Nelson and Maricela Garcia (COURTESY PHOTO)

15 men to be ordained to the diaconate

ORLANDO  |  In 2009, 14 men were ordained to the permanent diaconate. On Oct. 3, 2020, 15 men will be ordained to the Order of Deacon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, ordination is by invitation only. The faithful may join Bishop John Noonan via livestream, http://live.orlandodiocese.org, to witness the ordination of the men to the diaconate in the Diocese of Orlando. 

Daniel J. Bassile

Holy Name of Jesus, Indialantic

In 1996, Daniel Bassile came to Florida from New York to give his family a better life. He immediately became a parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Indialantic where he attended with his children. The following year he began volunteering with Daily Bread, a non-profit organization  to fight hunger and homelessness in Brevard County in various ways. “It was a natural fit for me that it (became) my outside the walls ministry,” he said.

Brooklyn-born Bassile said his formation experience has been “one filled with awe of God’s love and mercy.” Although he faced time management challenges, trying to complete assignments while being available to his family, he described formation as an “unbelievable grace, bringing my family closer together and helping us all to grow and mature in our faith.”

He is proud of his family and their living faith. His eldest daughter, Kelsey, is mother to his two granddaughters and a parishioner at Joseph Parish in Palm Bay. His daughter, Esmee, passed. He is sure she has “gone home to her eternal reward.” Both his son and youngest daughter, Nicholas and Isabel, are active with LifeTeen. Nicolas is a Knight of Columbus and works in the elevator trade, as does Bassile. Isabel is a core member of Edge. 

“My vision for the future as a deacon family is for us to do our best to become what we receive at Mass and then go serve all in need wherever we are,” he said. “And encourage them to become children of God as well, inviting them in love to encounter the risen Jesus.”

Nelson Cruz

St. Isaac Jogues, Orlando

Nelson Cruz Ildefonso was born in Patillas, Puerto Rico, in the small hillside community of El Mamey. He met his wife of 43 years, Nilda Huertas, while both attended José Gauthier Benitez High School in Caguas, Puerto Rico, where they both lived at the time. They have two children, Manuel Anthony (Marlow) and Gabriel Isaac, and one granddaughter. 

After graduating from high school, Cruz joined the U.S. Army and served for 22 years. Upon retirement he went to work for Advance Auto Parts in various management/sales positions until serving the Diocese of Orlando at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando. He and Nilda have been parishioners there for 15 years. Cruz currently serves the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and the sick at various hospitals in the community. He is a lector, sacristan, usher, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, serving the sick and homebound.

He first felt a call to the diaconate more than 30 years ago, but never thought the timing was right until he and Nilda prayed whether the Lord had more for them to do. 

“I found that there was more to serving the parish 

and that there was a bigger need outside its walls,” he said. “Too many were not enjoying the love of Jesus Christ.” 

He noticed many forgotten people, especially those in hospitals and in senior living communities, and he was called as Jesus asked McCarthy to “tend my sheep.” 

While Cruz understands it is impossible to cover the needs of everyone, he finds ways to visit as many as possible. “I enjoy being with families in times of mourning and offer healing words to them to overcome their pains and doubts,” he said. “I do not know the Lord’s plans for me after ordination, but I pray that I may have the health and love to serve his command to ‘tend my sheep.’”

Dominick Delio

Our Lady of the Lakes, Deltona

Dominick and Audrey Delio married 27 years ago, when they became parishioners of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Deltona. Delio is a native upstate New Yorker who moved to Florida with his parents, Dorothy and Joe, and three sisters (Mona, Nancy and Camille) at age 11. He is co-owner of Auction Anything, a technology company for businesses and fundraising.

Learning that a “deacon is the icon of Christ the servant,” Delio said, “God has called me gradually into deeper relationship with Him through the act of serving others.” He began by getting involved in liturgical ministries. 

Then, 10 years ago, he felt God’s call to serve young people and started a free summer camp for at-risk youth called CampChallenge. Moved to serve the poor, he became involved in his parish’s St. Vincent de Paul conference. Shortly after, he added prison ministry. 

