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Distinct paths lead nine men to serve as deacons

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SAN DIEGO — Bishop Robert McElroy will ordain nine men as permanent deacons on Saturday, June 18, at St. Thérèse of Carmel Church.

The 10 a.m. Mass will be live-streamed through this page: https://www.sdcatholic.org/event/ordination-mass-for-permanent-diaconate/

The following are profiles of the men soon to become the diocese’s newest deacons.

Timothy B. Clark
Santa Sophia Parish, Spring Valley
During his junior year of high school, Timothy B. Clark accepted an invitation to attend a Catholic youth group and Mass.

“I immediately felt at home,” said Clark, who would become Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 1998 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista.

At the time, the parish had four deacons, and the sight of them got Clark thinking even then about diaconal ministry.

In 2016, during a Christmas vacation in Italy, Clark was in Assisi, walking in the snow with his two oldest daughters. He heard a clear voice ask, “What are you waiting for?”

Clark knew who was asking, and he knew what He was asking about: becoming a deacon.

“I have never heard the voice of God like I did that day,” said Clark, who has been a chemistry professor at the University of San Diego for the past 11 years.

He is confident that answering God’s call will bring him “to the greatest sense of fulfillment.”

“The deacon has the opportunity to connect the people of the parish to a deeper sense of the spiritual life by bringing family life and their ministry of charity into homilies and interactions with parishioners,” he said.

Clark and his wife, Nicole, have been married for 21 years and have seven children. They have been members of Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley for eight years.

Victor Garcia
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Vista
Ten years ago, Victor Garcia suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left him with the left side of his body weakened and his memory faulty.

“Months later, I had a miraculous healing and was completely restored. I believe God was preparing me to serve Him in a special way,” said Garcia, who retired in 2009 after having managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise for 35 years.

In retirement, he became a daily Mass-goer. One day, the pastor shared that he had been praying for vocations to the diaconate and believed that Garcia had one. Garcia and his wife prayed about it and ultimately decided to trust that, if it was God’s will, He would “open doors.”

One challenge that Garcia faced during the formation program was that he had never gone to school in English before and he struggled with the Church terminology. Yet, the Lord opened that door, as well.

During formation, Garcia said, he grew spiritually and in self-knowledge through being assigned to a different ministry each year, such as jail, hospital and hospice ministry as well as service to the poor.

“It is such an honor to be used by God to serve His people,” he said.

Garcia and his wife, Monica, have been married for 45 years and have three children. They have been members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista for 34 years.

David Gonzalez
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, San Ysidro
“I would love to say I have been a devoted Catholic for my whole life,” said David Gonzalez, “but that isn’t the case.”

However, he began attending Mass regularly 29 years ago and, since then, has made up for lost time.

His parish became more than simply a place to fulfill his Sunday obligation. He and his wife joined a couples’ movement, which led to involvement in other ministries and also to his discerning a vocation.

Gonzalez, who has worked in the printing business for more than 25 years, said his call to the diaconate was “more like a series of calls.”

The first call came when a deacon spoke to the coordinators of the couples’ movement and Gonzalez felt a desire “to be like him some day.” Later, group members would refer to Gonzalez as “Future Deacon.” Still later, while Gonzalez was taking video of a parish visit by late Bishop Cirilo Flores, the bishop’s master of ceremonies asked “out of nowhere” whether he had ever considered becoming a deacon; to Gonzalez, it was like “the voice of God asking me.”

Gonzalez denies that he is special: “I just heard a call, recognized the call, and answered that call.”

He and his wife, Elvia, have been married for 29 years and have two daughters. They have been members of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in San Ysidro for 22 years.

Wayne Heffner
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Vista
When Wayne Heffner is ordained to the permanent diaconate, it will mark the conclusion of a vocational journey that began 25 years ago.

He was only 42 years old when he first felt called to serve the Church as a deacon. At the time, he was working six days a week at a full-time job, and he had young children at home.

The then-director of the diocesan Permanent Diaconate Office looked at that situation, recognized that it would be hard for him to balance the demands of ministry on top of his professional and family responsibilities, and suggested that he wait.

And so he did.

“I didn’t think it would be this long of a wait, but now it is in God’s time and not mine,” said Heffner, who is now 67. He retired in 2014 after 42 years as a meat manager, and his three daughters have all married.

“To serve as a deacon is to emulate the servant of all, Jesus Christ … to be Christ to all I meet and serve as He would love and serve them,” Heffner said.

“I am looking forward to serving my Lord in whatever way He calls me to do.”

Heffner and his wife, Denise, have been married for 42 years and have three daughters. They have been members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista for 34 years.

J. Carlos Morales
Christ the King Parish, San Diego
J. Carlos Morales is the foreman of a small landscape-maintenance company in North County and has worked there for three decades.

So, when describing his vocational journey, it is fitting that he turns to horticultural imagery.

Morales said the “beautiful seed of the diaconate” was first planted in his thoughts about 20 years ago. Though he always aspired to find a way to help his community, doing so as a deacon wasn’t always part of the plan. He admired those who dedicated their lives in service to God, but the idea of joining their number struck him as “almost impossible.”

