Distinct paths to diaconate on ‘God’s time’


ORDINATION: The first ordination of permanent deacons in the Diocese of San Diego since the pictured one from 2022 will be held June 1 at Our Lady of Grace Church. (Credit: John Gastaldo)

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EL CAJON — On Saturday, June 1, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy will ordain four local men to the permanent diaconate during a 10 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Grace Parish in El Cajon. They include:

Mario Diaz
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Chula Vista                            

For a long time, Mario Diaz was what he describes as “the posterchild of a lukewarm Catholic.”

He credits his wife, Esther, and his “super-devout Catholic” father-in-law with helping him to deepen his commitment to the faith.

A milestone on his faith journey was when his pastor invited him and his wife to lead the parish’s baptism-preparation classes about 30 years ago.

“(It) was like asking a 5-year-old to perform a root canal,” Diaz, 64, joked.

But along the way, he said the couple became “experts” on baptism and he learned a lot about other aspects of the Catholic faith, too.

“The diaconate was not something I was searching for; it searched me out,” said Diaz, who works as a business systems architect for Cisco.

It was in a small Christian community of eight couples, which he and his wife have been members of for more than 20 years, that he was first encouraged to consider entering the permanent diaconate. Two deacons in the group kept suggesting the idea for years and, undeterred by his dismissal, took the initiative to set up a meeting for him with the pastor.

“Once my wife and I had our meeting with the pastor, it all happened pretty fast,” he said.

But it still wasn’t a straight shot to ordination.

“We were released from the (formation) program after three and a half years,” said Diaz, who has a passion for building things and has constructed three tabernacles and many crucifixes. “Four years later, we returned and, now, we are almost at the finish line. As always, it is in God’s time, not ours.”

“I can’t believe I’ll be ordained a deacon,” he said. “It just shows that, with the Holy Spirit, anything is possible. I realize that there will be quite a bit of sacrifice in it, but I have no doubt it will be the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my life.”

Mario and Esther Diaz have been married for 43 years and have two children. They have been members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Chula Vista for about 45 years.

Don Meziere
St. Mary Parish, Escondido

It’s been about 20 years since Don Meziere was first asked if he had ever thought about becoming a deacon.

By the time five years had passed, he said, two or three others had given him “unsolicited invitations” to enter the diaconate.

Meziere, 55, said that he “tucked these encounters away and slowly pondered them.”

In 2012, a close friend entered the diaconal formation program, and Meziere confessed feeling “like the younger brother, left on the front porch and watching his older brother go off to war.”

Six years later, his pastor invited the Mezieres to dinner and asked them “point blank” to apply for entry into the program.

“That was the invitation we could not ignore, put off or avoid,” said Meziere, who along with his two brothers runs Meziere Enterprises, Inc., which designs and manufactures high-performance automobile parts. “It was time to do the work of discernment, and so we began.”

Meziere said that the formation process “stretched and challenged” him in ways that he “never could have predicted or dreamed.” Among other things, it exposed him to a variety of ministries.

A deacon, he said, is “ordained to be the ‘servant heart’ of Jesus to the Church and to the world.”

“I really look forward to just being there in a meaningful way for anyone who is in a moment of conversion; to be there when our God, who is goodness, truth and beauty, breaks through the brokenness of our lives and reveals to the depth of a human heart that we are known and loved,” he said.

“That could happen at a baptism or at a funeral, in a prison or at a birthday party. It doesn’t matter what I think I will enjoy doing as my ministerial focus. It just matters that this ordination allows me to help others in unique ways. What an adventure we have to look forward to!”

Don and Yvonne Meziere were married 29 years ago at St. Mary Church in Escondido. Though they attended St. Stephen Parish in Valley Center for about 19 years, they have been St. Mary’s parishioners since 2016.

Victor M. Villagomez
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, San Ysidro

In his youth, Victor M. Villagomez’s parents stressed the importance of regular Mass attendance and confession. And that lesson stuck.

“When I moved out to get married, I continued to attend Mass on Sundays, but this time with my wife, Teresa, because it was part of my life,” recalled Villagomez, 58. “It was part of both of our lives.”

At Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in San Ysidro, the couple accepted an invitation to serve as catechists – something they did for 20 years.

It was a visiting Colombian priest, who would come to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in December and give parish missions, that first suggested that Villagomez consider the permanent diaconate.

Villagomez’s response at that time was, “No, that’s not for me!”

His position remained unchanged a year later when the priest made his next visit and repeated his suggestion.

When Villagomez’s own pastor encouraged him to reach out to the Office for the Permanent Diaconate, he agreed to do so, still not believing that he had a calling.

“I just wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith and what deacons did for the Church,” he said. “I didn’t think I was worthy to be a deacon.”

Villagomez and the other men in the program attended a retreat during aspirancy, the one-year period of serious discernment that precedes the four-year formation program.

It was there “that I realized that I could be a deacon, that God was calling me – a sinner – to be a deacon,” said Villagomez, who retired one and a half years ago after 30 years with California’s Employment Development Department.

As a deacon, he said, “I can show believers and non-believers that God is love, always, through my actions; that God is good, all the time, through my words and testimony of being loved by God.”

What is he most looking forward to?

“Serving the parish community in all its needs,” he said. “It’s when I’m serving the people in need that I get the most satisfaction.”

Victor and Teresa Villagomez, who will mark their 30th anniversary on June 25, have been members of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in San Ysidro for 29 years.

Brian Anthony Wong
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Imperial

Brian Anthony Wong’s mother hoped that, among her six children, one of the five sons would become a priest.

“Sadly, none of us received the call,” said Wong, 64, who nonetheless will receive the sacrament of holy orders this month as one of four men ordained to the permanent diaconate.

Despite not being called to the priesthood, Wong grew up in a Catholic family that believed in supporting the Church and in active parish involvement. (His parents played an essential role in the founding of Vincent Memorial Catholic High School, which was built on property they owned.)

“I learned very early to serve Christ in the Church and to have a spirit of service by being active in my faith,” said Wong, who among other things has served in youth and young adult ministry.

In 2006, his then pastor, Father James Bahash, broached the subject of the diaconate.

“I knew that, if a holy priest of God saw something in me, I had to discern where this desire to serve God would lead me,” said Wong, a teacher at Calexico High School for the past 24 years.

He entered aspirancy that summer. But halfway through formation, he had to “take a break.”

For 12 years, he and his wife continued to serve at the parish. Then, the current pastor, Father Danilo Valdepenas, encouraged re-entering formation.

Wong described the diaconate as “a privilege and a blessing that fills me with gratitude.”

“Becoming a deacon means embracing a life of service rooted in love and humility,” he said. “It means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. It means responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and offering myself to be an instrument of God’s grace and mercy in the world.”

“I hope to be an integral part of the outreach efforts of the Church, by expressing the love and compassion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His interactions with others.”

Brian and Gloria Leticia Wong have been married for 32 years and have attended St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Imperial for almost 10 years. Their two daughters, 30-year-old Brianah and 27-year-old Summer, have been leaders in young adult ministry.

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