The following permanent deacons are celebrating 25 and 30 years of ministry this year. All were ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral by Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark. Those celebrating 30 years were ordained on April 9, 1983, and those celebrating 25 years were ordained on June 5, 1988.
Deacon William F. Coffey maintains several ministries in retirement, including the one for which he’s best known: organizing prayer vigils where homicides have occurred.
"This is our 15th year of doing this ministry; we have been to most (homicide) spots in the city (of Rochester) and the county (of Monroe)," he noted.
Additionally, he has preached in many states on behalf of the ecumenical relief organization Food for the Poor, with which he has traveled several times to Jamaica and Haiti to help build houses. He also continues to provide spiritual direction and preach at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in Rochester, and assists at his childhood parish, St. Joseph in Penfield.
He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from St. Bonaventure University, and retired in 1992 as a chemist for Eastman Kodak. Diaconal assignments for Deacon Coffey were at Rochester’s Genesee Hospital, St. Christopher Parish in North Chili, and St. Ambrose and St. Mary parishes in Rochester. He and his wife, MaryLu, reside in Macedon.
Deacon Coffey said he constantly observes the workings of the Catholic Church among those in the greatest need: "It is the church that Jesus ministered to in his life. I think and hope that Pope Francis will turn us a little more toward this church."
Deacon Ramon "Ray" Datz currently spends much of his time chauffeuring people to courthouses, doctors’ offices and grocery stores. Although he’s retired from his former position as executive director of Hamlin’s Life Solutions, Deacon Datz is still very much involved in helping Hamlin’s needy through the organization.
"There’s a lot of people out here that have no car, no finances," he explained.
Deacon Datz has devoted much of his life to serving others. A graduate of Rochester’s St. Andrew’s Seminary, Aquinas Institute and St. John Fisher College, Deacon Datz served his country as a naval aviator, flying P-2 Neptune jets for 18 years. He worked at Eastman Kodak Co. for 30 years before his department was sold to IBM, from which he retired in 1998.
In the years since his ordination, he has served at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Churchville, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin and the Newman Catholic Campus Center at SUNY Brockport. He’s currently involved in social ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and with Cephas prison ministry at Albion Correctional Facility.
Deacon Datz and his wife, Barbara, have four children and seven grandchildren. Their wedding anniversary falls near the anniversary of Deacon Datz’s ordination, so the couple celebrated both occasions by going out to dinner.
While he was in the midst of diaconal formation, Deacon Gregory Doyle saw the need to help provide additional pastoral support for people recovering from addictive or compulsive behaviors. That’s why in 1981 he founded Matt Talbot Ministries, a nondenominational program of spiritual assistance that complements such 12-step programs as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Deacon Doyle, who is spiritual director for Matt Talbot Ministries, said the ministry operated at the former St. Augustine Church in Rochester before moving to St. Ambrose and then to Blessed Sacrament Parish.
He previously served at the Reform School at Industry and St. Augustine and Blessed Sacrament parishes in Rochester. A resident of Ontario, Deacon Doyle was formerly CEO of The Doyle Group, a security and investigations company. He grew up in Webster’s Holy Trinity Parish and attended St. Monica School, Aquinas Institute, St. John Fisher College, St. Joseph College in Albuquerque, N.M., and the University of Rochester. He completed his diaconal training at St. Bernard’s Seminary, St. Bernard’s Institute and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
He and his wife, Margaret, have five children and 16 grandchildren.
Deacon John Erb credits his parish priest, Father George Cocuzzi, with encouraging him to consider the permanent diaconate. Because Deacon Erb had already earned a master’s degree in divinity from St. Bernard Seminary, he was one of several people who helped coordinate the field-education program for the first classes of permanent deacons.
His home parish is St. Patrick in Prattsburgh, and he attended St. John Fisher College, St. Bernard’s Seminary, St. Bernard’s Institute and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Deacon Erb is an investment specialist and vice president of Erb Financial, a tax, planning and investments firm in Gates. A resident of Gates, he is assigned to Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community’s parishes in Yates County.
