Two transitional deacons to be ordained

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Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will lay his hands on the heads of two men during the ordination ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington June 4 at 11 a.m. The archbishop, who is substituting for Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, will ordain Jordan Willard and Stephen Vaccaro to the diaconate. Their stories below provide a glimpse at their backgrounds and some of the influences that helped them answer the Lord's call.

For 20 years Jordan Willard has stayed close to the altar

Jordan Willard was born to Glenn and Joanna Willard in Lansing, Mich., in 1989. His first encounter with Mass was seven years later when his family began to attend a Catholic Church after years of attending Episcopal Church as charismatic Christians. The whole family came into the Catholic Church in 1996 at St. Anthony of Padua, a gorgeous church in Wis,. It was there that Willard saw an altar server for the first time.

"I remember looking up and seeing these kids about my age wearing dresses and pillowcases so I was like, 'I got to do that,''' said Jordan with a laugh. "It was a little less than two months that I became an altar boy."

Not long after, Jordan was introduced to the idea of becoming a priest by a Hispanic seminarian who was living with the family to perfect his English. Willard was only 8 at the time and he felt it was too far off to make any decisions.

During the following years, the Willards moved frequently, but no matter where they went Willard always made an effort to stay close to the altar. He has served since 1997 with a brief pause in 2009 when he went to Virginia Tech and then after entering seminary.

In 2000, his family settled in Virginia where they joined St. Frances de Sales Church in Purcellville. He started thinking about the priesthood as he entered high school. At the time he joined a discernment group led by Father Brian G. Bashista, then Arlington diocese vocations director. That same year the diocese started Quo Vadis and he attended their first summer camp in 2007.

But still feeling like he was too young, he dismissed it again. "I was like first or second year of high school so I thought 'I could not even enter seminary if I wanted to right now.'"

Jordan attended the Heights School in Potomac, Md., which had a huge impact on his life.

"I grew up with 11 brothers and sisters so I had a taste of what fraternity could be," he said. "But this institution was an all-boys school and for once I was surrounded by brothers. The Heights gave me just a glimpse of what fraternity could look like as a priest."

After graduating he studied chemical engineering at Virginia Tech and joined the military ROTC.

After his first year of College, his discernment to the priesthood came back "like a brick to the face." During that time, two of his siblings were married. Seeing the joy on their faces as their vocations came to fruition made him realize that now was the time to start thinking about his own vocation again.

He joined seminary in the spring of 2010 and was sent to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio where he is now in his 3rd year of theology.

In March, Jordan signed his petition to the diaconate. "I felt such a peace, happiness and freedom to sign on that line. I don't know if you can call that certainty, but the seminary has taught me the value of peace and if you are at peace you are where God wants you to be.

As one of his first acts as a deacon, Jordan hopes to baptize his new niece, Isabella Louise Willard, who was born April 26.

Steven Vaccaro sees the Diaconate as a visible witness of God's love

Stephen Vaccaro was born in Virginia to Frances and Vincent Vaccaro September 28, 1989. Raise in a Catholic family of nine, his parents never told him what they thought he should do with his life. Instead, they encouraged him to be holy, do his work and promised him that God would provide the rest.

As Stephen grew up, it became apparent to everyone but him that he should consider the priesthood. An opinion that well-intentioned friends gave freely, but that unfortunately had the reverse effect.

"I did not enjoy that people thought I was going to be a priest," said Stephen. "I did not want them treating me differently."

The first time Stephen remembers feeling a call to the priesthood within himself was during Holy Thursday Mass his freshman year of high school. Watching the priests concelebrate the Mass together he thought "These guys have a real fraternity that bonds them. Maybe I could do that." But he immediately dismissed the idea.

It came to him once again in 2009 during senior year of high school when Pope Benedict came to the United States. He watched the priests celebrating Mass with the pontiff at Nationals Park in Washington and once again he was filled with awe at the fraternity that united them.

A month later, his older brother Chris was ordained a priest. This appeared to settle the matter of Stephen's fate in the eyes of acquaintances, but he was still not convinced.

After graduating from Bishop Ireton High School, Stephen attended the University of Virginia. His desire to serve in a tangible way led him to join ROTC. As the weeks passed the regiment of school and ROTC became more and more difficult and Stephen considered quitting.

When he went to inform the campus recruiter of his decision, the recruiter encouraged him to wait until after the next ROTC speaker - Lt. Cmdr. Father Michael Duesterhaus, a chaplain in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

"I walked out (after the talk) and walked straight to the office and that was the first time I ever told someone I wanted to be a priest," said Stephen. At that moment, someone passing by overheard the conversation and invited Stephen to join a campus discernment group.

Four years later he graduated from UVA with a bachelor's degree in history and enrolled by the diocese to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He is currently in his 3rd year of theology and is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon June 4.

"Some of the things I am looking forward to as a deacon are doing baptisms," said Stephen. "To be part of such an awesome, crucially and foundationally important part of their life is such an awesome privilege."

Some of his other responsibilities as a deacon will include bringing communion to the sick and officiating at marriages.

"We get to be visible witnesses," he said. "It is a reminder to the world that God is present and loves the world."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016