ROCHESTER -- As four new permanent deacons in the diocese of Rochester sat down before a round of applause for them had ended, Bishop Matthew H. Clark joked that they lived out Jesus’ words a little too well.
"You really should never sit down before the applause is complete," Bishop Clark said. "You are taking this Gospel too seriously."
Humility is one of the qualities evident in Deacons Eric Bessette, Donald Eggleston, John Hoffman and Robert Lyons, who were ordained during a June 4 Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Mass opened with the chime of handbells from the Diocesan Festival Choir and included the participation of the wives and children of the permanent deacons.
The readings for the Mass focused on being called by the Lord and the response of those who are called. Bishop Clark urged all at the assembly to determine what gifts they can use in service to their brothers and sisters, especially those who might otherwise be forgotten. He said Paul, in writing to the Ephesians (4:1-7, 11-13), tells us to live out our call with patience, gentleness and humility.
"I hope by hearing God’s word and praying at this assembly, we will be made aware of what God asks of us," Bishop Clark said.
Later, he presented each of the deacons with the Book of Gospels.
"Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become," Bishop Clark said. "Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach."
The men are now the newest members of the 114 active permanent deacons in the Diocese of Rochester charged with serving others through their various backgrounds.
During one of the last conversations he had with his son, James, who was serving in Iraq, Deacon Lyons told his son he was thinking of becoming a permanent deacon.
His son told him, "If that’s where you are called, that’s what you should do," the deacon recalled.
Soon after, U.S. Army 1st Lt. James Lyons was killed in action in 2006. During his ordination, Deacon Lyons carried his son’s New Testament in his pocket.
"I was thinking of my son," he said. "I wish he could be here."
Deacon Lyons’ wife, Marcia, said although bittersweet, the ordination was a happy event.
"It has been a long journey, but it was worth waiting for," she said. "This is a high point in our lives."
Marcia Lyons, like the wives of the other deacons, were recognized during the Mass. Wives of the men in the diaconal formation program are encouraged to participate in the program alongside their husbands, noted Deacon David Palma, director of Deacon Personnel and Formation for the diocese.
Deacon Lyons, 63, converted to Catholicism about 25 years ago belongs to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton. He retired from Xerox last year and completed his field work at Rochester Psychiatric Center, Rochester General Hospital and St. Rita Parish in Webster.
He brings compassion to his service with the Brighton Fire Department, said fellow Brighton firefighters Ken Williams and Spencer Kennedy. Deacon Lyons has been a member of the department for more than 30 years and has served as president, among other roles.
Tom Olney said he saw his friend, Deacon Bessette, 52, grow in faith over the years as they worked together. Deacon Bessette, a parishioner of Pittsford’s Church of the Transfiguration, went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and joined the Catholic Church in the mid-1990s. He discerned a call to the permanent diaconate in 2006 while participating in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.
"When I met him, he wasn’t even going to church," Olney said. "I’ve seen him grow from that to what he is now. It’s just tremendous to see him grow so much in his faith."
Deacon Bessette said he tried to stay focused throughout the ordination Mass.
"I was trying to stay in the moment to realize the great blessing I was receiving," he said.
His wife, Marlene, said the day was the culmination of four and a half years of hard work and grace-filled moments. It was a moment that his mother, Mary-Alice Bessette, traveled from Lakeland, Fla., to witness.
"This is a moment that comes only once in a lifetime," Mary-Alice Bessette said, noting that Deacon Bessette's paternal grandmother wanted both of her sons to be priests, and his great-grandfather’s cousin was St. Andre Bessette. Deacon Bessette attended St. Bessette’s canonization in Rome in October.
The deacon works as a financial analyst for General Motors and did field work at Bethany House, Rochester General Hospital and St. Monica Parish. He and his wife have two children.
Deacon Eggleston’s ordination was several decades in the making. He first felt called to the diaconate in the early 1980s, but with a career at Eastman Kodak Co. and a young family, he didn’t feel he could give it his full attention.
Deacon Eggleston, 54, recently left Kodak and is now starting his own information-technology and business consulting firm. He and his wife, Mary, are parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece and have two children.
He completed his field work at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, Rochester General Hospital and St. Paul Parish in Webster.
Deacon Eggleston said he was overwhelmed by the Mass, with its "beauty, the majesty and really the tremendous feeling of God being present there."
Lying prostrate on the floor during the Litany of Saints, Deacon Hoffman said he felt the love and prayers of all those in the cathedral.
"I was thinking of everybody in the cathedral: All you holy men and women," he said, quoting a phrase from the litany.
Deacon Hoffman, 61, recently retired from his position as regional audit manager for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. He and his wife, Lorraine, have a daughter and belong to St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls.
He completed his field work at Bethany House, Lifetime Care and Blessed Sacrament Church in Rochester.
Deacon Hoffman credits the late Deacon Albro Wilson and Father Lawrence Gross with his call, which he began to recognize in 2005 after he traveled to New Orleans to help deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Christopher Giordano, who worked with Deacon Hoffman, said he wasn’t surprised by his colleague’s call.
"He leads by example and he is very thoughtful," Giordano said.