He formerly served at Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier in Rochester; St. Francis in Phelps; and Cameron Community Ministries, an ecumenical urban community center in Rochester. He has been affiliated with the National Center for the Laity, St. Michael’s Woodshop, Cephas Attica and West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest. He also served on Rochester City Council and was a Monroe County legislator.
Deacon Joseph Federowicz continues to assist at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County, where he has served since being ordained.
"I’m officially retired because I’m not signed up for anything, but do as much as I can," he said, noting that he helps primarily at St. Margaret Mary Church located in Apalachin, where he resides with his wife, Patricia.
For the past six years he also has served as part-time chaplain at Lourdes Hospice in Binghamton, which he considers one of the highlights of his ministry.
"It really is something, how the Lord uses me," he said. "When I go to visit patients, they seem to be at ease when I’m in their presence. They seem to accept me and we get into some discussion about end of life."
Deacon Federowicz is a native of Pennsylvania, where he attended Kings College and began a career of 20-plus years with IBM. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1972 from Elmira College.
His past ministries have included chaplaincy at Elmira Psychiatric Center; helping found an Apalachin-area ecumenical group to serve the poor; and working with Catholic Charities programs for pregnant teens and marriage preparation. He and his wife also have teamed for numerous Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and Charismatic Renewal initiatives over the years.
Deacon Thomas J. Kluchko’s said his calling to the diaconate arose from several renewal experiences he and his wife, Joyce, experienced, including Cursillo, Marriage Encounter and the charismatic-renewal movement.
Born in Pennsylvania, Deacon Kluchko grew up in Rochester and attended St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church. He studied at Aquinas Institute, St. John Fisher College, St. Bernard’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Institute.
Now retired, Deacon Kluchko worked for Eastman Kodak Co. for more than 30 years as an information technology systems analyst and for West Group as a software test engineer.
After ordination, Deacon Kluchko began working with the Diocesan Office of Evangelization, where he helped plan and present an evangelization gathering called Harvestfold 100. He served twice at Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece for 11 years and five years, and at St. Mark’s Parish for 12 years. During his parish work, he maintained a focus on evangelization and reaching out to inactive Catholics. He said he is now retired from diaconal assignment but fills in as needed.
Deacon Kluchko and his wife have four children and eight grandchildren.
Even though Deacon Juan Lebrón moved away from the area nearly 20 years ago, he still has fond memories of the people he worked with during his ministry in Rochester.
And he is proud that his work mainly revolved around helping "the poor and the less fortunate," said Deacon Lebrón, who now lives in Brandon, Fla.
"I would go to the migrant camps," he added. "And I would go to the jail."
Deacon Lebrón moved to Rochester from Guayama, Puerto Rico, in 1957 to find work and eventually landed a job at Eastman Kodak Co., from which he retired in 1990.
After his ordination, he served at the former St. Francis Xavier/Holy Redeemer Church also until 1990.
Deacon Lebrón, 79, and his family moved back to Puerto Rico in 1990, and he served as a deacon for San Antonio de Padua Church in Guayama until 1993.
The family returned to Rochester for a couple of years before choosing to settle in Florida, added Deacon Lebrón, who said they now are parishioners at Nativity Church.
Deacon Lebrón said he has not had the opportunity to continue his ministry at his church but does take part in a prayer group.
"I’m too old to work too much now (anyway)," he joked.
Deacon Lebrón and his wife, Lydia, have four children, seven children and two great-grandchildren.
In 2012 Deacon Claude Lester found a new way to combine his faith with his passion for education. He took a lead role in the diocesan response to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate the U.S. bishops believe would force many Catholics to violate their consciences. Last summer he served as chief organizer for the two-week Festival for Freedom, which was presented at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua and featured more than two dozen well-known speakers and panel discussions.
Deacon Lester, who holds degrees from St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, Syracuse University, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Geneseo, taught in the Gates-Chili School District and at St. Agnes School in Avon, and served as director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls before becoming a deacon.
