One grew up in a devout family and filled his spare time with Masses, adoration, devotions and prayer, but thought he would become a teacher.
The other was a lapsed Catholic who tried volunteering to fill an emptiness in his life.
After the urgings of others to consider going to seminary and years of listening for their personal calls, Deacon Hoan Q. Dinh and Deacon Jeffrey S. Tunnicliff will be ordained priests of the Diocese of Rochester.
The two men, who were ordained transitional deacons June 3, 2006, will be ordained to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. June 30 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, 296 Flower City Park, Rochester.
Deacon Hoan Dinh
In Deacon Dinh’s devout Catholic Vietnamese family, daily Mass was at 4 a.m. and evening prayer was at 8 p.m.
Growing up in a family with five sisters and two brothers, Deacon Dinh also spent time at Sunday Mass, participated in eucharistic adoration and Marian devotions at the homes of various neighbors, and served as a catechist for four years. He split his time as a student in the mornings and on the family farm in Vietnam in the afternoons, helping grow rice and tropical fruits.
At 19, he entered college with the intention of becoming a secondary-school teacher of English as a Second Language. Continuing to attend Masses and personal devotions each day during college, he searched for a teacher after which he could pattern his life.
“During my second year of college, at a Sunday Mass in my college’s town, the homilist spoke about Jesus as a compassionate and understanding teacher to his disciples,” Deacon Dinh, 37, said in an e-mail from the American College of the Immaculate Conception at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he attends seminary. “I meditated upon such a powerful message.”
After emigrating to the United States with an adoptive family, Deacon Dinh applied to a doctoral program in education at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but the application was denied. He turned to a mentor who had previously suggested he try seminary.
“While searching for a new direction in life, a ‘dark night’ moment came,” Deacon Dinh said. “Again, my mentor asked me to answer God’s call and try a diocese.”
Deacon Dinh served in various ministries at Annunziata Catholic Church, Houma, La., before entering the pre-theology program at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut in 1997. In 1999, he entered Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for a graduate-level course in religious education/catechetics.
While there, he met Father Daniel Condon, chancellor of the Rochester Diocese, who invited him in 2001 to make a weeklong visit to Rochester’s Becket Hall, a residential program for young men discerning a call to priesthood. There, Deacon Dinh decided to continue his priestly formation and applied to be a seminarian for the Rochester Diocese.
He said he faced many linguistic and cultural challenges while in seminary.
“Yet these have taught me how to respect all and live with them day by day as Jesus accompanied his Apostles during his life and ministry,” Deacon Dinh said. “Accepting and respecting diversity prepares me to grow in my human formation and the current collaborative ministry of the church.”
He said he has fallen in love with the Rochester area’s landscapes and diverse cultural scene.
“It is a colorful area surrounded by so many lakes, hills and farms,” said Deacon Dinh, who enjoys photography, music, poetry, bicycling and gardening.
He said he is grateful to the many people who have helped him in his journey to priesthood, and he said he also has receive financial and spiritual support from the Diocese of Rochester, diocesan Knights of Columbus councils, his support group at St. Joseph Church in Penfield, Dominican sisters in Elmira, the diocesan formation board and many other parishioners.
“Finally, I am blessed to have a devout mother who has constantly prayed for me every day,” Deacon Dinh said.
Deacon Jeffrey Tunnicliff
Despite a longtime fear of public speaking and a hiatus from Mass that lasted for several years, Deacon Tunnicliff found himself being irresistibly pulled toward ministry.
He was raised Catholic but did not attend Mass regularly after confirmation. Eventually, while working as a civil engineer, he said he began to feel a void in his life.
“I had come to realize something was missing,” Deacon Tunnicliff said.
To fill that void, he volunteered in 1997 with Literacy Volunteers of America. Still unsatisfied, he said his attention landed on a public-access channel broadcast of a Mass at St. Mary of the Lake in Watkins Glen.
He also began watching EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” and “Journey Home,” a program about former Catholics returning to Mass. While watching “Journey Home,” he e-mailed the show, asking what his first step should be in going back to church. He said the host responded by suggesting he meet with a parish priest.
Though skeptical, he met the late Father David Bonin, who at the time was St. Mary of the Lake’s pastor. That move led Deacon Tunnicliff to begin attending Mass regularly and to become close friends with Father Bonin.
Several months later, Deacon Tunnicliff agreed to help parish employee Sister Catherine P. Theiss move, and he also was invited to take part in a mission retreat. Both events helped him make friends at the parish, he said.
“That’s when I started to get to know more people, and that’s when I got involved in different groups,” he recalled.
He began counting the parish collection, helping to plan a party for the pastor’s jubilee, serving on the Parish Millennium Planning Committee and helping create a parish Web page.
Deacon Tunnicliff even found himself doing things outside of his comfort zone, including public speaking. He said although he didn’t think of himself as a bad public speaker, he never imagined himself doing much speaking to groups.
“It has got to be the spirit working in me,” he remarked.
In 1999, on a Monday after Father John DeSocio, then the diocesan vocations director, spoke at Deacon Tunnicliff’s parish, two people at his engineering job suggested to him that he become a priest. He followed up by speaking to Father Bonin and Father DeSocio. He moved to Becket Hall in 2000 and started in seminary at Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 2002.
In addition to classes, Mass and prayer, seminarians serve in a ministry for four to eight hours a week. Deacon Tunnicliff has served at St. Mary Parish in Auburn, a Washington-area residence for the elderly operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, as a chaplain at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, at Church of the Assumption in Fairport, at Mt. Calvary Parish in Forestville, Md., and at St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville, Md.
Deacon Tunnicliff has created a Web page, http://www.geocities.com/jstunnicliff/, to share his story about becoming aware of his call to vocation. He said he has received positive feedback on the page from several people who also were considering or pursuing a vocation.
“It started as something fun for me,” he said.
Deacon Tunnicliff’s father, Charles, lives in Watkins Glen, and his mother, Tomasa, lives in Cameron, Steuben County. He has an older and a younger brother, and he said his family has been supportive of his vocation. He also heard from high-school acquaintances that they thought his vocation suited his personality.
“No one has shown great surprise, which has actually been a big surprise to me,” Deacon Tunnicliff said.