As a two-time cancer survivor, Deacon Peter Barcellona knows that life doesn’t always go as planned. “You can’t control life sometimes, so I like to make the best of it,” he said.
This year, Deacon Barcellona did just that as he graduated from Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology’s Center for Diaconal Formation in May and was ordained a deacon by the Diocese of Metuchen in June.
Although Deacon Barcellona often pondered the thought of the diaconate, he questioned whether he was too busy and ready for the academic rigor the program would require. After a deacon at his Diocese of Metuchen parish invited him to an information session for the upcoming formation class of deacons, he realized he had found his calling.
“Deacon Barcellona is a shining example and a model for all deacons who are ordained and configured to Christ in their roles as servants in love towards God and neighbor,” said Deacon Andrew Saunders, M.A., director of the Center for Diaconal Formation. “His lifetime of leadership and service exemplifies on the local and global level that deacons are, as St. Pope John Paul II noted, ‘meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.’” (Address of his Holiness John Paul II to men ordained to the permanent diaconate, Ford Auditorium, Detroit, September 19, 1987)
A senior public health investigator for the Woodbridge Township Health Department, Deacon Barcellona was first drawn to social justice projects in 1989, when a deacon friend asked him to help create a food pantry at St. James Church in Woodbridge Township, N.J.
Three years later, Deacon Barcellona became a founding member of the organization We Feed – Woodbridge, which assists local food pantries in securing adequate food supplies for needy families in the Woodbridge Township community.
Since then, Deacon Barcellona has gone on to serve the Diocese of Metuchen’s Catholic Charities Solidarity Team, Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services, the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life.
Earlier this year, Deacon Barcellona was honored as a Seton Hall Servant Leader Award recipient for his service in communities as close as Woodbridge Township and as far away as El Salvador and Guatemala. “Deacon Barcellona has never hesitated to serve,” said Christopher O’Brien, Servant Leader Awards Committee member and assistant dean for special academic programs and projects in the School of Health and Medical Sciences (SHMS). “He acknowledges that a servant leader not only identifies a problem but finds a solution for it.”
This summer, Deacon Barcellona will continue his missionary work in Africa with the Maryknoll Mission. There, he will be part of a team focused on child and adult ministry and HIV/AIDS outreach and healthcare. “I want to be with the people in solidarity,” he said. “Doing mission work isn’t just about going there, it’s about coming back and sharing their stories.”
Deacon Barcellona credited the Center for Diaconal Formation for allowing him to learn more about his faith and service. “Here I am today, a member of the first class from our diocese to graduate from the Center for Diaconal Formation program,” he said. “Each class I took at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology drew me deeper into the knowledge of my faith. It has given me a more profound understanding of our Catholic faith and has taught me to use the knowledge I’ve gained to continue working in social justice and other ministries.”
Despite his two-time battle with cancer in 1998 and 2000, Deacon Barcellona feels blessed. “Sometimes the things that are most difficult in life become a pair of blessings and that’s what happened with me” he said. “Without them, I would not be where I am today, a Seton Hall graduate and a newly ordained deacon.”
Since the restoration of the permanent diaconate to the hierarchy of sacred orders by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), growth in the diaconate has surged in the U.S. and worldwide. The Center for Diaconal Formation was established in 2010 to focus on the growing intellectual formation needs of the permanent diaconate for the surrounding New Jersey dioceses.
Like Deacon Barcellona, the graduating students of 2015 are all mature men in their mid-40’s and older. Most of these men are still working and have family and professional responsibilities while actively serving as leaders in their parishes and local communities. This spring, along with Deacon Barcellona, 31 students graduated and were ordained as permanent deacons for the Diocese of Metuchen and Diocese of Paterson.
To find out more about Deacon Barcellona’s story and to watch his Servant Leader Award video click here »
For more information about the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology click here »