Stephen Lape
Stephen Lape
The two candidates to be ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Albany Diocese on May 28 say they're not "typical candidates" for the ministry.

James O'Rourke, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Westmere, Albany, said he first felt called to be a deacon more than 10 years ago - right around the time that his parish was being rebuilt.

At the same time, Mr. O'Rourke was also going through a divorce and annulment. Though it was a difficult period in his life, he told The Evangelist that struggling through that time was necessary to confirm his vocation.

"Through various challenges in my life, I've turned to prayer and Scripture, and was helped through it all and was able to see Christ acting in my life. It's those times that helped me see that I have gifts and abilities that could help others through [similar] times, as well."

An Albany native, Mr. O'Rourke is manager of respiratory therapy at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany. He is a graduate of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy and The College of Saint Rose in Albany.

Older than the average new deacon, Mr. O'Rourke initially considered the priesthood as well, but came to understand that being a deacon did not mean becoming "an assistant priest, a priest-practitioner, or a subordinate priest."

Perfect fit
The diaconate was the right choice for him, he realized.

"The call is an ever-present thing and a direction you know you have to go. It's not that I wished it to, but it never went away," he joked.

When the time came to tell his friends and three children - Patrick, Mairin and Carrie - Mr. O'Rourke was concerned that he might hear reactions of doubt or disbelief.

"Instead of hearing, 'What are you thinking?' They all said, 'It's about time,'" he recalled. "That was very affirming for me."

Today, after two years in the diocesan Formation for Ministry Program, one year of aspirancy (discernment and reflection) and three years of formation, he is now ready to begin his new role as a deacon.

"What's awesome about it is the responsibility. You're not the individual with all the answers, but you are to help and be an example to the community," he remarked. "Our call is truly to service of God's people, and our presence on the altar represents the service of the whole parish community. We have one foot on the altar and one in the pew."

One part of his role as deacon is the ability to deliver the Gospel and the homily during the liturgy - a task he takes very seriously.

"Proclaiming the Gospel is a service we bring to the people; but, in a way, it's the most challenging. In the rite of ordination, we are given the Book of the Gospels and told, 'Believe what you read and live what you proclaim.' We're held responsible for that Gospel and will be examples on how to live it out," he explained.

"As for the homily, that is our chance to break open the Word. We [deacons] have this special ability to talk about the Gospel from the view of parents, husbands, managers, home-buyers and workers out in the community. It's humbling and it's a privilege."

Soon-to-be-Deacon O'Rourke is eager to begin his new role at a parish.

"I hope I can be as good of a servant to the people as I possibly can," he said. "Whatever else God wants to lay in front of me is all good. It's been all good so far."

After four years of formation for the diaconate together, Stephen Lape and Mr. O'Rourke have grown close: "He's like the little brother I never had," joked Mr. O'Rourke.

That's because Mr. Lape, a 38-year-old husband and father of two from St. Joseph's parish in Scotia, is considered young to become a deacon. While his elder son, Gabriel, is seven and Michael is only two, Mr. Lape noted that most deacons' children are adults before their father considers the vocation.

But Mr. Lape has been discerning a vocation to the diaconate for more than 10 years. A director at St. Peter's Addiction Recovery Center in Albany, he has always worked to serve the vulnerable and those in need.

"That's what drew me to the diaconate - the service aspect," he said. "Not only can you help people, but you can also empower them so they can help themselves."

Spousal support
One of the most important things for Mr. Lape was that his wife, Melissa, supported his decision: Because diaconate formation requires a large amount of time and personal development, it is suggested that spouses go through it together.

"She walked with me every step of the way: going to classes and formation weekends and retreats with me," he told The Evangelist. "It's a struggle for some couples, but it only strengthened our relationship and our faith."

In fact, he sees Mrs. Lape's role as much more challenging than the one he is about to take on. "She has gone through all of this and now must take on a much more passive role in ministry at home with the kids while I'm out doing things - and I'm so grateful to her for that," he explained.

Time to go
Now that his formation is over, Mr. Lape is excited to get back into parish ministry and again be active in the community.

"I'm very grateful for the gifts I've been given through this formation," he said; "but at times I feel guilty for having been given so much. Hopefully, now I can begin to give back."

Though he's humbled by his new responsibilities as a deacon, Mr. Lape told The Evangelist, "How can you screw up prayer? You just have to work to be compassionate, genuine and sincere and God will take care of the rest."

(On May 28, Daniel Quinn will also be ordained a deacon - a transitional deacon, as he is continuing in his studies for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese.)