The stranger in the donut shop knew Renee Sosa was a deacon, confident of it. She said it with conviction in her voice.

“You are a deacon,” she told him in Spanish.

The only problem was, he wasn’t a deacon. Hadn’t even considered it. Didn’t even really know what a deacon was. But he and his wife, Cynthia, had become so immersed in different ministries at St. John Vianney Church in Hacienda Heights that even his father, aunts, and yes, strangers, already saw him as one.

So what others already sensed came true on June 8, when Sosa and seven other men, joined by their wives, were ordained as permanent deacons at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The group joins the already more than 400 permanent deacons serving across the archdiocese’s five pastoral regions.

“People receive their calling in so many different ways,” Sosa said. “I think the only reason why we got the call in the way we did was because that’s the only way we would have listened to it.”

Cynthia Sosa, right, smiles after her husband, Renee, received the Book of Gospels during the ordination Mass. (Victor Alemán)

Archbishop José H. Gomez said during his homily at the Mass that these deacons were called to serve and bring more people to know Jesus Christ.

“Brothers, each of you is being called to a life of friendship with the living God,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And each of you is being called today to a life of service in persona Christi Servi, ‘in the person of Christ the Servant.’

“Today, Jesus is claiming you to be his own. He is setting his ‘seal’ on your heart.”

Pedro Cardenas took that to heart during the ordination, calling the experience “supernatural” and “indescribable.”

“It’s a feeling that is impossible to describe with words,” he said in Spanish. “But it’s a feeling of joy, of happiness, of satisfaction of reaching the goal and starting down a new path in ministerial service to the community, to God’s people.”

The new deacons and their wives went through a five-year formation process where they learned everything from discernment, spiritual growth, theological concepts, and how to preach homilies.

Their formation process was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by the combination of the class’s English and Spanish-speaking candidates in a bilingual setting.

Pedro Cardenas and his wife, Consuelo, speak little English, and were hesitant when the groups were combined. But the help of a translator and a Spanish-speaking deacon sent by the archdiocese to support them helped. With each class, Pedro became more serious about deepening his faith and becoming a deacon.

“I saw his dedication, so I supported him,” Consuelo said in Spanish.

Deacon Gary Smith, who went through the process with his wife, Shelly, said that while the combination “was really hard, it was a wise move and I think it’s the right one especially given the demographics of our communities. It’s what we need, to break down those walls.”

The group’s closeness proved providential for Renee and Cynthia Sosa. Just before formation started, Renee injured his back and had nerve damage. The couple also dealt with Cynthia’s mother suffering with late-stage dementia.

But most serious was Cynthia needing a hysterectomy due to having cancer in her uterus. For a couple already in pain from not being able to have children, this suffering was almost too much without the support and prayers of the group.

“The entire class at one point or another have experienced some kind of challenges with our health, family, financial, all sorts of different issues,” Renee said. “But we would get together and talk about it, we would help each other and we were always there to support one another to help ourselves through it.”

“It allowed us to really create that beautiful bond,” Cynthia said.

Deacon Gary Smith assists Archbishop Gomez during consecration at the altar. (Victor Alemán)

The years of preparation are necessary, the class was told, but the real learning begins after ordination. 

“One of the areas we look forward to serving is continuing to work with kids,” said Renee. “Ironically, we couldn’t have kids but yet God places us in the ministry where we serve kids and now we are surrounded by them.”

“I’ve already seen people come to me now in ways that they never did before and are open and looking for a way to feel closer to God,” Gary Smith said. “And so being able to pray with them, being able to bless them. … That’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to.”

“Gary actually did his first baptism and I got to be a part of that,” Shelly Smith said. “I thought that was so cool. Just to be able to do these things for our communities, it really is going to be a good blessing. … It’ll be interesting to see where it takes us.”

“We have found the precious pearl and now we need to protect it for the common good and the glory of God,” Pedro Cardenas said.

The full group:

To learn more about the diaconate, there are upcoming virtual diaconate information days on July 7 and Oct. 13. View more info at

Theresa Cisneros contributed to this story.