APRIL calendar of Deacon Saints
(based on Ormonde Plater’s Calendar of Deacon Saints)
Yazzie Mason, first Navajo deacon, died 2 April 1997.
Yazzie Mason was born 18 July 1927 and ordained deacon 21 December 1977. He served at St. Michael’s at Upper Fruitland, New Mexico, in the Navajo Nation. He was fluent in Navajo (both the Navajo people and their language are known as Diné) but limited in English. There was resistance to his ordination because he could neither read nor write. Every week his wife Alice read the gospel to him in Navajo, and on Sunday he recited it from memory to the congregation. His daughter Cornelia Eaton recalls: “My dad was a very sacred person, and he had such a profound passion for the gospel. Daily sunrise and sunset prayers and meditation were always spent in St. Michael’s Chapel. I remember him today in that way.”
Agathopodes (Agathopus), deacon and martyr, with reader Theodulus, killed by drowning in Thessalonica for refusing to give up the sacred books, in 303.
Defying the co-emperor Maximian (reigned 286-305) and the governor Faustinus, they confessed the Christian faith. Stones were tied to their necks, and they were cast into the sea.
Platonida (or Platonis), deacon, founder of a nunnery at Nisibis in Mesopotamia (now Nusaybin in southeastern Turkey), died in 308.
Platonida was at first a deaconess but then withdrew into the Nisibis wilderness, where she organized a women’s monastery. The rule of her monastery was distinguished by its strictness. The sisters took food only once a day. Their free time from prayer they spent in monastic works and various obediences, usually involving manual labor. On Fridays, the day commemorating the sufferings of Christ on the cross, all work stopped, and the nuns from morning until evening were in church, where in the intervals between services they read from the scriptures and their interpretations. Platonida was for all the sisters a living example of strict monastic ascetic deed, meekness, and love for neighbor. Having reached extreme old age, Platonida died peacefully.
Rufinus, deacon and martyr, with Aquilina and 200 soldiers, beheaded at Sinope on the Black Sea (now Sinop in Turkey) during the reign of Maximian (305-311), about 310.
When Rufinus was put into prison for confessing Christ, Aquilina showed concern and also was placed under guard. In prison, they converted 200 soldiers to Christ by their miracles, and all of them were beheaded by the sword.
Elfgete, deacon and martyr, with abbot Theodore of Croyland and 77 other monks, put to death by invading Danes at Croyland in England on 8 April 870.
On that day Danes attacked the famous Benedictine abbey at Croyland (now Crowland in Lincolnshire, East Anglia). They killed abbot Theodore and all the other monks who were there. We know the names of some of the monks: Askega (prior), Swethin (subprior), Elfgete (deacon), Sabinus (subdeacon), Grimkell, Agamund (centenarians), Herbert (chanter), Egred, Ulric (servers), and Egelred. By the evening of the next day only Egelred remained. He had been away and would have to wait until September to receive his crown of martyrdom. The morning had started as usual. The abbot was to preside at mass and was vested and at the altar when the Danes broke into the abbey. A few minutes later the killing was done, the looting commenced, and the Danes moved on. Behind them they left Theodore with a slash through the right side of his skull, the other monks also dead.
Gajan, deacon and martyr in Dacia (modern Romania), early fourth century.
Gajan died almost certainly during the persecution under Diocletian (emperor 284-305).April 13
Papylus, deacon and martyr, with his sister Agathonice and Bishop Carpus, killed at Pergamum in Asia Minor (now Bergama in western Turkey) in 170.
The account of their martyrdom at the hands of the proconsul Optimus, during a persecution by Marcus Aurelius (emperor 161-180), has survived. Carpus: “The gods are unfeeling; deprive them of your veneration and they will be defiled by dogs and crows. I have never before sacrificed to images which have no feeling or understanding.” Papylus: “I have many children, in virtue of the faith of the Christians, spiritual children in every province and city. I feel no pain because I have someone to comfort me; one whom you do not see suffers within me.” Agathonice: “If I am worthy I desire to follow the footsteps of my teachers. My children have God, who watches over them.” They were sentenced to be tortured with clawing instruments and then burned alive.