After ordination he served at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Rochester, St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield, St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua and in the bishop’s office. He currently is catechetical leader and social-ministry director at St. Benedict Parish, which was formed when St. Bridget/St. Joseph and St. Mary merged in 2012.
Deacon Lester and his wife, Ellen, have six children and four grandchildren.
Deacon Agenol Rodríguez said his 30 years as a deacon have been full of beautiful memories of serving his community in northeast Rochester.
A native of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Deacon Rodríguez said that among those moments were the open-air Mass held to open the Festival del Barrio last summer. He said he felt honored when Father Bob Werth asked him to say the homily.
"Since so many people know me, he wanted to give me the chance to share my experience working in the community," Deacon Rodríguez added. "(The Mass) was very nice."
His work includes prison ministry at the Monroe County Jail, visiting the sick, and assisting with baptisms, weddings and funerals, he said. Deacon Rodríguez also often assists the priest at the Spanish Mass at Our Lady of the Americas.
He formerly served at Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester until it merged with St. Francis Xavier in 1985. Subsequently, he served at the churches that are now part of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish.
Deacon Rodríguez, 66, said he has no plans to celebrate his 30th anniversary unless fellow deacon friends join together to pray in thanksgiving, he said.
"I don’t usually mark (this anniversary)," he said. "But I remember the day and share memories with my family at home."
Following a few years of traveling back and forth between Florida and Puerto Rico in the past decade, Deacon Rodríguez and his wife, Margarita, settled back in Rochester about five years ago. He now runs a small grocery store on North Clinton Avenue.
Deacon Rodríguez and his wife have two children and four grandchildren.
Deacon Laurence "Larry" Van Etten wears several hats when it comes to ministry. He works with future deacons through a discernment course for first-year candidates, and he serves as one of the Diocese of Rochester’s representatives on the Greater Rochester Community of Churches’ Faith In Action Network. He also ministers at the Newman Catholic Campus Center at SUNY Brockport, where his wife, Margot, is campus minister.
Deacon Van Etten said he and Margot were thrilled when he was assigned to that post in 2005 because they’d never worked together professionally. Eight years later, Deacon Van Etten said he still enjoys working with his wife on campus, where’s he’s involved in everything from Bible study to social-justice initiatives and prison ministry.
Deacon Van Etten, who grew up attending St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls, worked for Eastman Kodak Co. for 20 years before joining Idea Connection Systems Inc., an innovation-consulting firm at which he still works several days a week. He ministered at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece for the first 12 years of his diaconate, then served at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport for another 10 years before joining the staff at the Newman Catholic Campus Center.
A retired New York state court officer who provided assistance in city courts, Deacon Angelo Coccia has focused his diaconal ministry on helping people in need through St. Francis House Ministries, a charity he started in 1988.
Though he originally intended for St. Francis House Ministries to function as a soup kitchen, over the years he and volunteers have provided aid and extra help to existing soup kitchens. They also have collected food and household items for countless families and individuals in need.
Deacon Coccia attended Holy Family School, McQuaid Jesuit High School, Rochester Business Institute and Rochester Institute of Technology. He completed his diaconate training at St. Bernard’s Institute.
He served at Holy Family Church for 18 years and is currently assigned to his home parish, St. Theodore in Gates, and St. Padre Pio Chapel in Gates, a privately owned Catholic chapel that is open to the public. He also is chaplain for the Association of Rochester Police and Area Law Enforcement Retirees.
He and his wife, Patricia, live in Gates and have two children. He credits his wife and several priests with motivating him to explore the permanent diaconate.
"She encouraged me and she supported me 110 percent," Deacon Coccia said.
Deacon Gregg Lawson, a convert to Catholicism, has gone on to 25 years of ministry in such areas as pre-marital counseling for couples as well as assisting with Masses, Communion services, baptisms and funerals.
A native of Auburn, where he continues his ministry, Deacon Lawson said that in his youth he attended a small Christian church with a pastor who was married and had children.
"That’s the model I grew up with," he said. "The priest model was not one I was used to."
