Permanent deacons note ministry milestones in 2024 - Catholic Courier
A deacon in robes carries a large silver vessel in a cathedral. Deacon José Rivera brings forward the Sacred Chrism at the 2024 Chrism Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Permanent deacons note ministry milestones in 2024

The following permanent deacons are celebrating 40, 35, 30 and 25 years of ministry in 2024. Diocese of Rochester deacons all were ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. Those celebrating 40 years were ordained on April 28, 1984; those celebrating 35 years were ordained on June 3, 1989; those celebrating 30 years were ordained on June 11, 1994; and those celebrating 25 years were ordained on June 12, 1999.

40 Years

Being a deacon for 40 years has truly been a blessing, Deacon John Giugno said.

“It’s almost hard to comprehend that I have been a deacon that long,” he said. “It’s not a whole lifetime, but it’s close.”

Deacon Giugno
Deacon Giugno

A native of Rochester’s Holy Apostles Church, Deacon Giugno served the first decade of his diaconal ministry at St. Theodore Church in Gates. In 1995, he moved to Rochester’s Most Precious Blood Church, and then to Holy Rosary Church, which both became part of the Cathedral Community.

He later began ministering at Sacred Heart Cathedral, where he performed baptisms and weddings, assisted at liturgies and was involved in such ministries as the Christian initiation program.

“I really enjoyed the people and making friends. I think the best part of my ministry was being with the people, doing weddings and baptisms. I got so close to them.” Deacon Giugno recalled.

Deacon Giugno, who was a longtime building-code coordinator for the City of Rochester, reached senior status in 2018.

He and his wife, Roberta, have been married for 53 years. They have two daughters and six grandchildren, the eldest having passed away last summer. Deacon Giugno was diagnosed with leukemia in 2021 and is currently part of an experimental study at Roswell Cancer Center in Buffalo.

He said he’s hoping to have a nice dinner at home with his family to celebrate his 40th jubilee.

Deacon Fernando Ona
Deacon Ona

Deacon Fernando Ona is a native of the Philippines who moved to the United States in 1967 and settled in Rochester in 1974. A medical doctor, he served at St. Mary’s Hospital as head of gastroenterology — the study of medical conditions affecting the digestive system — as well as a physician at Strong Memorial Hospital.

During his 16 years of diaconal ministry in the Rochester Diocese, Deacon Ona logged parish assignments at St. Helen in Gates and St. Catherine of Siena in Mendon. He also was responsible for founding several inner-city health ministries, particularly at Corpus Christi — now a part of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish — and the former Ss. Peter and Paul.

In 1984, the year he was ordained a permanent deacon, he became a founder of Mount Carmel House, a home for the dying.“I’m so happy that it’s continuing,” he said of the Mount Carmel facility which, like him, is noting its 40th anniversary.

Deacon Ona’s ministerial efforts earned him an honorary doctorate in 1993 from Nazareth College (now Nazareth University). In 2000, he transferred to Hawaii, continuing to work as a gastroenterologist and professor, as well as a deacon at St. Patrick Kaimuki Parish.

Although largely retired from medicine, Deacon Ona remains active in health ministry to the underprivileged both in Hawaii and the Philippines.

“Helping the poorest of the poor, it’s the Holy Spirit,” he said of his ongoing dedication.

Deacon Ona and his wife, Celia, a psychiatrist, have two sons, both medical doctors. He said he hopes to return to the Rochester area later this year to visit friends he made while in the diocese.

Deacon Michael J. Piehler
Deacon Piehler

Outside of his marriage to his wife, Kathi, Deacon Michael J. Piehler said being a deacon for 40 years is the longest he’s done anything.

“I’ve had the honor of living most of my adult life on both sides of the altar, one side as a deacon, and the other side as a husband, father and businessman,” he explained.

Deacon Piehler grew up in Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish, attended Aquinas Institute in Rochester and St. John Fisher College (now University) in Pittsford. He also worked in administration at St. John Fisher as the assistant athletic director and football coach. He entered the family auto business at age 29 and went on to serve as the chairman of the board and CEO of Piehler car dealerships. Deacon Piehler said his son, Michael, now oversees the business, and he remains about 30 percent involved.