In 2005, he made an unsuccessful first attempt to pursue a vocation to the diaconate; he only got as far as requesting information about the process. Twelve years later, he decided to speak with his pastor and, with that, began “this process of formation that does not end with ordination, but instead it is a lifetime process.”

Morales said the acceptance and the prayers of the community have been a great support to him during his formation.

“Knowing that one has a community is important and essential,” he explained. “What would a deacon be without a community to serve?”

Morales and his wife, Gloria, have been married for almost 34 years and have two children. They have been members of Christ the King Parish for 24 years.

Jaime Roque
St. Michael Parish, San Diego
For a long time, Jaime Roque didn’t particularly distinguish himself as a member of St. Michael Parish in San Diego, where he has been registered since 1987. He described himself as an “invisible parishioner,” explaining that he wasn’t someone his fellow parishioners knew.

Then, tragedy struck: In late 2015, doctors said his wife might have as little as three weeks to live. While God granted him another 13 months with her, he said, “That extension wasn’t for her. It was for me to get to know Him better.”

Roque began saying yes to the invitation to get more involved at his parish, including as sacristan, lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

“The church became my second home, serving in four or five Masses every Sunday,” said Roque, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and later a civilian employee for the Navy who retired in early 2020.

Eventually, when asked to consider the diaconate, he decided to say yes once again.

“I can say that I wasn’t really close to God (earlier in life), but I was so blessed because He did not give up in calling me to serve Him.”

Roque and his late wife, Corazon Arasula, were married for 33 years and have one daughter. He has been a member of St. Michael Parish in San Diego for about 35 years.

Ted Rotunda
St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Fallbrook
Ted Rotunda has prayed regularly, but for much of his life, the conversation was one-sided.

“I always had an active prayer life, but it consisted mainly of talking to God, and never really listening to Him,” he said.

In 2015, influenced by a recent retreat, he began incorporating silence into his daily prayer routine and, in that silence, sensed God calling him to the diaconate.

Rotunda resisted, not fully understanding the role of a deacon and feeling that he wasn’t “holy enough.” But the call persisted and, after some research, he discovered that the heart of the diaconate was service – something that he was already committed to living as a husband, father and physician.

When he finally told his wife about his “yearlong spiritual wrestling match with God” and that he felt called to be a deacon, she said God had been telling her the same thing for over a year.

“I am incredibly grateful to God and His Church for the opportunity to serve others as an ordained minister,” said Rotunda, who is a practicing emergency medicine physician with 25 years of clinical experience. “I am equally grateful to my family … for accompanying me on this journey and for the sacrifices that they have all made.”

Rotunda and his wife, Sherry, have been married for 28 years and have two children. They have been members of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Fallbrook since 2001.

Daniel Sanchez-Garcia
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Vista
Daniel Sanchez-Garcia was nourished by the Word of God when he was still in utero.

When his mother was pregnant with him, she read the Bible every night. As he grew up, she continued to share its stories with him.

“I can say that my faith in God has always been my anchor, and it has guided my path to God and to the invitation to become a (member of the) diaconate,” said Sanchez-Garcia, who has worked as a handyman for about 33 years.

When he first felt God calling him to the diaconate, he didn’t tell anyone. However, about a year after he first sensed a call, his pastor invited him to consider entering the formation program.

“I requested time, so I could pray about it, to see if it was God’s will,” he said. “I prayed for 40 days, and God answered my prayers. God’s will be done.”

He sees it as the deacon’s role “to serve his parish and his community in the needs of his brothers and sisters in and outside of his parish.” He looks forward to continuing to teach Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes, but is open to serving wherever God wills.

Sanchez-Garcia and his wife, Julie, have been married for 32 years and have three children. They have been members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista for about 19 years.

Gregory Settelmayer
Our Mother of Confidence Parish, San Diego
Gregory Settelmayer already was attending Mass regularly and was even involved in ministry to the homeless, but a Cursillo weekend convinced him that he had yet to “practice my faith to the fullest.”

Settelmayer began meeting regularly with his fellow Cursillistas and, through that involvement, was led to become a prison ministry volunteer at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa and to bring the Interfaith Shelter Network program to his parish.

“I am ready for whatever You want me to do next in my life,” Settelmayer prayed one Sunday after receiving Communion. Seemingly in response, Deacon Scott Wall stopped the Settelmayers on their way out of the church, saying that he wanted them to meet with the director of the Office for the Permanent Diaconate. Initially “somewhat reluctant,” the couple accepted that invitation.

“I have come to realize God doesn’t call the righteous but the sinners, and He shows us the path in His time and in His manner,” said Settelmayer, who works for the U.S. Navy as a civilian in a research/development command and, in late February, retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve. “So, by the grace of God, the door to ordination has been opened for me to be a servant of Christ.”

Settelmayer and his wife, Suzanne, have been married for 27 years and have four children. They have been members of Our Mother of Confidence Parish since 1996.

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