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Zelienople borough manager ordained a Catholic deacon

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Deacon Don Pepe lights candles before mass on Sunday, June 23, 2013 at Saint Gregory Catholic Church in Zelienople. Pepe also serves as the borough manager for Zelienople.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Deacon Don Pepe is blessed before his first homily on Sunday, June 23, 2013 by Father Larry Smith at Saint Gregory Catholic Church in Zelienople. Pepe also serves as borough manager of Zelienople.

Zelienople borough Manager Don Pepe has found a new way to serve his church and his community.

On June 15, Pepe was ordained a deacon by Catholic Bishop David Zubik at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland along with 24 other men, a ministry that allows him to continue as borough manager. He is assigned to St. Gregory Catholic Church in Zelienople and St. Matthias Catholic Church in Evans City.

When he was younger, Pepe said, he thought about becoming a priest so becoming a deacon filled a void.

“I'm very, very pleased,” Pepe said. “Just because you go through the program doesn't mean you'll get ordained. So it's really a gift.”

Deacons serve the church in a variety of ways. They can proclaim the Gospel, assist the priest during Mass and minister at hospitals and nursing homes.

“The role of deacons goes back to the earliest days of the church,” Zubik said.

Deacons can preach, do baptisms and witness marriages but they cannot celebrate Mass, consecrate the Eucharist, hear confession or anoint the sick, which are performed by priests.

Zubik called the class of 25 deacons “moderate.” He said 44 deacons were ordained in the diocese two years ago, 33 in 1999 and 28 in 1974.

The borough manager said the lessons he learned studying to be a deacon flowed easily into his work in managing the government of Zelienople.

“That's some of the beauty of what it is to be a deacon,” he said. “We're in the everyday world.”

Being a deacon will “absolutely not” interfere with his job, Pepe said.

The church stresses that deaconship should not infringe upon jobs or family life, he said.

“Priorities are family, job and then being a deacon, in that order,” he said. “And they're very real about that.”

Pepe is one of 99 permanent deacons in the diocese. A permanent deacon can be married and have a family, but cannot move to any higher leadership position within the church.

Transitional deacons are seminary students who will ultimately move on to priesthood.

Pepe said he and his fellow permanent deacons are “conduits with the real world” because they bridge the gap between the religious and everyday aspects of life.

“It's surprising how many people come to you knowing that you're a deacon, seeking guidance,” he said.

“Since we have families, we know those problems, the strengths, the difficulties. We know the workplace. We're not to the place where we're abstract.”

The program to become a deacon lasts five years and is comparable to getting a master's degree, Pepe said. Students write papers, take classes and perform service work over the summer.

“I know he really worked hard at it,” said borough council President Charles Underwood. “I think he's a fantastic guy, and I think he'll handle that position well.”

Pepe said it was a challenge to work as borough manager and participate in the program, but every deacon candidate with an outside job faced a similar challenge.

“I'm sure every one of the guys was challenged in the same way... They're a great group of guys, they're going to be a huge benefit to the diocese.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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