Future deacons ready to serve the Lord, faithful

May 8, 2024

ORLANDO | On June 8, 2024, Bishop John Noonan will ordain 18 men to the Permanent Diaconate. In formation for the past five years after one discernment year, they are prepared to enter a life of diakonia or service to their communities, guided by the Holy Spirit. This is the second of two issues offering an insight to these men as they approach their Ordination at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. For those unable to attend ordination, the Mass will also be available to view via livestream on the Diocese of Orlando’s Facebook page or the Diocese of Orlando’s YouTube channel.

Good Shepherd Parish, Orlando


Born in Nagua, Dominican Republic, and raised in the Catholic faith, Francisco Peralta lived in his homeland until he was 14, then moved to Puerto Rico. The family relocated to Orlando almost 30 years ago.

Peralta is an accountant and small business owner in central Florida. Married to his wife, Maria, for almost 26 years, the couple has three daughters.

In 2001, the couple became actively involved in the Spanish charismatic group, Siervos de Cristo Vivo, at Good Shepherd Parish. Peralta said this is where they first encountered God’s presence in their lives. For six years they took many Bible courses, growing in faith and love of God.

Peralta recalled first being invited to be part of the diaconate formation program in 2003. It would take Peralta another 14 years before accepting God’s call in November 2017. The decision came after attending the National Catholic Youth Conference and a spiritual retreat called GOD, the Rock Where My Household Stands.

After 20 years, Peralta continues to serve the diocesan Spanish family marriage ministry known as Renovación Conyugal of Orlando. He is also coordinator of the Order of Catholic Initiation of Adults program, and serves as a sacristan, lector, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and Mass Coordinator.

“I have a great passion for serving the family, and my desire is to spend the rest of my life serving God with everything He has given me,” Peralta said. “These past six years in the diaconate formation program have strengthened my desire to honor God with my own life and to be a true testimony that Christ has Risen.”

St. Margaret Mary Parish, Winter Park


Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Joseph Pizzarello was raised in Port St. Lucie until he moved to Orlando in 1995 to attend college. After meeting his wife, Kristy, he became a parishioner at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park. They have four children.

Pizzarello is a client implementation manager for Champions Brand of Kindercare Education, working with school leaders to implement creative solutions for out of school programs. Pizzarello has worked in youth programming for close to 30 years.

Pizzarello has enjoyed youth coaching, working with the JMJ Pregnancy Center and is currently volunteering at Bedrock Rehab and Nursing Home. “Praying with and providing the Eucharist to the residents at Bedrock helps show me the joy of Christ and how the Holy Spirit is always at work,” Pizzarello said.

He said the diaconal formation process engaged the entire family, helping them grow in Christ, and trust in Him. Although challenging, there were graces too. His children came together to support one another, allowing siblings to be on the sidelines, in the stands, and in the pews for one another. He also noted his and Kristy’s relationship grew, as did their children’s relationship with Christ. “Formation had an impact on the entire family and each is exploring their individual calling,” he said.

His parish also showed tremendous support, love, and prayers throughout their journey.

“The basis of these experiences will not only allow me to serve those who are on the fringes, but also families dealing with everyday struggles like trying to balance school, youth activities, family dynamics, and normal issues that every family experiences,” he said.

His goal is to help families make God the central focus of their lives, despite the busyness that engulfs them.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, Lake Nona

Although John Rivas was born at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, his family relocated to New York when he was 2. He spent his youth in the Bronx, leading a very secular life.

In 1999, God led him to Orlando where he met his wife, Leidy, through a mutual friend. They married in 2001, at St. Joseph Parish in Orlando. In 2019, they became active members of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Lake Nona as part of its original founding families. The couple has two children.

Rivas leads the Fully Engaged Marriage ministry and manages schedules for the liturgical ministry volunteers. He said engaging in ministry beyond the parish walls began with his volunteer work with St. Vincent de Paul prison ministry, offering him a glimpse into the lives of marginalized individuals in society.

His work with Catholic Charities of Central Florida includes refugee mentorship, homeless outreach and education, organizing diaper drives, and volunteering at the food pantry. Currently, Leidy serves as the Director for the Culture of Life Office at Catholic Charities. The couple finds joy serving side-by-side.

Rivas described the last five years of formation as transformative. “Challenges such as time commitment, academic rigor, and profound discernment were present, but the graces bestowed upon us surpassed any obstacle,” he said.