Deacon Piehler served at Rochester’s Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier Parish (1984-86) and Pittsford’s Church of the Transfiguration (1986-2011). The Piehlers were among the founding parishioners of Church of the Transfiguration, which opened in 1983. At Church of the Transfiguration, he was active in a men’s fellowship group and, from 1990-2011, he helped lead an annual men’s retreat to Holy Family Parish in Booneville, Ky.

Though he reached senior status in 2011, Deacon Piehler continues to assist at Transfiguration when available. He also has had the opportunity to work in men’s spirituality and with the poor outside the diocese.

The Piehlers have two children and six grandchildren. They now spend three to four months of the year in southern California.

Deacon Piehler said he wouldn’t be celebrating 40 years in the diaconate without Kathi by his side.

“None of this happens without my wife. She really is the unsung hero of it all. I’ve appreciated my wife’s dedication and commitment as a real partner in this,” he said of his ministry.

35 Years

Deacon Owen Bowers
Deacon Bowers

Ministering as a deacon for 35 years has been a positive experience, Deacon Owen Bowers said.

“I enjoyed serving the local community, visiting the people at home that were ill and others that were disabled and needed the Eucharist to feel like they were still part of the community,” Deacon Owens recalled. “I enjoyed the Bible studies, and I enjoyed preaching.”

Deacon Bowers pursued the diaconate in 1982 after a parish-renewal weekend at his home parish of St. Agnes in Avon. Following ordination, he served at St. Agnes for 10 years, followed by assignments at St. James, Irondequoit; St. Joseph, Rush; St. Columba/St. Patrick, Caledonia/Mumford; and the State Agricultural and Industrial School in Rochester. He reached senior status in 2009.

A native of Buffalo, Deacon Bowers served in the U.S. Army from 1954-55, becoming a sergeant. He became a New York State Trooper in 1962, and rose to the rank of sergeant. He retired from the police force in 1983.

Deacon Bowers and his wife, Irene, have six children, 18 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, with another great-grandchild on the way. Due to some health problems, Deacon Bowers said he’s not able to get around much.

“But I still do a lot of spiritual reading and still maintain an active prayer life,” he said.

Deacon Daniel Hurley
Deacon Hurley

“No matter where I’ve been, there’s something new and exciting around the corner,” Deacon Daniel Hurley said of his career and such ministerial assignments as teaching; school and parish administration; parish and campus ministry; coaching and officiating; and prison chaplaincy.

Deacon Hurley grew up in parishes in Rochester’s 19th Ward and graduated from Rochester’s East High School. He earned degrees in Spanish from St. Bonaventure University (bachelor’s) and SUNY Binghamton (master’s), and received his certification in educational administration from Boston College.

He worked as a Spanish teacher and athletic coach at Elmira Notre Dame High School for nine years, during which he also became active in the Cursillo movement. Subsequently, he served as principal of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads and Immaculate Conception in Ithaca, and also worked in the Spencer-Van Etten and Bath school districts.

Among his other assignments have been pastoral administrator of St. Michael/Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rochester; campus minister at Cornell University; and parish deacon at St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, Schuyler Catholic Community in Watkins Glen/Odessa, and All Saints in Corning/Painted Post.

More recently, he was a full-time chaplain for several years at the Mid-State and Marcy medium-security correctional facilities near Utica. He retired in 2023.

Deacon Hurley, a Horseheads resident, is currently assigned to Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish and also assists at three churches in northern Tompkins County. He and his wife, Joan, have three children and six grandchildren.

30 Years

Deacon Anthony Caruso
Deacon Caruso

With no background in ministry, Deacon Anthony Caruso wasn’t sure he had the chops to be a permanent deacon, but felt differently after a chat with his father-in-law.

“He jokingly said, ‘Of the 12 guys Jesus got for apostles, there were some fishermen, a tent maker and a tax collector. I think the Lord could put up with you,’” Deacon Caruso recalled.

A graduate of Rochester’s John Marshall High School, Deacon Caruso worked for DuPont for four years and then spent 25 years at Eastman Kodak Co. as a machinist supervisor until retiring in 1991.

