SPARTANBURG—When Ryan Dela Pena was in kindergarten, he drew a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up, and it instantly drew the attention of a nun who taught him.
“Is this what you want? Are you saying you want to be a priest?” she asked.
“Yes!” was his emphatic response.
More than 20 years later, Adorno Father Teodoro “Ted” Kalaw, parochial vicar at Jesus, Our Risen Savior Church, shared that story with a joyful crowd who, just an hour before, had witnessed the ordination of Dela Pena to the transitional diaconate, celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
It is the final step before fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a priest.
As a transitional deacon, Dela Pena, now 28, will assist during the liturgy, proclaim the Gospel, assist at and bless weddings outside Mass, baptize, and preach and officiate at funerals.
A crowd of at least 400 attended the event April 11, including his parents, grandmother, siblings and other family members, who sat on the front row. His mother wiped away tears several times during the ceremony.
He also drew well-wishers from Filipino communities around the state, including more than 50 who drove from Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek.
Dela Pena’s fellow Adornos, who serve at parishes in the Charleston area and Spartanburg, also attended and assisted during the liturgy.
During his homily, Bishop Guglielmone urged Dela Pena to think about and imitate Christ’s life of love and service.
“As a deacon, serve the people in love and joy as you would serve the Lord,” he said.
While some men are solemn during their diaconate ordinations, Dela Pena wore a broad smile during most of the ceremony. The most emotional time, he said, was when he prostrated himself on the ground in front of the altar during the Litany of the Saints.
“I was thinking of all the people who have asked me to pray for them recently, and I was praying for all of them the whole time,” he said.
At the end of the ceremony, Bishop Guglielmone thanked the new deacon’s family and his fellow Adornos for helping him reach this milestone.
Deacon Dela Pena also gave brief remarks.
“My heart is full of gratitude to God and to all of you here right now,” he said. “I know and God knows who you are, and I pray every day that God will reward you to an infinite degree! I am overwhelmed by this. I have been thinking of this day for the longest time.”
The new deacon was born in the Philippines. His parents Joel and Cristina brought the family to the United States in 1990 and settled in Lodi, N.J., where they attended a parish served by the Adorno Fathers. They have two other children, Kevin and Janine Dela Pena.
The idea of a religious vocation for their oldest son started early, as evidenced by his drawing.
“It’s all I can remember,” the new deacon said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do. It’s because of my parents and my grandmother. They enriched us in the faith.
“I originally wanted to become a Benedictine monk, but after I saw the spirit of community the Adornos had and their devotion to the Eucharist, I wanted to join them.”
He entered the seminary right after graduating high school, studying at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, then in the Philippines and Rome before returning to the United States to complete his training.
Deacon Dela Pena will serve his pastoral year at Jesus, Our Risen Savior, where he has spent the past few months.
“I love the people here so much,” he said. “They’ve been so welcoming to me since I got here. I came here from an academic world and I originally just wanted to live an academic life as a priest, but here I’ve learned to love the parish life.”
Hundreds of people packed the parish hall and flowed into two other rooms after the ordination to share a meal of Italian and traditional Filipino food with the new deacon and his family. After they spent time meeting people and posing for pictures, his parents talked about this new milestone for their son, with Mrs. Dela Pena saying she wanted to share her joy with everybody. “I was overwhelmed by the ceremony,” Mr. Dela Pena said. “I am so very, very happy and just so proud of him!”