“Looking back, I see that my whole life has been a journey toward the diaconate,” Delio said. “These past six years have been extremely challenging. ‘Formation’ is a great term for this process since you are truly being formed into someone new. It can (at times) be painful and most times uncomfortable.” He credits God’s grace and the support of his parish and family as critical to his successful completion of the program. He envisions being Christ to others “by connecting with the brokenness in others that leads us all into a deeper relationship with him.”

David Engasser

St. Margaret Mary, Winter Park

David Engasser moved to central Florida from New York with his parents and one sibling when he was 12 years old. As a teen, he served as an altar server at Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee. He recalled once visiting St. Margaret Mary Parish as part of a retreat for young men considering the seminary. Years later, he met his wife, Mary, and began attending the parish where they married and raised their two children, Christopher and Megan. They have been active members of St. Margaret Mary for more than 34 years, and served as a couple in many ministries during that time including liturgical, sacramental preparation and social justice ministries. 

The software engineer serves outside the parish with KUDU, the Home of the Holy Angels orphanage and school, which houses, feeds, and educates more than 200 children year-round in the Kibale district of Uganda. He has also volunteered with Feeding Children Everywhere in Altamonte Springs. 

While acknowledging the challenges of balancing family life, work, ministry, and a rigorous educational program with St. Leo University, Engasser said formation was a great blessing. He said his six years of formation has “transformed” his “image of who God is dramatically.”

“I have come to better know God as a loving and merciful father,” he said. “This has impacted how I relate to everyone I encounter and has enabled me to reach out with much greater love and mercy.”

Nelson García

St. Isaac Jogues, Orlando

Nelson García felt a vocation to religious life during his senior years at college in Puerto Rico. As directed by the late Father Esteban Santaella, he visited some religious orders, including the Franciscans and even became an aspirant and postulant. While he said it was a great experience, he felt a strong call to start a family. Under the wisdom of Father Santaella, García came to realize that “the urge” on his heart to serve the Church might be in the diaconate.

He and his wife, Maricela, both received degrees in nursing at the Pontifical Catholic University in Puerto Rico and work as registered nurses in Orlando. The Garcías came to Orlando in 1999 and began serving in their parish a year later, particularly caring for the sick and serving in liturgical ceremonies.

García currently works as a dialysis nurse and his wife is a clinical manager in pharmaceutics. Their daughter is a senior at the University of Central Florida and their son is a high school senior. 

Nelson serves St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando with the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul and visits the sick in their homes. He described his diaconate formation as a roller coaster, and found the emphasis on prayer and development of a close relationship with God as uplifting. Because English is his second language, he found the writing portion of the courses challenging, but “with God grace and many people’s help, we did conquer that mountain, too. There are not any walls or disturbances we can’t conquer with God grace. It may be giving us a thrill and be challenging for a time, nevertheless we pass it through.”

The couple hopes to continue their work of evangelization, including through marriage ministry, pastoral care of the sick and working with St. Vincent or Paul at the parish. García said it is necessary to “practice charity and service with an open mind to be present” to be like Jesus the servant.

Jim Lucas

St. Mark the Evangelist, Summerfield

Jim and Angela Lucas have been happily married for 17 years. The oldest son of Michael and Barbara Lucas, Jim grew up with his brother Tom in Gaithersburg, MD. He completed his undergraduate degrees in mass communication and athletic training from Towson University. In 1999, the Blessed Mother led Lucas to the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota, where he met Angela, a fellow resident advisor. After finishing his graduate work, Lucas become engaged to his future wife on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in honor of Our Lady, and they were married at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. 

They moved to Florida in 2004 and joined St. Mark the Evangelist Parish, continuing their spiritual journey together. During an ethics course for his master’s degree, Lucas said the Holy Spirit led him to the Diocese of Orlando website where he considered the call to the permanent diaconate, but it was not the right time. He completed his MPA and served as assistant director of The Villages Recreation Department for the next five years while he and Angela grew in their faith, as lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They served meals to the hungry at Brother’s Keeper soup kitchen and Lucas started attending Mass and Eucharistic Adoration during the week. “In God’s classroom of silence,” he again felt the invitation to explore the permanent diaconate. A year later, he began formation. “The entire diaconate community has become family,” he said. They motivated him “to raise the bar in every area” of his life – spiritually, mentally and physically. 