Following his 1994 ordination, Deacon Caruso served as deacon at his home parish, St. Theodore in Gates, until 2006. He then logged three years at Henrietta’s Church of the Good Shepherd until reaching senior status in 2009. He continues to perform chaplaincy duty at Strong Memorial Hospital, a role he has held since 1995. In addition, he was chaplain at Monroe County Children’s Center from 1994-2017.

Presiding at weddings and baptisms have been among his favorite activities as a deacon, “bringing couples together and bringing young ones into the Lord’s nest,” he said.

He and his wife, Mary Ann, have three children and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Bonita Springs, Fla., and Deacon Caruso still assists at St. Theodore when in town.

Deacon Tocci
Deacon Tocci

Priests at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption have come and gone, but Deacon Ronald Tocci has been a constant there for more than 50 years, with 30 of them serving as a deacon.

“People tell me it gives them comfort to know that I’m there, because they can always come to me with something,” he said. “Being there for so many years, I’ve known thousands of people and gotten close to a lot of them.”

A native of Utica, Deacon Tocci earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In Rochester, he worked in that field for Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp. before becoming a full-time technology professor at Monroe Community College, where he taught from 1967-90.

When people ask Deacon Tocci what lead him to become a deacon, he tells them, ‘It’s in my Jeans,’ and shares the story of Jean Murphy and Jean Flanagan, two elders at the Church of the Assumption, who kept asking him to consider being a deacon.

“They recognized something in me that I didn’t recognize,” he said of the women. “They say, ‘We’ll pray for you.’ Well, they prayed for me, and a couple of years went by, and finally I said, ‘OK, OK, I’ll go look into it.”

Following his ordination, he served from 1994-2007 at Church of the Assumption. In 2007, he began serving as chaplain at Rochester General Hospital and continued in that role until 2019, despite reaching senior status in 2017.

Deacon Tocci continues to help with baptisms, funerals, weddings and Masses as needed at Church of the Assumption. He and his wife, Catherine, have three children and two grandchildren.

Deacon Ron Verkon
Deacon Verkon

At 88 years old and despite having reached senior status 13 years ago, Deacon Ron Verkon is still active at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Cresco, Pa., celebrating baptisms and helping at Masses and funerals.

“I don’t have the stamina that I used to, so I can’t do a lot that I used to do, and I miss that,” he said. “But if, even now, if somebody is needed to do a vigil service or to go and take Communion to somebody in the hospital and nobody else is available, I’ll go.”

Deacon Verkon has served in the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., for 28 of his 30 years as a deacon. A native of Kenosha, Wis., he moved to Buffalo as a child. He served in the U.S. Navy and attended Canisius College before graduating from the University of Detroit with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He was an engineer for Corning Inc. from 1964-96, settling in the Corning area in 1969.

In 1982, Deacon Verkon moved to Hickory, N.C., to work for one of Corning’s subsidiaries. He became close friends with two deacons who he said led him in the direction of becoming a deacon himself. He was accepted into the diaconate program in the Diocese of Charlotte, but then was transferred to work to Raleigh, which didn’t have a diaconate program. So, when he moved back to Corning in 1988, he applied for diaconate program in the Diocese of Rochester and was ordained out of the Corning-Painted Post Roman Catholic Community, now known as All Saints Parish.

In 1996, he moved to the Pocono Mountain area and began serving as deacon at St. Bernadette Parish in Canadensis, which since has become part of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Cresco.

Deacon Verkon — whose wife, Margaret, died in 2001 — has eight children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” he said of his 30 years in the diaconate. “It’s just been a wonderful life, and that’s why I haven’t retired. I still love to serve.”

25 Years

Deacon John Cunningham
Deacon Cunningham

Deacon John Cunningham grew up in Messina, N.Y., and entered the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school. He served in the military for four years, then studied business administration at SUNY Canton. He later moved to Rochester, studied manufacturing administration at Rochester Institute of Technology and worked for Eastman Kodak Co. for 27 years.

In the mid-1990s, he and his wife, Peggy, attended an informational meeting about the permanent diaconate, but Deacon Cunningham didn’t feel he was being called to this vocation. They attended the meeting again the next year, however, and this time the Holy Spirit gave him a different answer.

“This time, we were definitely sure,” Deacon Cunningham said.

