Deacon Cheeyon Chun is ordained at Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano June 27. Without the noise of a large celebration or lots of guests, his diaconate ordination was prayerful. “I was able to just be present during the ordination,” he said. (Courtesy Deacon Cheeyoon Chun)
Deacon Cheeyon Chun is ordained at Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano June 27. Without the noise of a large celebration or lots of guests, his diaconate ordination was prayerful. “I was able to just be present during the ordination,” he said. (Courtesy Deacon Cheeyoon Chun)

Usually, transitional diaconate ordinations are large affairs, filling cathedrals across the country every spring and early summer. But for those ordained during the coronavirus pandemic, the Masses looked different. It wasn’t what happened on the altar that was unusual; it was the view of the pews.

Deacon Val Park, a seminarian with the Archdiocese of Seattle, was ordained at St. James Cathedral in Seattle June 20. At the time, King County was still in Phase 1 of reopening, meaning churches were not allowed to have many people inside. In fact, the Mass for Deacon Park’s ordination included only eight people, including himself, the bishop and all those helping with the Mass. The only guests he was allowed to bring were his parents.

“The pews were quite empty,” said Deacon Park.

Before joining the seminary, he loved spending time at church. The now 32-year-old began helping with youth ministry when a priest suggested he discern a vocation to the priesthood.

“He encouraged me and spent time with me talking about it,” recalled Deacon Park. “That’s where it all began.”

Deacon Park’s diaconate ordination Mass was livestreamed for all those who were not invited to attend. Those watching were saddened by the view of empty pews, which are usually filled during such a grand celebration.

There were two sides to the feelings, however, said Park.

“Because there were only eight people, it was very intimate and prayerful.”

The sentiment was shared by others who were ordained during such extraordinary times.

As young men start progressing through their seminary studies, they start to think about their ordination Masses, said Deacon Cheeyoon Chun. Deacon Chun is a seminarian with the Diocese of Orange in California.

“It was quite different because you didn’t get to celebrate it with the people,” said Deacon Chun. Ordination Masses are “the ordination of the candidate but also a testament to people’s prayers.”

The 34-year-old deacon adds he didn’t get to where he is on his own but through the support and prayers of others.

“It was tough to not invite everyone,” Deacon Chun said.

Deacon Chun has thought about becoming a priest since childhood but pursued his dream of architecture first. After a few years working as an architect, he felt a longing to do something else. He started going to daily Mass, praying more and serving his parish more.

“The idea of being a priest really gave me joy,” he said. He’s in his seventh year of studying at Mount Angel.

Deacon Chun was ordained June 27 at Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano, Calififornia. At first, he was told he could invite just two guests but was later allowed to invite 10. With technology, others were able to watch the ordination online.

Deacon Chun couldn’t have a large gathering after the Mass, an event people usually look forward to.

“Instead, it was very prayerful and spiritually enriching,” said the deacon. “I was able to just be present during the ordination.”

He added that he could have been disappointed by how it worked out but wasn’t. “I  took it as an opportunity to experience my ordination in a different way.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org