He recognizes he has become a better husband, son, brother, co-worker, friend and servant leader. Going forward, Lucas trusts God’s plan for him and his family. “God’s grace has always led the way,” he said. He “only seeks to return it in love of God and man,” affirming, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible” (Lk 1:37)

Peter McCarthy

St. Isaac Jogues, Orlando

Peter McCarthy was born in New York and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. The oldest of six children born to Jeanette and the late Frank McCarthy, he went to Catholic school. He attended the University of Illinois, majoring in electrical engineering and then went into the Navy. Following service, he worked as a computer engineer for the Navy as a civilian, where he remains. 

McCarthy is a computer engineer by trade and a game board enthusiast by hobby. Thirty years ago he married his wife, Kim, whom he met while working at the former Orlando Navy Base. They have two sons, Timothy and Colin, and  have been parishioners of St. Isaac Jogues Parish in east Orlando since they were newly married.  

Passionate and active in ministry to the incarcerated through the Kairos Prison Ministry, McCarthy has served on a number of retreat teams at two prisons in the Central Florida area. Through these experiences, he realizes “God’s light can shine in even the darkest of places.” 

McCarthy said he has learned so much during the diaconate formation process. He describes himself as “a quiet man who feels he is called to listen to people who are often ignored or looked down upon in society.” McCarthy found the formation process challenging, grace-filled, and rewarding. He learned that life as a Christian is not governed by the “stuff” you know, but through who you are in relationship to God and others. Formation has pushed him into places (like prison) where he had never considered going. He intends to remain attentive to God’s ongoing call.

Noel Oteyza

Holy Family, Orlando

Noel Oteyza remembers a calling to serve the Lord when he was an altar server at Mass during a Eucharistic Cenacle, in grade school. He recalls experiencing such peace and joy. After that, he said doors opened to serve in several ministries. He began attending retreats, conferences, and pilgrimages, which led him to diaconate formation. 

Oteyza earned an Aerospace Engineering Degree at University of Maryland in College Park, then began his career at Dual, Inc. supporting NAVAIR in Crystal City, VA. His career brought him to Orlando, where he met Karyl. The couple became parishioners of Holy Family in 2000. He has more than 20 years in Seminole County Traffic Engineering and worked more than 26 years offering part-time customer service for Marriott Hotels and Walt Disney World. 

Oteyza visits the incarcerated in prisons and volunteers at Shepherd’s Hope, which provides access to healthcare for the uninsured.

He said one of the most challenging parts of formation was “resuming academic studies after being out of school for many years.” He noted, “Surrendering to God’s will helped me to learn much about the richness and fullness of the Catholic Church.” He felt it was a grace to have Karyl at his side. “Going through formation together has allowed us to grow in our faith and love for each other,” he said. They both continue to spend a dedicated weekly hour with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, since 2000 when they began dating. 

As a deacon, he hopes to use his gifts of customer service at either the hospital, airport or wherever God, through the leadership of the bishop, calls him. 

Elbert Pagan

St. Rose of Lima, Kissimmee 

Elbert Pagan was born in Yuaco, Puerto Rico and grew up in Chicago, IL. He is happily married to his best friend and love of his life, Aurea, for 13 years. Together, they have a daughter and a son. The family moved to the Poinciana area and found St. Rose of Lima Parish 11 years ago. Pagan and his wife are active in the John XXIII ministry, faith formation, ministry to the sick, and are strong advocates for Sickle Cell Anemia awareness. 

Since arriving in Kissimmee in 2005, Pagan worked in IT for the School District of Osceola County, St. Cloud Community Hospital, Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, and currently is the chief information officer for the Orange County Tax Collector.

“Our time in formation has been a journey of growth, discovery, and sacrifice for my wife, children, and myself,” Pagan said. “I can testify that the Holy Spirit has used this formation process to mold me into the servant leader that God needs me to be in order to serve his people and his church.” As a deacon family, Pagan said they hope to continue being “a living example for others, especially young families,” as they continue their faith walk. At the “young age of 39 years old,” he said it is his and Aurea’s hope that their example would “send a positive message to other young members of the church; that they can play an influential and vital part in the life of the Church.” He added, “It is our hope that our example of love and sacrifice inspires others in accepting God’s call to love, mercy and grace.”     

