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Embracing God’s Call to the Permanent Diaconate

Disciple Profiles: Simon Huang-Chung Liao, ILM ‘18 and Samuel E Milan, ILM ‘18

On May 27th, Simon Huang-Chung Liao and Samuel E Milan, graduates of the Institute for Leadership and Ministry, class of 2018, were ordained to the permanent diaconate at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph.


How did faith during your upbringing, or perhaps encounters with the Faith later on, influence your decision to join the diaconate?

Simon: I was brought up as a Catholic since birth in Taiwan. At the time, the vocation for men was priesthood only, and there is no Diaconate order in Taiwan even today! My mother was a devout Catholic who hoped for a vocation in the family (Ironically, I remember telling her to look to her other children for that vocation!). In 2014, during my 40th class reunion, one of my classmates, who is a deacon from the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. invited me to consider the vocation, assuring me, “You will find it very rewarding!” A year later, in May 2015, my wife Cecilia and I attended the Institute for Leadership in Ministry graduation. There, a good friend also encouraged me to consider the diaconate. Later, for a third time, another friend asked me if I had registered.  Before I said anything, he quipped, “I checked the age limit for the diaconate program and this year would be your last chance to enroll!” After three different people, three different occasions, I could only say, “Lord, I surrender!”

Samuel: My mom was the family prayer leader, evangelizing her family and others. She gradually passed this charism onto me during her retirement years, and I found myself as the faith leader of our family. Later, as a parent, when I ceased coaching my children's athletic teams, I transitioned to church ministry.  In my ministry I found myself coaching differently, helping to lead adults toward faith formation. Many people I encountered recommended that I serve in the diaconate, and here I am.

Are there any practical experiences during you’ve encountered through the diaconate program that you credit with helping to mature your faith?

Simon: During graduate school I was fortunate to meet and join a Chinese Catholic Bible Study group in Cleveland, Ohio.  They provided me with nourishment and guidance for my faith. Additionally, the Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries courses at Santa Clara University were eye-opening experiences that helped deepen my faith.  I have also spent almost three years working in the detention ministry at Santa Rita Jail. This unexpected mission has brought me a deeper understanding of the meaning of discipleship as we work to impart God's message of unconditional love and forgiveness to the incarcerated and their families.

Samuel: As we grow and progress through our journey of faith, I look back on the many blessings that have bestowed upon me and my family.  After I joined, at the start of the diaconate formation process, we were encouraged to pray "The Liturgy of the Hours", which consists of morning and evening prayer. Somewhat new to this form of prayer, through this new experience, my wife and I grew in appreciation for it, and we felt we personally grew in faith. We felt this especially when gathering with my fellow classmates to pray together. Walking the path to the permanent diaconate with others in the program, who are experiencing things and going through similar situations, helps you know that you are not alone.

What do you wish others considering the diaconate, knew about the diaconate?

Simon: It is a very rewarding experience, although it is a stringent formation process. There are two sides to the learning journey: through fellowship with others, a deacon better understands their faith, Church teaching, and current pastoral challenges. The other side of the coin is what the deacon brings to the hands-on ministries, as becoming companions to others.

Samuel: Initially it didn’t seem like the right time to enter the diaconate. But when is the ‘right’ time? The discernment process helps with understanding whether the timing is correct or not. Despite the fears and uncertainties ahead, Jesus is with us every step of the way and will always love us whether we are ordained or not. He strengthens as we proceed forwards, one step at a time. 

What inspires and challenges you personally and spiritually on this journey?

Simon: The four pillars of the diaconate formation program which are humanity, pastoral, spiritual, and intellectual both challenge and inspire me.  They make the program and the vocation itself very holistic and spiritually nourishing.  The people who help make the program possible also inspire me to move forward. Lastly, our courses gave me a broader picture of the scope of the diaconate vocation and an enlightened appreciation of the richness of our faith.

Samuel: I am inspired by peoples' faith and examples of holiness that reveal God’s Love as active in their lives. This love touches me in a very personal way in that we all share this love in Christ. In him, we are bonded, as God’s family, through any challenge. God will lead us to the Promised Land, through situations that may appear too great to handle.

Why is the a deacon an important role in the Church today?

Simon: Like the other deacon candidates, we bring our real-life experiences, be it marriage, raising children, and our professional career, which are all unique when we enter the formation program. Those are precious assets for the various ministries we are called to serve. Those experiences can complement the objectives of the pastoral team.

Samuel: Like the people they serve, deacons bring their own experiences and come from various backgrounds.  Having the same experiences and goals as other allows us to bring awareness that God is present in their situations.  Everyone needs to hear from someone they can relate to and that is what service, care, and love of others is all about for a deacon.

One to two words that encapsulate(s) your experience in the program and why you chose them?

Simon: Awe and gratitude. Awe for all the amazing people I encountered along the life-long path and multiple events leading to this point. Gratitude for what they have done that made all the difference in various moments in my life. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and I see God’s hands leading me step-by-step to where I am today, only “after the fact “.

Samuel: Although it is simple, love describes my experience. Love, when we encounter God and through others. I am experiencing this with those that know me personally, and through those who do not.  It is that Holy Spirit that raises us all to the Divine. Through Him, the presence and love of God in our lives, He both guides and nurtures us along the way.

Samuel E. Milan
Simon Huang-Chung Liao

Samuel is the only child of an immigrant family.  After graduating from San Francisco State University, he entered a career in biotechnology, also serving as a medical technologist for the United States Naval Reserves. He and his wife married at Saint Victor Parish where he has continued in various ministries.  After graduating from the Institute for Leadership in Ministry he entered the diocesan Diaconate Formation Program.

Simon is one of six siblings.  He came to the United States in 1979 to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering after graduating from a university in Taiwan.  He worked for thirty-five years in the field of computer peripheral technology.  He has been a member of the San Jose Chinese Catholic Mission (SJCCM) at Saint Clare Parish since 1997. He and his wife, Cecilia, have been married for 43 years, have three adult children, and two grandchildren. He enjoys cooking and outdoor activities such as gardening (particularly raising orchids), walking, jogging, and traveling with his wife on pilgrimages.

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