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Seminarian ‘on fire’ with faith ordained a deacon

Seminarian and Bishop

BOCA RATON | All who spoke to the Florida Catholic before and after the April 13 ordination of 10 transitional deacons for dioceses across Florida used a variation of the same noun — “blessing,” denoting God’s favor and protection, a beneficial thing for which one is grateful.

Jude Okeke, who was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Palm Beach during the Mass at St. Joan of Arc Church in Boca Raton, said earlier that it was a special blessing to have his chief shepherd, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, be the ordaining prelate. Since St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary serves dioceses throughout Florida and the southeastern United States, the ordaining bishop is usually from outside the immediate area.

“It’s very much special to me, especially because Bishop Barbarito was the one who accepted me in the Diocese of Palm Beach,” Okeke said. “That’s why I’m so blessed that he’s the one ordaining me to the diaconate and, God willing, will be the one ordaining me to the priesthood next year.”

Besides Okeke, Bishop Barbarito ordained one deacon each for the Archdiocese of Miami and Diocese of St. Augustine, two each for the dioceses of Orlando and Venice, and three for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. He was joined in the celebration by Bishop Eric Pohlmeier of St. Augustine, Bishop Joseph L. Coffey, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and Bishop Silvio José Báez, the exiled auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua, Nicaragua, who teaches at the seminary in Boynton Beach.

For Okeke, who is age 29 and entered the minor seminary in Nigeria as a 10-year-old, the journey to priesthood has been longer than most. He credits his pious grandmother for building his Catholic faith. Family members would be watching the ordination via livestream, he said. 

“I have so many friends. I think they love me so much here,” said Okeke, who served his pastoral year at St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach. “That’s why I feel truly blessed to be here because the people love me so much, even though I don’t have any family here. The people here have come to be my family.”

Beginning his homily, Bishop Barbarito thanked the deacons’ family members and friends for assisting the men to discern and accept their call from God to serve the church. He also expressed gratitude to Father Alfredo Hernández, rector/president of the seminary, along with its faculty and staff, in helping prepare men for the priesthood.  

Addressing the deacon candidates, the bishop explained that, in receiving the sacrament of holy orders, they are to organize their lives around Jesus. “In your ordering of your lives more closely to the person of Jesus Christ today, you will make, before all of us, three significant promises to him and to his church which will intimately affect your entire lives,” Bishop Barbarito said. 

“These promises are a lifelong commitment of celibacy; a lifelong commitment of prayer, as expressed in your promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours; and a commitment to the service of the church, as expressed in obedience,” he said. “While these are a trinity of separate promises, they form a unity in the ordering of your lives to Christ and to his church. All of them become one in handing over yourselves to the Lord completely and totally today.”

Those promises are always heroic, the bishop said, but especially so today. “Always remember what the Lord has said to you today and to all of us in the Gospels: It is he who has chosen you, and he will never relent. The Lord will never relent in his promise of faithfulness to you. Be always faithful to him.”

Reiterating his gratitude to the men for accepting God’s call, Bishop Barbarito said, “Through your diaconal ministry in preparation for priesthood, you will make the presence of Christ a reality for many people whom you will serve. May the love of truth, the constant thirst for God, be your incentive to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, especially the trinity, the trinity of promises you make today.”

During the ordination rite, the 10 men made those promises. While the faithful sang a litany to the saints, the deacon candidates lay prostrate on the floor as a sign of humility, prayer and total abandonment. After the deeply meaningful imposition of hands and prayer of consecration, the new deacons donned the stole and dalmatic, the vestments that symbolize diaconal ministry, and Deacon Okeke took his seat next to Bishop Barbarito.

At the end of the ordination liturgy, Father Hernández congratulated the new deacons and thanked Father Nestor Rodriguez, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, and his staff for welcoming the seminary to their church. He also conveyed gratitude to the students and staff at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, the music and livestream teams, along with Father Llane Briese and Father Brian King, emcees for the celebration. 

Bishop Barbarito gave kudos to all who assisted in the liturgy and regularly help form men for the priesthood. Addressing the new deacons, he said, “We assure you of our continued prayers and support as you begin your final steps towards the priesthood.” Then, drawing laughter from everyone, the bishop jokingly added, “I didn’t tell them, and I certainly didn’t tell their bishops yet, but I did ordain them for the Diocese of Palm Beach today. I’ll explain it later.”

As expected, well-wishers mobbed the new deacons afterward. Christian Aman, a friend of Deacon Okeke at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Boca Raton, said he is a great candidate for priesthood. “He’s very, very holy, I would say. He loves our Lord. He’s on fire for him, and he’s doing a very good job imitating him. We’re very, very happy for him.”

Denise O’Loughlin, principal of St. Vincent Ferrer School, said, “It’s such a blessing. I sat watching this mom (seated nearby) and I thought about his mom not being here. I got a little emotional. But what a blessing he has been to us and to know that his whole life will now be a blessing to so many. Just a beautiful, beautiful day. And I’ve been to other ordinations, but today was so special. Always praying for him.”

To watch the diaconate ordination Mass, visit or go to 2024 Diaconate Ordinations Recording ( To learn more about vocations in the Diocese of Palm Beach, visit, or follow the Office of Vocations and Seminarians on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo credit: Tom Tracy, St. Vincent de Paul Seminary