José (Chepe) Perez

Holy Cross, Orlando

José Perez, better known as Chepe, was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico as the fifth of seven siblings. He was attracted to serve in the Church from his youth in several ministries. Perez enjoys interactive teaching, sports, and dancing. In his early 20s, he felt a call for a deeper service to God and his people, so he went to the seminary to discern a possible vocation to the priesthood. Instead, he felt called to serve God in the permanent diaconate. Soon after, he joined the USAF where he served a combat mission that earned him a Bronze Star for heroism. He retired from active duty after 25 years of service.

During those years, he studied theology in Italy and was accepted into diaconate formation in Washington D.C., but had to leave the program after being transferred overseas again. When Perez met his wife, Yolima, who is from Colombia, he prayed she would support his diaconate call, but it turned out that Yolima was Protestant. A series of experiences with Christ in the Eucharist led her to convert to Catholicism. Together, they have five children and eight grandchildren. 

The couple serves at Holy Cross Parish in Orlando. Perez said, “Their call to diakonia has been greatly enhanced by these years of discernment and the formation process.” The couple is involved with family ministries and shares their testimony at retreat services. Perez is fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian. Their hope is “to faithfully serve their community in and outside the walls of their church.” They serve as a joyful couple, “supporting and contributing each other’s gifts with love for God and pastoral care for those in need,” he said.

Pete Pronko

Annunciation, Altamonte Springs

Pete Pronko is a husband, father of two and “revert” to the Catholic faith. Raised in a Catholic family 20 miles west of Boston, Pronko walked away from the church at the age of 17. While attending college in Arizona he experienced what he describes as “a spiritual awakening” and became actively involved in non-denominational Christian ministries. He spent 16 years working in Christian media with various Christian leaders, where he fell in love with Scripture and felt the unexplainable pull of Christ toward something more. This eventually led Pronko back to the Catholic Church in 2004. He has been an active parishioner of Annunciation Parish since then. 

Pronko lives in Longwood with his wife Dawn and two children. When the Pronko family began diaconate formation, the eldest of the children was 12 years old and the youngest was three. The formation process challenged them to communicate better and prioritize their lives to balance the demands of formation with the rigors of family life. Pronko said the formation process brought them closer together as a family and strengthened Dawn and Pronko’s vocation to marriage. Currently, Pronko serves as the director of Evangelization and Family Catechesis at Annunciation and volunteers as a chaplain at the Seminole County Jail. The Pronkos are excited to continue to grow in service to the Lord and to the people of the Diocese of Orlando. 

Steven Ramos

St. Rose of Lima, Kissimmee

Steven Ramos heard the faint calling to the diaconate during a retreat for the John XXIII Movement (Movimiento Juan XXIII). He had enlisted and served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 23 years to help save lives. Now he felt that God was calling “to help save hearts and souls.” 

He and his wife, Carmen, are originally from Puerto Rico, and have known one another since they were 13 years old. The couple met in a Catholic youth group and have been married for 33 years. They have two sons, Steven Jr. and Ricardo. While stationed in Miami,  the family visited the central Florida area and fell in love with the community of St. Rose of Lima. The couple has been active in various ministries at the diocesan and parish levels.

Ramos works with the St. Rose of Lima Food Pantry and at the Merrill Garden Assisted Living Facility.

“The formation process has helped me realize that I was far from my true calling and potential,” Ramos said. “It did not only help give me the opportunity to grow spiritually, but as a whole person. Formation reminded me that I have to empty myself completely so that Christ can fill and complete me with his love.” Ramos hopes “to become a messenger of God’s hope and love.” Both he and Carmen feel a strong call to serve. “I still remember Bishop Noonan’s words: ‘Make your life worthy of your service.’ I heard that loud and clear,” Ramos said. “It’s a call to allow me to be transformed by God’s grace.”

