A packed congregation at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Downtown L.A. welcomed the newest group of transitional deacons at the annual Ordination of the Diaconate Mass Aug. 12. This year’s seminarians include Egren Gomez, Danilo Guinto, Gilbert Arthur Guzman, William Ian-Vincent Hagan, Paul Keeya, Spencer Mayer Lawrenz, John Terrence O’Brien, Tommy Roide, Pedro Saucedo Jr., Joachim Ssebwana and William Matthew Wheeler.

The diaconate ordination of these 11 young men represents a notable upward trend in vocations throughout the archdiocese, according to Father Samuel Ward, associate director of the Office for Vocations of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“Our number of men ordained each year continues to grow as we see a great increase in priestly vocations in our local Church,” assessed Father Ward. “We rejoice that these nine new deacons for the archdiocese and two for their home diocese in Uganda have responded with such faith and generosity to Jesus’ call for each of them to holy orders.”

For these 11 young men, the Mass, which was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, marked a significant milestone nearly a decade in the making. The journey toward ordination requires seminarians to complete between seven and nine years of rigorous, comprehensive formation that focuses on the “four pillars of formation” — human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

In addition to their intensive studies and participation in daily Mass, communal and individual prayer, and regular retreats, seminarians also serve throughout the community in a wide variety of pastoral ministries, including teaching in Catholic schools, hospital and convalescent home ministry, outreach ministry to the poor and developmentally disabled, counseling centers, and jail and youth detention centers ministries.

Now that this year’s class of transitional deacons has been ordained, their formation and service to the community will be accompanied by celebrating Mass and participating in parish life at their home parishes in the capacity of deacons for the next 10 months, until their ordination to the priesthood next June.

Each of the new transitional deacons is acutely aware that priesthood is, in equal measure, an extraordinarily rewarding and demanding role; and for some, it’s a calling that they didn’t necessarily envision for themselves throughout their entire lives, but rather one that gradually became more clear over time. Hagan, for instance, was a late convert to Catholicism and wasn’t baptized until adulthood.

“And ever since [my baptism], God has just kept pulling me further and further away from the world and calling me to serve him,” explained Hagan.

 “Priesthood is not something that I imagined would be a part of my life,” added Lawrenz of his journey in faith. “But the more I discovered God’s love for me, and the fact that he wanted to shower his gifts on me, the more I felt like I was able to open up my life to him and be receptive to what he wanted for me. I just kept following those unexpected graces and opening my heart to allow God to give me those things. And it turned out to be this call to the priesthood.”

Any ordination Mass is, as Father Ward put it, “among the most solemn, beautiful and symbolically rich of all the Catholic Church’s liturgies.” The stirring ordination on Aug. 12 saw the 11 candidates profess promises of celibacy and obedience before Bishop Brennan, followed by being vested with the deacon’s stole and dalmatic and receiving the Book of the Gospels from Bishop Brennan in order to symbolize their mission of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, during his homily, Bishop Brennan implored the new transitional deacons to “fall in love, and stay in love” with the Lord, with preaching the gospel to all and with ministering to the needs of others, even during the inevitable times when they feel overwhelmed and not worthy of the calling.

“It was a great reminder that, no matter whether you’re a deacon, priest, bishop or what have you, we need people of God to continue to pray for us as we pray for them,” said Hagan of Bishop Brennan’s timely message. “And it’s a journey to do that together.”

Thankfully, the recent diaconate ordination provided striking visual evidence that none of these transitional deacons are lacking for prayers or support, as each was greeted in the cathedral courtyard after the Mass by dozens of friends and family members, many of whom were the ones who inspired the seminarians and offered both guidance and encouragement all throughout their journeys in faith.

Hagan, for instance, was joined by, in addition to a multitude of friends and family flying in from all over the country and even the world, Msgr. Paul Montoya, the priest who baptized him at Christ the King Parish in Hollywood.

For Lawrenz, the significance of having both of his parents, his extended family and several friends arriving from Kansas City and Arkansas in attendance wasn’t lost on him. “These are the people who supported me along the way,” Lawrenz said, beaming. “It’s a blessing to have them here to witness what the Lord is doing in Los Angeles and for me as well.”