He was ordained June 12, 1999, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral and served from 1999 until 2010 at St. Christopher Parish in North Chili. He also worked in hospice care at St. Mary’s Hospital and as a chaplain at Park Ridge Hospital for several years before becoming full-time chaplain at Rochester Presbyterian Home, where he served for five years.

Hospice work was eye-opening and rewarding, Deacon Cunningham said.

“It really makes you stop and think about what’s important,” he said.

In 2010, Deacon Cunningham and his wife moved to Vero Beach, Fla. They belong to St. Helen Parish, where Deacon Cunningham serves as deacon, is a member of the Knights of Columbus and volunteers at the parish’s food pantry.

Deacon Cunningham and his wife have six children, 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. He reached senior status in 2023.

Deacon Robert Cyrana
Deacon Cyrana

It would be hard for Deacon Robert Cyrana to overstate the significance of his decision to say “yes” to the permanent diaconate.

“It changed my life,” he said.

Deacon Cyrana grew up in Rochester’s St. George Parish. After graduating from high school, he served two years in the U.S. Army and then spent 24 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring as a captain in 1994.

Deacon Cyrana studied engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology and Empire State College. He worked in engineering for 43 years, first at Kodak and later at Johnson & Johnson, and retired in 2013.

When his pastor at St. Stephen Church in Geneva asked him to consider the diaconate, Deacon Cyrana was still working full time, serving in the Reserves and raising five children with his wife, Cecelia. Nonetheless, he completed the Diocese of Rochester’s formation program and was ordained by Bishop Matthew H. Clark on June 12, 1999, at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Deacon Cyrana served at St. Felix in Clifton Springs, St. Francis in Phelps and St. Dominic in Shortsville, which eventually came together as St. Peter Parish. He also served at St. Mary, Waterloo, and St. Patrick, Seneca Falls, and is currently serving at Our Lady of Peace in Geneva.

He has been involved in prison ministry and worked with Catholic Charities, but he also carried out much of his ministry in more informal ways. When he was employed at Johnson & Johnson, coworkers who knew about his vocation frequently came to him with questions about faith or the church.

“A lot of people were brought back to the church by first coming to me. I always thought that was a blessing,” said Deacon Cyrana, who has eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Deacon Laurence Feasel
Deacon Feasel

As a child, Deacon Laurence Feasel wondered if perhaps he might be called to the priesthood. He prayed about it, especially during his eighth-grade year at Rochester’s St. Ambrose School, but he did not feel called to a vocation at that time. In the mid-1990s, however, an Army buddy who was already a deacon suggested Deacon Feasel might be called to the permanent diaconate.

“It struck me as a wonderful opportunity to serve,” he said.

A native of East Irondequoit, Deacon Feasel graduated from McQuaid Jesuit High School and then studied at Ohio’s John Carroll University, where he was a member of the Army ROTC. After college, he joined the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer and served in Vietnam for a year before embarking on a 24-year career with the Army Reserves.

Deacon Feasel also earned a master’s degree from the University of Rochester and taught American history and constitutional law at Monroe Community College for more than 30 years before retiring in 2005. He and his wife, Anne, have three children and five grandchildren.

He was ordained June 12, 1999, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Sacred Heart Cathedral, then served for 11 years at St. Salome, Irondequoit, before taking on his current assignment at St. Theodore Parish in Gates in 2010. He was involved with the Diocese of Rochester’s deacon-formation program and has served as a spiritual director for deacons and lay Catholics.

Deacon Feasel also served as a chaplain at Rochester General Hospital, where he prayed with people hoping to get better, and at Hildebrandt Hospice Care Center in Rochester, where he worked with the families of people who were dying.

“That was a special privilege,” he said of his chaplaincy work.

Deacon Jorge Malave
Deacon Malavé

Deacon Jorge Malavé was ordained June 12, 1999, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Shortly after ordination, Deacon Malave worked with the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Parish Support Ministries, and had ministered to inmates at the Monroe County Jail during his formation.

“I enjoy it. I see the people need someone to speak about God,” he said of prison ministry before his ordination in 1999.

Most of Deacon Malave’s ministry, however, has been in Rochester’s urban parishes. Throughout his 25 years of ministry he has served at St. Michael and Our Lady of the Angels (Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Michael churches), and currently serves at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish.