Isabella Gilmore, deaconess in the Church of England, died 16 April 1923.
Born in 1842, widowed and childless at age 40, Isabella Gilmore, the sister of William Morris, became a nurse at Guy’s Hospital in London. In 1886 Bishop Anthony Thorold of Rochester asked her to begin deaconess work in his diocese. The bishop overcame her initial reluctance, and together they planned for an Order of Deaconesses along the same lines as the ordained ministry. She was admitted as a deaconess in 1887, and a training house developed on North Side, Clapham Common, later to be called Gilmore House in her memory. Isabella retired in 1906.
During her nineteen years of service, she trained head deaconesses for at least seven other dioceses. At her memorial service, Archbishop Randall Davidson predicted: “Someday, those who know best will be able to trace much of the origin and root of the revival of the Deaconess Order to the life, work, example, and words of Isabella Gilmore.”
Peter, deacon and martyr, with his servant Hermogenes, killed probably at Antioch, date of death unknown.
Elizabeth Ferard, first deaconess in the Church of England, founder of the Community of St. Andrew, died 18 April 1883.
The Lutherans were the first denomination to revive the order of deaconesses. Pastor Theodor Fliedner founded a deaconess institution at Kaiserwerth in 1836. His idea was too train and send women, two to each parish—one to nurse and one to teach. But his two successive wives had different ideas and realized that such deaconesses needed a “home” for community structure. The Bishop of London, Archibald Campbell Tait, visited the Kaiserswerth community of deaconesses. In 1858 the recently revived Convocation of Canterbury discussed a revival of the order in England.
Elizabeth Catherine Ferard, descended from an old Huguenot family, had been awaiting an opportunity to serve God in the Church of England. After the death of her mother in 1858 she went to Germany to stay for at least three months at Kaiserswerth (her journal of the visit has been published). Much of this trip she found frustrating, especially since she could not understand their dialect of German. She worked in the orphan house, observing and learning nursing skills, and commented, “I again heard of the continual spreading of the Deaconess work in every direction except in England, and more than ever wished we could have something of the kind in England, where the materials for it are so abundant, could we but found a Deaconess House on the right principles” which would “minister to the necessities of the Church.” She heard of the Ditchingham Sisters when she was at Kaiserswerth, and so she visited the Anglican Community of All Hallows in Suffolk.
Then, in 1861, Elizabeth offered to begin the deaconess training in England. She and two other women began the Community of St. Andrew at a house in Burton Crescent, just south of King’s Cross. The community observed a common rule and was dedicated to worship and to works of mercy. On St Andrew’s Day 1861 the institution officially began as the North London Deaconess House.
On 18 July 1862 Bishop Tait of London admitted Elizabeth as the first deaconess in the Church of England, receiving license No.1. The sisters worked in the local parish and the slum area of Somers Town (just west of King’s Cross), were in charge of nursing at the Great Northern Hospital, and taught in the local Infants and Girls’ schools. The new order began to flourish as more dioceses began to admit women to the order. St Andrew’s began to train independent diocesan Deaconesses as well as ones for its own Community. Some women and dioceses disliked the concept of sisterhoods and preferred the parochial model pioneered by Isabella Gilmore (see 16 April) in Rochester diocese.
The Metropolitan Railway opened the station of Westbourne Park in 1866, which resulted in more people moving into this area. The clearance of Somers Town for St Pancras railway yards led to the move of the institution, by then called the London Diocesan Deaconess Institute, to the Westbourne Park area (one mile west of Paddington station) in 1873. Later that year Elizabeth’s health failed and she resigned her leadership role. But she lived for a further ten years, dying on Easter Sunday 1883. In the Church of England her day is July 18, her ordination date, because her death date often occurs in Holy Week or Easter Week. [research by Sr. Teresa Joan White, CSA]
Timon, one of the seven ordained by the apostles (Acts 6:5), died first century [also July 28]. April 20
Mary Drew, Deacon of the Diocese of Olympia, died 20 April 2004.