“Mentors and trainers played a crucial role, equipping us with the skills and spirituality for the journey ahead. Strengthened in my relationship and trust in God, I’ve gained confidence in answering the call to serve His people,” he said. “Our family has humbly embraced the call to live out the principles of faith, service, and community. The road ahead may pose challenges, but as a family, we are ready to face them in service to our Church and community.”

St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Orlando


José Rodriguez, known as Joselito, described his journey as filled with faith, family, and a deep commitment to serving others.

Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in 1977, his childhood involved frequent travels due to his father’s military service. In 1996, his family moved to Orlando. There he met his wife, Giselle. The couple married in 2003, at Blessed Trinity Parish and joined St. Isaac Jogues Parish a year later.

For the past 23 years, he has served the Fire Life Safety industry, the last nine years, as the Healthcare Compliance Specialist at DynaFire, LLC.

In 2015, the couple and their two sons decided to fully dedicate their lives to the Lord. This led to various forms of service within the church community. This commitment ultimately led to Rodriguez’s call to the diaconate.

Each family member serves at Mass, participating as lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and altar servers. The couple also serve in youth ministry, assist in preparing couples for the Sacrament of Matrimony, and serve in Renovación Conyugal, a marriage ministry that caters to couples of all faiths or no faith.

Rodriguez’s journey to the diaconate began in 2009, however, his pastor discerned it wasn’t the right time.

“Overcoming challenges and undergoing personal growth, I found myself unexpectedly meeting my pastor in a gas station in 2017 where he asked if I was still interested in being a deacon,” he recalled. After speaking with his family and praying together, Rodriguez accepted the invitation.

During the formation process, Rodriguez said his family emphasized the importance of the four dimensions of growth – human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. His vision as a future deacon is for his family to continue focusing on the Lord’s guidance.

“Through prayer, I’ve discerned a calling to prioritize serving the youth, sharing God’s mercy and love in today’s challenging world,” he said. “As a deacon couple, Giselle and I aim to continue our involvement in marriage ministries. May the Lord continue to guide and bless us as we continue our journey of faith and service to others.”

Holy Spirit Parish, Lake Wales


Luis Rodríguez-Colón was born and raised in Puerto Rico to Luis and Gilda. He has two brothers. He was formed in Catholic schools and university. During his late high school years, he thought he was called to the priesthood, but discerned it was not his vocation.

After finishing his bachelor’s degree in science, he moved to Mexico to finish his medical degree. He met his wife, Geraldine, and they married in 2007. They have three daughters.

Rodríguez-Colón received a job offer at a county jail in central Florida and decided to move. The family joined St. Joseph Parish in Winter Haven and he and his wife worked in marriage ministry. After a time, they were asked to help build up a marriage ministry at Holy Spirit Parish in Lake Wales. He credited that community with helping him understand his call to the diaconate.

“They are walking with me, and I feel the responsibility to walk with them. It is easier to walk with someone by your side,” Rodríguez-Colón said, noting his belief in God’s transformative power through witnesses.

The couple are involved in the Welcome Retreat in both parish communities. Rodríguez-Colón credited a Christ Renews His Parish retreat he attended with the encounter that shook his life and brought him back to God.

“Since that encounter, I decided to help others to have that real encounter with Jesus, to realize that we are called to be the best version of ourselves,” he said.

To Rodríguez-Colón, the diaconate formation is an important step in his personal growth, not just in the spiritual but also in the pastoral and human aspect of his life. During formation, he became extremely sick and was alone in intensive care for 25 days. He said it gave him insight to his patients’ experiences and he learned how family and community prayers helped him.

He looks forward to continuing service in his community and the Diocese of Orlando for many years and being an example for others of how to imitate Jesus’ diakonia (service).

Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Indialantic


Steven Tennant, a cradle Catholic, grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with his two sisters, and brother. He credited his parents, Raymond and Mary, and his grandparents with laying the foundation for his passion and love of the Catholic faith. Tennant enjoys outdoor sports, including fresh and saltwater fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and skeet shooting. No matter what he is doing he recognizes God’s blessings all around him.

Tennant has been married to his wife, Donna, also a lifelong Catholic, for 31 years. Together they raised three children in Melbourne Beach, attending Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Indialantic.

He has been involved in several ministries, including faith formation, scouting, Christ Renews His Parish, Ministry to the Sick, and Pro-Life Ministries. He recently retired from his career as a software engineer, having worked in both the Telephony and Aerospace industries.

