History was made in the Archdiocese of Armagh yesterday when the Primate of All Ireland ordained the first five Catholics to become permanent deacons in the ancient see of St Patrick.
Welcoming the five men, all married with children, into the ministry, Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady described it as an occasion of "great joy".
Addressing 700 family members, priests and the Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, described the five as bridge builders between the laity, priests and bishops.
He told them that as married fathers and grandfathers "you will continue as ordained men to make a living in the world".
Archbishop Martin said they were in a "unique position" as "a particular point of contact with the lay faithful in your workplaces and in the community".
Juggling full-time jobs, families and their ministry will be demanding, the five acknowledged, but they have been told that their first priority is their wives and families, second is their work to support their families and third is their ministry as deacons.
One deacon, 46-year-old John Taaffe from Drogheda, has three children ranging in age from nine to 21, and he is also grandfather to one-year-old Jordan.
He said that he had re-found his faith in 1999 after being a non-practising Catholic for years.
He currently works as the co-ordinator of the Irish Bishops' Drug Initiative. He became an addiction counsellor after his conversion and sold his sales and marketing business to pursue this dream.
The first ever permanent deacons, who are either lay single or married men, to be ordained by the Irish church began ministry in the archdiocese of Dublin in 2011.
Martin Barlow (45) from the Parish of Drumcree in Portadown is married to Ursula, and has two sons, Shea who starts university next week and Oisin who is in secondary school.
Although drawn to the priesthood while at school, he opted to go to art college and trained as a graphic designer. Marriage followed. Then in 2006, he experienced "a renewal of faith".
"I made a promise to God that I would no longer be a Sunday Catholic but I didn't realise that it would lead to ministry seven years later," he said.
The five deacons, who include care worker Benignus Ndubuisi from Dundalk, begin their ministry after four years of study.
Armagh's new Catholic deacons will be referred to as 'Rev Mr' and they will serve on a part-time basis in their appointed parishes, assisting with baptisms and funerals at the weekends and some administrative duties during the week.
Deacons cannot celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
All five men had to obtain the permission of their wives to go ahead with their studies for ministry.