Mary Stanley Drew was born 26 November 1912 in Dixfield, Maine. She and her family came west during World War I when her father was assigned to Camp Lewis. She graduated from the University of Washington, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. For 38 years Mary worked at United Way of King County. She retired at 65 in 1977 as the comptroller. Mary held a variety of lay leadership roles in the diocese of Olympia.
She started her second career when she was ordained a deacon on 28 October 1989 at age 77. She was the hospital chaplain for the diocese of Olympia, working in hospitals in the Seattle area. She also served as chaplain for the diocesan School of Theology. When she was 80, she served a term as chaplain for St. George’s College in Jerusalem. Mary was a deacon mentor for many deacons in the diocese and was much beloved by each one of them. She was both a pioneer and a woman of fierce dignity. When she was the chaplain at St. George’s College she was not allowed to function as a deacon. She held the office of deacon with dignity by being present for every liturgical service dressed in her clericals. She would not hide or go away but sat among the community as a faithful Christian. She functioned as a deacon until she retired in 2002 at age 90.
Proculus, Sossius, and Faustus, deacons and martyrs, with their bishop Januarius of Beneventum and others, beheaded at Puteolum (now Campegna in central Italy) about 305.
The group of Christians suffered martyrdom about the year 305 during the persecution ordered by Diocletian (emperor 284-305). The Roman authorities arrested bishop Januarius and led him to trial before Menignus, governor of Campegna. Because of his firm confession of Christianity, they threw Januarius into a red-hot furnace, but he came out unharmed. Then at Menignus’ command, they stretched him out on a bench and beat him with iron rods until his bones were exposed.
In the crowd were deacon Faustus and reader Desiderius, who wept at the sight of their bishop’s suffering. The pagans suspected that they were Christians and threw them into prison with Januarius in the city of Puteolum. At this prison were two deacons jailed for confessing Christ, Sossius and Proculus, and two other Christians, Eutychius and Acution. On the following morning the captors led out all the imprisoned Christians into the circus to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, but the beasts would not touch them. Menignus claimed that all the miracles were caused by the sorcery of the Christians, and immediately he became blinded and cried out for help. Bishop Januarius prayed for healing, and Menignus recovered his sight. He accused the Christians of sorcery and ordered the martyrs beheaded before the walls of the city. Christians from surrounding cities took the bodies of the martyrs for burial. The body of Januarius was taken to Neapolis (Naples), and miracles were later connected with it.
Luke and Mucius, deacons and martyrs, with three presbyters, beheaded near Babylon in 250.
They were killed during the Roman invasion of Mesopotamia by Decius (emperor 249-251). The three presbyters were Parmenius, Chrysoteins, and Helimenas. The ruins of Babylon are 55 miles south of Baghdad in Iraq.
Abdiesus (or Hebedjesus) and Azadanes (or Azadames), deacons and martyrs, with seven companions, part of a vast multitude martyred in Persia in 342.
Abdiesus and Azadanes were deacons in the Christian community of Persia who were caught up in the persecutions conducted by Shapur II, king of the Persian Sassanid Empire from 309 to 379. They were accompanied in martyrdom by Abrosimus, Acepsimus, Azades, Bicor, Mareas, Milles, and a woman named Tarbula. Some were Persian courtiers, others presbyters and bishops. Tarbula was the sister of Simeon and suffered death by sawing.
Philo and Agathopodes (or Agathopus), deacons, who accompanied Ignatius of Antioch to his martyrdom in Rome, died in 150.
These two deacons assisted Ignatius of Antioch and, after his martyrdom in Rome, brought back to Antioch those relics they could recover from Roman authorities. They are believed to have written the Acta recounting the life and death of Ignatius.
James, deacon and martyr, with reader Marianus and others, beheaded at Lambesa, an ancient town in Numidia (now Algeria), in 259.
James was a deacon in the same church as Marianus, and he was imprisoned with him at Cirta (modern Constantine in Algeria) in the persecutions of Valerian (emperor 253-260) He was tortured over several days to force him from his faith. During this torment he had a dream which showed him final triumph. He was martyred with Marianus, Agapius, Secindinus, and hundreds of others. His story was recorded by a fellow prisoner who was not martyred.