Deacon Salvador Otero
Deacon Otero

Deacon Salvador Otero moved to Rochester from his native Puerto Rico in the mid-1980s. After some time at St. Michael Parish, he met the late-Father Laurence Tracy, then-pastoral assistant with the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of the Spanish Apostolate. Father Tracy told him about the permanent diaconate, and Deacon Otero recalled that he prayed about it with a parish prayer group and received a call from God.

Vocation “is not something you decide; it’s something he (God) decides,” he remarked.

Deacon Otero was ordained June 12, 1999, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Sacred Heart Cathedral. He was first assigned to Rochester’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish and, when that church closed, was reassigned to Rochester’s Holy Apostles Parish. In 2019, he was sent to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Rochester, where he currently serves.

Deacon Otero and his wife, Maria, also occasionally visit the Hispanic community at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brockport, where he said he enjoys assisting and preaching at Mass.

Deacon Otero said he has encountered health trials in his life, having undergone six operations on his back and a recent thyroid surgery. He described a miraculous recovery in 2015, when he almost died from complications after one of the back surgeries. A parishioner prayed over him, he said, and the next day, ultrasound exams showed no blockage or problems, and he was pronounced healthy.

He has continued his ministry since then and noted that he particularly likes preaching and baptizing as well as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for adoration.

“My reason to be a deacon is to serve, not to serve myself, but to help people, … whatever is the need,” he said.

Deacon John Payne
Deacon Payne

In addition to celebrating his 25th year as a deacon this year, Deacon John Payne also is celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary and his 75th birthday.

In 1984, Deacon Payne and his wife, Sue, moved from his native Cleveland to Rochester for his job with Paychex, from which he is now retired.

He already had been thinking about the diaconate before moving to the diocese and settling at St. Louis Church in Pittsford.

“One day after church in 1995, Father Jim (Schwartz) turned to me and said, ‘Why aren’t you a deacon?’” he recalled, noting that he began his diaconal training three months later.

After ordination, Deacon Payne served at St. Louis until 2012. He then was assigned to St. Patrick Church in Victor, where he currently ministers. He also serves as a chaplain, fire police and, along with one of his sons, firefighter with the Pittsford Volunteer Fire Department.

He said he enjoys serving parishioners through the sacraments and in the Christian initiation program. He presided at the weddings of his five children and said he has baptized almost all of his grandchildren.

“It’s a very humbling position,” he said of his ministry.

One outstanding memory of his time at St. Louis during was when he was able to convalidate a marriage and baptize the couple’s five children in the same service. “That was very special,” he said.

Deacon Gary Terrana
Deacon Terrana

Deacon Gary Terrana recalled that “when we were ordained, the bishop said that we are living icons of Christ the servant … servants of God to all God’s people.”

Deacon Terrana was ordained for the Diocese of Buffalo, but on Jan. 5, 2022, he was granted full faculties in the Diocese of Rochester with permission of Buffalo’s Bishop Michael Fisher and Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.

He said he began discerning his vocation after meeting another deacon through the Cursillo program. He entered into deacon formation in 1995 and was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1999.

“It took a long time of prayer to discern, … but it’s just a ministry I absolutely love,” he said.

After ordination, he conducted his ministry of charity at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, N.Y., from 1999-2004.

In 2004, he felt that God was pulling him deeper into full-time ministry, so he closed his industrial-distribution business. Soon after, the bishop asked him to become pastoral-care coordinator for the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center from 2004-14. Also in 2004, he was asked to fill in for a month at a Catholic middle school, but wound up serving there for five years. At the end of that assignment, he became spiritual-care coordinator at Niagara County Hospice from 2009-14.

Still involved in Cursillo, Deacon Terrana was the assistant national spiritual adviser from 2013-18.

He took some time away from ministry after a traffic accident in 2014. After his recovery, in 2017, he became a civilian chaplain in the 107th Air and National Guard at the Niagara Falls Air Force Base, where he served until moving to Webster in 2020.

In 2019, he became coordinator of the spirituality for diaconate formation group in the Diocese of Buffalo, a position he still holds.

Deacon Terrana explained that he and his wife, Gail, settled in Webster to be close to their son and his family. He currently serves as a deacon at Webster’s Holy Trinity Parish, which he said “feels like home” to him and his family.

Tags: Deacons
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