PROVIDENCE — A large crowd gathered near the sanctuary, with people shaking hands, embracing, and laughing with a young man clad in diaconal vestments. Such was the scene after Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Saturday, May 13, as members of the local community congratulated Jairon Olmos Rivera on the occasion of his ordination to the transitional diaconate.
Bishop Richard G. Henning was the principal celebrant for the 10 a.m. Mass, his first ordination ceremony as the Bishop of Providence. Also present as concelebrants were a number of priests from throughout the diocese.
“We are very happy to welcome everyone today to this beautiful celebration of the ordination of Jairon,” Bishop Henning said in his opening remarks. Bishop Henning offered special greetings to Deacon Olmos Rivera’s family, all the clergy and religious present, and to the local seminarians in attendance, describing the ordination as a “sign of encouragement” for those preparing for the priesthood.
Bishop Henning also spoke of how he was personally humbled to lead the ceremony.
“I would also like to say how honored I am to be here as the new bishop, and to have this opportunity to participate in the life of the Church in a beautiful way, through the laying on of hands, the invocation of the Spirit, and the ordination of a new deacon,” he said.
Deacon Olmos Rivera, 31, was born in Bayaguana, a small, landlocked town in eastern Dominican Republic. His father, Juan, worked in construction and his mother, Iris, worked in a clothing factory. Olmos Rivera describes his family as close-knit, being close to his parents, siblings, and grandparents.
He discerned his call to serve the Church from an early age. Having been an altar server since the age of 12, he developed a close relationship with many local priests and religious who inspired within him a “great desire always to be close to God and his Church.”
This feeling was only further reinforced by several different factors. Deacon Olmos Rivera cites as one major spiritual influence the assistant pastor of his home parish, who was known for his dedication to his priestly duties and his strong devotion to the Eucharist. This same priest had also served as a missionary, which inspired the young man to pursue a similar path.
Initially, he was drawn to religious life, joining the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (Capuchins) and becoming a member of the Friary of San Lorenzo de Brindis, in the city of Mandinga near the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.
Deacon Olmos Rivera noted how he was inspired to join the Capuchins because he was inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi, particularly what he describes as the great medieval saint’s “simplicity of life and spirit of prayer.”
The belief that simplicity of life, service to others and a strong emphasis on prayer are the defining elements of the religious life was something he claims was further reinforced by another religious community near where he lived, the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Cardinal Sancha, an order of religious sisters dedicated to helping the poor, formed in the mid-19th century by the Spanish Cardinal Ciriaco María Sancha.
Even before relocating to the United States, Deacon Olmos Rivera was familiar with this part of the country.
“For several years, I came in the summer on vacation to visit relatives and friends who live in the state of Rhode Island and New York,” he said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, “and I created a bond of familiarity and friendship with the people of the Diocese of Providence.”
Deacon Olmos Rivera was inspired to make Rhode Island his permanent home and pursue the priesthood because of the influence of Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and St. Michael Parish, Providence.
Deacon Olmos Rivera was tasked by his superiors with assisting Father Ruggieri whenever he visited, and the two developed a close friendship. The deacon recalls how Father Ruggieri said to him that the Diocese of Providence has a growing Hispanic population that was in need of more priests, and how he believed he had what it took to serve. The seeds of his desire to pursue the priesthood were further fostered by missionary work the deacon performed in Brazil, during which time he discovered his love of sharing the fruits of the Word of God.
Deacon Olmos Rivera will be assigned at St. Paul’s parish in Cranston. He will continue his priestly formation at St. John’s Seminary in Boston.
Many in attendance were strongly moved by the day’s events.
“It was really amazing to see Jairon answer that personal call,” said Matthew Boni, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s parish in Woonsocket. “To see him reach this point, all through the grace of God, is something we’re really thankful for, and can really give glory to God for this day.”
“It was beautifully planned, very well organized,” said Camilla Urbaez, a parishioner of St. Michael’s Parish in Providence. “It is a beautiful witness of the hope that we have, of people being a testimony of themselves trying to lead us as the People of God, and Jairon is an example of that. He is taking steps to give his life in service to help us become servants.”
For others, the day’s events had a more personal significance.
Such was the case with Nick Jones, a seminarian for the Diocese of Providence who studies alongside Deacon Olmos Rivera at St. John’s Seminary.
“Jairon and I entered the seminary at the same time. This is the first time I’ve seen someone who started really as a peer and made his way through the ranks, and now be a deacon, be a cleric, to be changed forever. It’s awesome to see,” Jones said. “One second he’s a regular guy, another second he’s changed forever.”
Jones went on to note how the biggest lesson he learned from ordination is the centrality of perseverance.
“There are days in the seminary when you have a lot of papers to do, and it’s raining outside, and you’ve got a bunch of exams, and you ask, ‘What’s it all about?’”
Pointing towards the sanctuary, he continued, “That’s what it’s all about. Seeing his joy, seeing how he’s going to serve as a minister and be an instrument of God for so many people.”