I caught up with Deacon Kevin Panameño in the chapel of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, shortly after he and eight classmates were ordained to the transitional diaconate Nov. 7. He was sharing in the joy of the moment with his mother and sister who were present for the Mass of Ordination.
“I like to bring an image of hope to others in the name of Christ,” Deacon Panameño told me that morning. He said he likes to reach out to others and let them know “there is still good out there.”
That’s a message that Catholics and others really need to hear right now when the coronavirus pandemic and squabbling over the recent presidential election may have gotten the best of us.
I do not usually attend the Mass in which fourth-year seminarians at St. Joseph’s are ordained to the transitional diaconate, but I decided to be present this year. They will serve as deacons for about six months until next spring when, God willing, they will be ordained to the priesthood.
Five of the new deacons were ordained to serve the archdiocese. They are Deacon Matthew Breslin, Deacon Robert Carolan, Deacon Carmine Caruso, Deacon Steven Gonzalez as well as Deacon Panameño.
In my brief interview with Deacon Panameño, I asked about his pastoral year at St. Raymond parish in the Bronx. Father James Cruz, the pastor there and one of about 25 priest concelebrants at the Ordination Mass, described the new deacon as “a wonderful preacher.”
“It comes from his love of Jesus Christ,” Father Cruz said. “That pours through him in everything he does.”
A few minutes later, Deacon Panameño offered further thoughts along the same lines. “I love to preach, pray and meditate on Scripture. To write out a homily and deliver it,” he said.
He told me his route to the diaconate and ultimately priesthood did not always follow a straight line. A New Yorker by birth, he moved with his family to Memphis and began studies for the priesthood there before taking some time away and ultimately coming back to New York and St. Joseph’s, where he is being formed for the priesthood along with seminarians from the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre as well as those of other dioceses and religious congregations.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn is the first-year rector at St. Joseph’s. In his remarks of gratitude near the end of the Ordination Mass, the bishop said, “Deacons, we can only say how much we love you and are proud of you and will continue to support you on the journey.”
Deacon Panameño said, “The house is doing well. The rector is very approachable and open to us. He cares for our vocations.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn was the principal celebrant and ordaining prelate. The bishop spoke directly in his homily to the men he would ordain, telling them they must love others as Jesus did—not an easy task.
“How important that is to the mission of the deacon and priest,” the bishop said. “You are called and entrusted with that mission. Only those who are ordained can fulfill it in a unique way, to show that service is at the heart of ministry.”
Bishop DiMarzio went on to speak about the commitment to celibacy that each of the men was also making that day. The bishop offered a vivid example to the deacons from his experience as a gardener. He said celibacy could be likened to planting a seed that will take time to flower and grow into full fruitfulness.
“You want to give yourself completely to the service of God and His Church,” he said. “Nothing should deter you from that commitment.”
The bishop added that Jesus would serve as their friend and soulmate as they live out their commitment.