Perceiving a deeper call to serve God and His Church, he answered the call to become a permanent deacon. During this transitional time, Tennant said he and his wife have grown closer to each other, and together prayerfully seek to follow God’s plan for their lives.

He has also developed a great love and admiration for St. Benedict, St. Padre Pio, and St. Thomas More. He said he is “passionate” about bringing those he meets into a deeper relationship with Jesus and His Church, “evangelizing and catechizing the Catholic faith, and visiting the sick of all faiths at the regional hospitals.” He looks forward to serving his brothers and sisters in Christ with love and compassion and to serving his larger community as a deacon.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Apopka


George Torres is one of seven children. He was born in the Dominican Republic to parents Jorge and Yolanda. Educated in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, he received a medical degree from the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo in 1986. He met his future wife, Angie, in the Dominican Republic and they married in 1990. They have two sons. Torres has been practicing pulmonary and internal medicine for almost 40 years.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, and retiring as a lieutenant colonel, Torres arrived in the Diocese of Orlando because of a job offer. He was already three years into his diaconate studies in the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, when he arrived.

As a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Apopka, he has been involved in several ministries for the last five years, including lector, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, choir member, and catechesis instructor.

Regarding his experience in the diaconal formation process, he acknowledged significant challenges – specifically the amount of time available to devote to the program while trying to balance the demands of work and patient care obligations, sometimes without help from physician colleagues.

“I am convinced of having obtained grace every day of my formation process, growing in faith, love, patience, and humility, and becoming a servant because of that same grace,” said Torres. “As a future deacon, and if it is God’s will, I expect to retire from the sacred practice of medicine in the next few years to devote all of my time to the Church and my family. May the Lord allow me to do so.”

Blessed Trinity Parish, Orlando


Mark Zeitler was born into a family of faith. He, his brother and two sisters attended Sacred Heart Catholic School in South Plainfield, New Jersey. “I am forever grateful for my parents who fostered a desire to serve others and who were great examples of faith,” he said.

In 1974, the Zeitler family relocated to Orlando and found a new spiritual home at Blessed Trinity Parish. Zeitler and his wife, Liz, are celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary this year. The couple are owners of the commercial air conditioning and electrical company, Automated Buildings, Inc.

Zeitler, Liz and their son encounter Christ everyday by serving Him through others. When their son started at St. James Cathedral School in 2009, the family made a new spiritual home at St. James Cathedral. “It’s amazing where Christ, through a 4-year-old child, can lead his parents,” Zeitler said.

Feeling a call to the diaconate over several years, Zeitler recalled it was while attending a Cursillo weekend at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in 2017 that his “heart was set on fire.” After deep prayer and discernment, he and Liz gave their “yes” to the Lord.

Acknowledging his six years of formation were challenging, he said it brought him closer to Christ. “I now practice, every day, to see the face of Christ in those whom I encounter,” he said.

As a deacon family, the Zeitler’s plan to each remain active in parish life and beyond. Zeitler will continue to serve those in area assisted living facilities, and help with bereavement and hospice through End of Life Ministries.

Zeitler said his family will continue their diaconal journey together by serving God through others in need, by using the gifts and graces they have been afforded by our Lord.


Annunciation Parish, Altamonte Springs


Born in Framingham, Massachusetts, Bryan Zornik moved to Orlando with his family as a child. He and his wife, Maryanne, have two sons. Zornik is a culinary manager for Red Apple Dining.

He recalled attending faith formation and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs. Shortly after, Zornik left the Church but returned after having a “reversion” to the faith 12 years ago.

“I could not be more grateful for the prayers and support of the community, especially over these last six years,” Zornik said.

Noting a deacon’s primary ministry is in the community, “outside the walls” of the parish, he serves as a mentor for the Take Stock in Children program through Seminole County Schools Foundation and as a Spiritual Care Volunteer at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

“The formation experience was challenging and rewarding,” he said. “I found myself being stretched in so many ways over these past six years. Areas of my life that were closed off to the Lord opened, allowing God to open my eyes to parts of my life that need His healing and grace.”

He noted managing family life with two active children, full-time employment, and formation responsibilities “has truly been a family effort drawing us all closer to the Lord and each other.” “The formation process was also one of the shared sacrifices for our whole family. The kids didn’t always have their parents at every game or event. However, it’s been a pleasure seeing our sons become self-sufficient and confident at a young age.”

The family is grateful for the community’s support. As a family, he said they hope “to continue to respond to His call for each of us to grow in holiness.”

Staff Report