By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

When April’s gentle breezes turned into May’s early peak of summer’s furnace, Deacon Mathew Dunn expected to be a bit busy, orchestrating the final weeks leading up to his May 23 ordination.  

Dunn, Deacon Matthew 023.tif

Deacon Mathew Dunn

 

Deacon Guest lists would need to be determined, invitations mailed, his first Mass scheduled. And let’s not forget about the food at the reception.  

Today, however, Deacon Dunn sits alone in the rectory at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Maurepas, near French Settlement where he was raised. The day eight years in the making has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

“I’m no longer a seminarian anymore because I’m not in school but I’m not ordained a priest so I’m kind of in this limbo,” said Deacon Dunn.  

Father Matt Lorrain, director of the Office of Seminarians, said after consulting with Bishop Michael G. Duca, the decision was made to delay the ordination.  

Father Lorrain said two options were weighed, the first being celebrating the ordination Mass on the original May 23 date with no more than 10 people in attendance. Some dioceses around the country have taken that route, and in fact five to six of Deacon Dunn’s 16 classmates have already been ordained.  

Father Lorrain said that option raised its own unique challenges, specifically what would then Father Dunn be able to do during these days of quarantine and stay-at-home orders.  

“Even if you saw the wisdom of ordaining now, could he move into a rectory, move into a residence with another priest, collaborate with the staff?” Father Lorrain said. “Until we can celebrate public Mass again, his ministry would be rather limited, and all of that went into our decision to postpone the ordination.”  

So the second option, delaying the ordination until St. Joseph Cathedral could be filled with family, friends and clergy, was selected.  

“I think (Deacon Dunn) is disappointed as anybody would be, but it passes rather quickly. As soon as we set a date, the excitement will begin to build again,” Father Lorrain said.  

Deacon Dunn said he briefly experienced a twinge of disappointment when Bishop Duca called with the news, but said he was not surprised and those feelings quickly faded.  

“It’s disappointing because I’ve waited for this particular day for eight years, and it’s not going to be May 23. I’m at peace with it,” Deacon Dunn said. “I know I am going to be ordained a priest in God’s time and in God’s providence. It’s going to happen. I say that with all authenticity and mean it very genuinely.”  

He said he’s grateful to the bishop for the delay because it allows the opportunity for those who have supported him during the past eight years to be present.  

“As far as the celebration goes, whether the church is packed or it’s just the bishop, I will walk away a priest,” Deacon Dunn said. “To have the church (full) is not something we can replace. To have the priests and deacons (in attendance) makes all of the difference in the world.  

“Ordination is a once in a lifetime thing. I think it will take on a completely different tone if it was crowded.”  

Father Lorrain concurred, saying celebrating ordination in front of a large congregation is a beautiful, visual symbol of the church.  

“And the youthfulness of the church,” he added. “The church is constantly being renewed with every wedding and ordination. It’s a beautiful mixture of tradition but also new life coming back in the church, that God continues to call young people into the church for religious vocations, priesthood, diaconate or consecrated religious life.”  

Disruption surrounding graduation is nothing new for Deacon Dunn, which is allowing him to accept this delay in stride. Four years ago, as he was completing his final semester at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, flood waters inundated the campus, forcing an evacuation that lasted more than two weeks and forced graduation to be moved to a site off campus.  

In August of that year, French Settlement was impacted by the flood of 2016 and Deacon Dunn responded by returning to help residents who had lost everything.  

“This is not ideal, this is not how we imagine things being,” Deacon Dunn said. “We can’t discount the fact there is real disappointment and real loss experienced in those things. Just trust in God. On the other side there is joy.”  

For now, Deacon Dunn is taking the extra time to continue to form his own heart. He called it a time of prayer, a time of trust and a time of uncertainty but said he has no feelings of anxiety.  

“It’s been very clear to me the past few weeks I am at the church’s disposal and in a way it’s a beautiful thing,” he said “It’s an opportunity for me to say I am not entitled to anything. (Ordination) is a gift the church is giving me.”
He also believes, “without a doubt,” ordination, when it does come, will be “much sweeter.”  

“Just think of how much more of a celebration and how glorious that day is going to be when it finally gets here,” Deacon Dunn said. “It’s not about me but it’s about all of us celebrating together. I don’t see how it could possibly not be a bigger celebration.”  

Father Lorrain said the date remains uncertain but once it’s safe to gather together again a date can be selected fairly quickly. Ordinations are not limited to Saturdays and are not required to be celebrated at the cathedral, although, he said it is preferred because of its significance and symbolism of being the mother church of the diocese.