in Marion and St. Patrick in Macedon, which eventually became St. Katherine Drexel Parish. They retired from active ministry in 2008, but still are involved with Stephen Ministry at the parish. Deacon Fitch continues serving as a chaplain at Wayne County Nursing Home in Lyons. He worked for Chase Manhattan Bank for 42 years before retiring in 1994 as an assistant vice president and retail sales manager.
After many years as a mid-level manager in the banking industry, Deacon Richard Lombard began a career in parish ministry after being ordained a permanent deacon in 1987. Most of the ensuing quarter-century has been spent at Holy Name of Jesus in Greece, where he enjoyed such a positive experience during his pre-ordination field ministry that he became a parishioner there.
"I really fell in love with the parish," he said.
Deacon Lombard served as full-time pastoral associate at Holy Name of Jesus from 1987-99. After brief stints as campus minister at Rochester Institute of Technology and chaplain at Rochester General Hospital, he became pastoral associate at Greece’s Our Lady of Mercy Parish and remained in that capacity for eight years until the church closed in 2010. Then it was back to Holy Name of Jesus, where he currently serves as part-time deacon.
He had grown up in Rochester’s Ss. Peter and Paul Parish and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Empire State College. He and his wife, Rose Marie, have three children and seven grandchildren.
Deacon Lombard and his wife are longtime presenters for Isaiah Ministries, a national preaching ministry, giving missions all over the state. They also have led several trips to the Holy Land. Deacon Lombard added that he is passionate about promoting ecumenism and has discovered a strong affinity for officiating at funerals as well.
"I am so privileged when people allow me to walk with them when they’re bereaved. I can feel the Holy Spirit," he said.