Deacons celebrate 30th jubilees

The members of Rochester’s first class of permanent deacons are celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year. After receiving diaconal training at Rochester’s former St. Bernard’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Institute (now called St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry), the 30-year deacons were ordained April 17, 1982, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

When Deacon Nemesio "Vellon" Martínez was reassigned to Holy Apostles Church a few years ago, it felt like a homecoming, he said.

"I was coming back to my home parish after 26 years" with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, he said. "It was not difficult for me."

He also had an edge as his wife, Bruni, is the parish’s coordinator of Hispanic ministries.

But, he explained, the Spanish Mass at Holy Apostles has evolved from what he recalls during the early years of Hispanic ministry at the church. Parishioners now represent more than 14 Latin American countries, whereas a majority previously were from Puerto Rico, he noted. He himself moved to the Rochester area from Humacao, Puerto Rico, in 1974.

"It’s a challenge to get to know the cultures and ways of worship," he said. "But it can be done."

He also has seen new challenges in his job as chaplain of Livingston Correctional Facility in Sonyea.

Because of a shortage of chaplains, his duties have expanded to counseling not only Catholic prisoners but also of other faiths. In that role, Deacon Martínez said he mainly serves as a liaison between the prisoners and prison administrators. He also helps organize special events for them.

"I’m just their voice in administration," he noted. "I only serve as a pastoral adviser for my own faith."

Deacon Martínez first became interested in prison ministry when he used to visit prisons as a volunteer with his wife. He became a prison chaplain in 1992.

At 63, he said he may retire in a few years so he can focus on doing more community work.

Upon reflecting on his 30th anniversary of ordination. Deacon Carlos Vargas said a lot has changed for him during the last five years.

He said the biggest change in his pastoral life was his reassignment from Rochester’s Holy Apostles Church to Our Lady of the Americas Church, which is part of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish.

"It disrupted my whole life," remarked Deacon Vargas. "It was tough."

But fortunately, he explained, his initial discomfort was eased by the welcome he received from the community at his new parish, especially from the non-Hispanic parishioners.

"The acceptance was great," he said. "It turned out well."

Demands on his time also have increased as he works on diocesan initiatives to improve overall ministry for Hispanics and reach out to youths. For the latter initiative, he is striving not only to keep Latino teens and young people active in the church, but also doing well in school and in the community, Deacon Vargas explained.

"A lot of things are coming along," he added. "God’s work is never done."

Deacon Vargas first moved to the area from his native Puerto Rico when he was 12. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Roberts Wesleyan College in 1990. Additionally, he studied computer sciences at Rochester Business Institute and Monroe Community College. He worked at Taylor Instruments for 24 years, and retired last year after nearly two decades with Gannett Newspapers, most recently as a computer-programmer supervisor. He and his wife, Cerefina, have been married nearly 44 years and have five children.

Following retirement, Deacon Vargas took on another new role as an instructor at El Instituto de Pastoral Hispano at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. He said he began teaching courses on liturgy and spirituality last year.

He said he is especially proud to be so active in ministry — along with Deacon Nemesio Martínez — as one of the pioneer group of Hispanic deacons who were ordained 30 years ago. The two other deacons in that group have passed away, he said.

And as long as he is able, Deacon Vargas said he plans to continue providing service to others.

"You’re done when … (God) is done with you," he said.

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