On Oct. 27, St. Monica Church's Frank DiGirolamo recited vows and allegiance to the faith of the Roman Catholic Church beneath the splendor of the soaring Italian Renaissance ceilings of the 105-year-old St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Amid the pomp of the ancient rites of ordination, DiGirolamo, a married man, became an ordained member of the Catholic Church clergy.
The role of a deacon in the Catholic Church is to assist the priest in the administration of a parish. He does not hold the sacred authority of an ordained priest. He cannot consecrate the offerings that are at the heart of the mass. He can marry couples and baptize babies, but most importantly offers needed help to priests who must manage the large parishes, such as St. Monica on Mercer Island, on their own.
Permanent deacons (who are distinct from seminarians on their way to final priestly vows) assist the local priest by visiting the sick, teaching the faith, counseling couples and individuals, and working on parish committees and councils. For DiGirolamo, a commitment to serving the poor is a special part of his vocation and duties.
It was a process and a journey, he told the Reporter last week, of his path to the church.
DiGirolamo, now 45, first considered a more formal role in the church about 10 years ago, he said. “For me, it was a more recent awakening than a lifelong goal.”
“It wasn’t a deliberate decision. It was something I had been moving toward,” he explained.
“After I married, I started to think, ‘What am I called to do?’” he said.
It was at Starbucks, ironically, when he finally gave voice to what he had begun to feel about a possible vocation with his church.
“My supervisor asked each of us who were working for him what we would be doing if we were not in our [present] job,” he said. “I answered that I would probably be working for the Catholic Church.”
It was an answer that he had neither prepared nor imagined he would say. Yet it was prophetic. Within 18 months, he had left the corporate world and was employed at St. Monica.
DiGirolamo remains grateful for that question.
The formal formation process for his new role took more than four years. He has been working for the church, here, for five years.
He does not believe that his new title makes him terribly special. “I am just a reflection of what this parish has given me,” he said.
Deacons remain somewhat rare. On and off over the past couple of decades, deacons have been added to the church clergy. Far fewer men are entering the priesthood. The number of priests, who must take a vow of celibacy, has dwindled dramatically. Active priests are getting older and retiring. According to data on the Archdiocese of Seattle website, there were 485 ordained priests in Seattle in 1966. In 2010, that number has fallen by a third. The number of deacons has grown from 24 in 1976 to 140 now.
The addition of more deacons helps priests manage parishes and brings an element of the congregation itself into the mass.
It all seems natural to DiGirolamo.
DiGirolamo will serve as a deacon for St. Monica Parish. St. Monica has about 1,450 families, or about 4,000 parishioners.
As he stood on the altar at St. James with the 21 other applicants for the deaconate, DiGirolamo said he thought of all the people who helped him on his journey to that moment.
“I thought, we would not be standing there if we had not been invited,” he said.
DiGirolamo and his wife, Shelley, live on Mercer Island with their daughter, Mary, who attends Holy Names Academy on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.