So after becoming a Catholic in 1968, Deacon Lawson said he heard a deacon give a talk about his ministry. He hadn’t realized that option was available and more than welcomed it, added Deacon Lawson, 66.
So with the encouragement of his wife of 46 years, Paula, he entered the diaconate program.
He earned a master’s degree in pastoral care from St. Bernard’s Institute. He also is a graduate of Auburn Community College and Empire State College.
Deacon Lawson, who works as director of human services at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, serves as deacon for his longtime parish of St. Alphonsus in Auburn. He also served five years at a parish in Joliet, Ill., from 1994-99.
He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and board president for Hospice of the Finger Lakes.
Through his involvement with hospice, Deacon Lawson said he also has brought Communion to the sick and patients at the end of life.
This legacy of service to others who are less fortunate came from his father.
"He was a role model for me," he said. "And the diaconate model fits me too. I’m not one who wants to be the center of attention. … So (being a deacon) works out well with that too."
Deacon Lawson and his wife have three children and six grandchildren.
Long-term commitments are a staple of Deacon Robert McCormick’s ministry. He’s performed chaplaincy at Hornell’s St. James Mercy Hospital since doing diaconal field work there in 1986, and has served as deacon at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Steuben County since his ordination.
He also was a business professor at Alfred State College for 30-plus years before retiring in 2005 to do hospital chaplaincy full time and begin teaching at Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. Since 2011 he’s been the college’s Distance Learning Program director for permanent deacon formation and ministry.
Deacon McCormick is a native of St. Ann Parish in Hornell. He earned his associate’s degree in business from Alfred State College and bachelor’s and master’s business degrees from The University at Albany. He and his wife, Rose, reside in Hornell.
"I could never have imagined that I would be holding the hand of a dying person one minute and within the next few hours doing a wedding for a young couple in love," he said, adding that after 25 years as deacon he’s now doing weddings for people he once baptized. "I continue to thank God every day for allowing me to balance the three most important things in my life: my family, my diaconate, including my hospital ministry, and my teaching career."
As a young boy of 12, Deacon John Tomandl briefly considered pursuing the priesthood. Although he didn’t end up going that route, Deacon Tomandl now realizes that even as a child he was feeling called to serve the disenfranchised, a theme that has been present throughout his ministry as a deacon, he said.
Deacon Tomandl was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Auburn, where he attended St. Alphonsus Parish. He attended St. Alphonsus School, East High School in Auburn, Mohawk Valley Community College, St. Bernard’s Seminary and Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio.
Since his ordination, Deacon Tomandl has served at St. Alphonsus Parish and the Northern Cayuga Cluster, which now is known as Our Lady of the Snow Parish. He also worked for the diocesan youth-ministry office and in ministry at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. He currently provides pastoral care at Auburn Correctional Facility and Auburn Community Hospital. Before taking on the responsibilities of full-time ministry, Deacon Tomandl had worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, a systems analyst and in the water-conditioning business.
Deacon Tomandl and his wife, Carole, have three sons and eight grandchildren.
Extern deacon marks jubilee
When Deacon Joseph Mack returned to Endicott, N.Y., in 1945, he knew he needed to find a way to thank God for protecting him during the three years he spent serving in the armed forces in Europe. Three decades later he finally found a way to do so when he was urged to apply for the permanent-deacon formation program in Charlotte, N.C., where he was living at the time.
"I just felt that I was called, and I was only too glad to do it," Deacon Mack said.
Upon returning from World War II, Deacon Mack had begun working for IBM, which eventually transferred him to Charlotte. Then-Bishop of Charlotte Michael J. Begley ordained him to the diaconate on May 29, 1983. After ordination, he served for 20 years at Charlotte’s St. John Neumann Parish, where he was involved in a number of ministries including Bible study and hospital and nursing-home visitation ministries. He helped welcome about 30 people into the church each year through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, he said.
In 2003 Deacon Mack moved to Palmyra with his wife, Helen, who passed away in 2007. He’s currently involved in three Bible-study groups at Church of the Assumption in Fairport and enjoys spending time with his six children, 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.