Ray Sakowski

St. Joseph, Lakeland

Ray J. Sakowski was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, along with his wife of 37 years, Marianne. They have two children. Their daughter, Chrisandra, and her husband, Jon, are missionaries living in Thailand. Their son, Raymond, passed away in 2011. The couple has three granddaughters and two grandsons.

Sakowski credited participation in a Christ Renews His Parish weekend retreat as the beginning of his diaconate journey. He began formation in the Atlanta Archdiocese in 2005.

Sakowski has worked with Publix Supermarkets for the last 27 years as a construction supervisor working along the southwest coast of Florida. A job change originally brought his family to the area. They have been at St. Joseph in Lakeland for the last six years. 

While at St. Joseph, the couple have ministered to the homeless through their work at Talbot House – a provider of services to homeless men and women in their community. They have also taught faith formation, Baptism classes, are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and the couple volunteers in hospitals and provides Holy Communion at an assisted living facility. He said he is grateful for meeting many wonderful people in formation who became brothers and sisters to him and Marianne. He felt God’s grace guided him through the preparation process and looks forward to what God has in store.

“It is said that God writes straight with crooked lines, this has been my experience,” Sakowski said. “Throughout this journey I have been shown many things. Patience would be at the top of the list.” 

David Sorondo

St. Ann, Debary

David Sorondo, and his wife, Leann, were born in the Orlando area, and grew up attending St. John Vianney Parish in Orlando. They moved to Deltona in 2007, with her father, Roy Ranier. His parents are Cuban immigrants.

The couple is close to their both their families, many of whom live in central Florida. With 24 nieces and nephews (and counting), there is always something to keep them busy, Sorondo said. Along with celebrating with their families, they welcomed two boys, Carlos and Sauli, from the Sister Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic, during their high school studies. 

Inspired after helping a stranded traveler on the roadside one evening, Sorondo became a fireman more than 20 years ago and currently serves at the Orlando International Airport as a lieutenant/paramedic. His call and discernment was “very natural,” he said. 

“If a deacon is called to be an icon of Christ the servant, I have always found joy in service of others,” he said. “From flipping burgers to teaching, every job I have performed has been done with a servant’s heart.” 

The couple looks forward to continuing their involvement through the mission office and serving their parish community in new ways, continuing to spread the Gospel with others. 

“Formation has helped me grow both spiritually and socially,” Sorondo said. “(Throughout every formation gathering) our lives have been enriched through grace and a better understanding of our Catholic faith, which has strengthened our relationship with God.” 

He noted, a common question people asked during the formation process is, “When will I be done?” “The simple and truthful answer is that I do not know when I will be done, for only God knows,” he said. “Ordination is another step in my continuous journey with God in service of others.”

Samuel Velez

Holy Cross, Orlando

Samuel Velez, and his wife, Kearly, have been married for 32 years, and have four grown children — Andrew, Matthew, Jordan and Samuel Jr. . Originally from Queens, New York, Velez retired from Altria Group and Distribution company after 30 years of service and now works part-time at Sea World. They have been parishioners of Holy Cross Parish since 1997. 

“I have always held my God and faith close to my heart,” Velez said. 

Because of his passion to serve, he has invested his time and energy in giving back to the community through involvement in several ministries — lector, catechist, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, charismatic prayer group co-leader, and leader of the Liturgy of the Hours in Spanish. He is also involved in prison ministry, the homeless coalition and led three successful Tootsie Roll drives in support of autism for the Knights of Columbus. Although Velez said he heard a calling from a young age, he “turned a deaf ear.” 

“In my lifetime, I thought of priesthood, but convinced myself that it was not the right choice,” he said. “God continues to live within me and saw my devotion and love for him.”

In 2009 the Lord called once again, and while he tried to put it off, something was different. “This time I could be present mind, body and spirit,” Velez said. “The beautiful part is that it did not matter that I was married because God took care of that. He gifted me a woman who would one day understand my calling and be as eager as I am to serve him as he always wanted me to do.” 

One of his favorite quotes is from St. Pio of Pietrelcina: “Prayer is the best weapon we have. It is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact, on certain occasions, you should only speak to him with your heart.” “Because of this,” Velez added, “my Lord remembered to call me by name and I listened.”