“Imagine what it could do for the world if women who are called to the vocation of deacon could say yes wholeheartedly.”

Dermis de Jesús preaches for the 2023 St. Phoebe Prayer Service at St. Raphaela Center in Haverford.

An interview with Dermis de Jesús

Dermis de Jesús is a lay leader at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown, near Philadelphia. Dermis serves her parish as a lay leader of prayer, lector, cantor, coordinator of the children’s choir, co-coordinator of Spanish language ministry, and she participates in praise dance. She and her husband Willhem Echevarría are raising their children Sofía Isabel and Marcos David. 

Talk about a time when you experienced the call to serve in ministry.

I was around 18 years old and studying to become a speech therapist, and I took an elective course in sign language. A group of deaf people then asked me to interpret the Sunday liturgy for them into sign language at my parish San Antonio de Padua in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Another woman and I started to interpret Sunday Masses into sign language, and then more deaf people started coming from different places. People in the parish who never knew that there were deaf people in our community started to notice and then wanted to learn sign language too. This was the first moment I felt a call to service that was extrinsic to me. It was a need that came from a group of people seeking a deeper relationship with God. In my heart I said: Yes, Lord, I’m going to dedicate myself to this with all my heart. I’m going to be responsible, and continue to learn sign language, and grow the number of people who can do this. 

Tell a story about a ministry you are engaged in today and why it is important to you. 

My family and I worship at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Germantown, near Philadelphia. During the pandemic I got more involved helping prepare the Spanish-language Mass. I started offering a two-minute call to worship as a lay leader of prayer at the beginning of the Mass. Women came up to me afterwards and said how important it is to them to see a woman speaking. They connect with my words. 

How do you work in a co-responsible way with the priests and lay people of your parish? 

If you don’t have active lay leaders in a parish with only two priests, that’s not a parish that is going to grow. Our priests are really relying on that co-responsibility. Being a good listener is one of the reasons why the synodal process makes such sense. We’re listening to the needs of the people and being creative using the resources we have. 

What sustains you in ministry? 

Daily prayer in solitude and communal prayer in the Spanish language Mass, the praise dance group, the choir and the Philadelphia Phoebe Circle. Two other important elements are receiving the body and blood of Christ and the memory of my ancestors, many of whom also lived their lives in service to God through service to others.

What is a favorite scripture passage that gives you strength and resilience for these times?

The canticle of Mary which begins with, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” I first learned it in Spanish as a song, “Mi alma glorifica el Señor, mi Dios…” It’s about the joy of saying “yes” to God’s call. The joy comes from entrusting yourself fully to God. 

What barriers or constraints do you face for living out your vocation today?

There are moments where we don’t have a Spanish speaking priest for the Spanish language Mass, but we don’t have authorization from the Archdiocese to proceed with a Liturgy of the Word by a lay leader. If we don’t have a priest, we have to cancel Mass. This is what breaks my heart, because this is a community that wants to keep growing. 

What do you hope for during this global synod as the Catholic Church considers renewing the permanent diaconate for the social mission of the church that includes men and women? 

I’m hoping that it’s going to be – let’s open up, expand, stretch out. The needs can’t be covered by the number of people that are ordainable right now. Imagine what it could do for the world if women who are called to the vocation of deacon could say yes wholeheartedly. We would get a good number of hands, and that would be a wonderful blessing to the parishes. 

What is the anniversary date of your baptism?

May 3rd at Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Arroyo, Puerto Rico. I still have the “capia” – a remembrance card from my baptism with my mother’s handwriting.

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Endorser
“I have worked alongside many lay and religious women in my ministry who have exhibited outstanding ability for ministry.  Many have taught me by their example how to be a more effective minister, and by their instruction, helped me to grow in this role…It’s time that the Church gets in step with society and recognizes the equality of women in the workplace.  Women are as capable as men in the work of ministry, and have demonstrated the same equality in scholarship, skills and education as men.”
Fr. Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A
Pastor, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Philadelphia, PA
Witness
“If there were women deacons in my parish, lay women would relate in a deep and meaningful way to deacons who look, act, speak and feel more like themselves…Though I am an unlikely choice to wear the alb and stole, I have a deep commitment to service in Christ’s name and I try to live it every day. Any need that arises, I am ready to shoulder it, though some needs of our sisters and brothers would be well- or better-served by a woman’s different compassion.”
Deacon Bill Zapcic
Parish Deacon and Homilist, Retired Journalist, Tinton Falls, NJ
Endorser
“Not only is ordaining women as deacons a restoration of the dynamism of the early Church, it is a matter of justice!”
Fr. Stephen P Newton, CSC
Executive Director, Association of US Catholic Priests, Notre Dame, IN

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