Alumni ordained as deacons for Catholic Diocese of Wichita

Apr 22, 2024
Matthew Cooke with other seminarians at Deacon ceremony.
Matthew Cooke with other seminarians at Deacon ceremony.

Beyond their degrees from Newman University, something else bonds Matthew Cooke, Jesus Banuelos and Caleb Kuestersteffen: They are in the final phase of becoming priests, after having been ordained as deacons in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita in May 2023.

Deacons Cooke, Banuelos and Kuestersteffen graduated from Newman University in 2020 with a degree in philosophy for theological studies. Since then, these three graduates have taken many steps to become transitional deacons — a task that is no easy feat.

(From left to right) Jesus Bañuelo, Caleb Kuestersteffen, Matthew Cooke and Miles Swigart.
(From left to right) Jesus Bañuelo, Caleb Kuestersteffen, Matthew Cooke and Miles Swigart.

Becoming a transitional deacon

Transitional deacons are graduated seminarians who must complete a one-year transitional period to become ordained, while permanent deacons are laymen in the church who feel called to serve. Permanent deacons can be married or single, but about 90% are married. Transitional deacons are required to fulfill the liturgy of the hours every day while permanent deacons are only required to offer morning and evening prayers. 

Internal discernment is the first step in the four-step process to becoming a priest. Then, one enters the application process and submits forms, undergoes a psychological screening and meets with the bishop and vocation director, among other things. If accepted, the person moves on to seminary formation, where they learn more about pastoral duties, get hands-on experiences in parishes and participate in communal activities. Becoming a transitional deacon is the final, year-long step before being ordained a priest.

The men during their transitional ceremony.
The men are ordained transitional deacons at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.

On May 25, 2024, Cooke, Banuelos and Kuestersteffen will be ordained as Catholic priests.

Cooke’s faith-filled journey

When Cooke decided he wanted to be a saint his junior year of high school, he didn’t expect it to take him to where he is today. When he decided on this life goal, he started by praying every day and it has now led him to being one of God’s servants. 

“During one of these small moments of prayer in my junior year of high school, I felt called to consider seminary. At the time, I wanted family life — a wife and kids. So the idea of seminary and priesthood was not what I had in mind. However, at multiple times throughout my life, I felt the call of God pulling me onwards. So after a year of college, I would begin the process of entering seminary,” said Cooke. 

Cooke (center) surrounded by friends and family.
Cooke (center) surrounded by friends and family.

Since becoming a transitional deacon for the diocese, Cooke has had the honor of baptizing four babies and preaching at many Masses. 

Having a good support system of priests, family and friends was important to Cooke. 

“No parent is perfect, but my mom and dad first showed God’s unconditional love to me. Several teachers along the way, a youth minister and several priests. That doesn’t even mention all the love I have received while in seminary. Whether from priests, counseling, friends and family along the way,” said Cooke. 

Banuelos: Living his life for God

For Banuelos, faith is not just an element of his life — it is the ultimate driver.

“Faith is the principle of my life because I follow the one who knows who I am and who I was made to be,” said Banuelos.

Banuelos lived in the St. Joseph House of Formation while studying at Newman University.  

“At the St. Joseph House of Formation and at Newman University, I was given many opportunities to learn, discern and follow the one who I felt calling me to the priesthood,” said Banuelos. 

Banuelos poses for a photo (courtesy of the Catholic Advance)
Banuelos poses for a photo. (Courtesy of the Catholic Advance)

Living a life for God is not easy. For Banuelos, it means literally and figuratively handing his life over to God.

“Being ordained to the diaconate was life-changing. In a concrete way, I laid down my life for God, in sacramental way with the sacrament of holy orders. In a much more concrete way, I am configuring my life to Christ, the way, the truth and the life, to being like him and being his instrument,” said Banuelos.

When Banuelos became a seminarian and later a deacon, he found himself forming his life to God’s will. 

“I look forward to continuing to configure my heart to the heart of Jesus Christ and making him known. I am certain that he will be with me,” said Banuelos. 

Kuestersteffen’s core values

Kuestersteffen’s family had faith in the forefront of their lives from the time he was young. As Kuestersteffen grew up, he made an effort to live out the teachings he had been taught.

“Our core values affect how we live. If not, they aren’t really core after all. My faith challenges me to live for something beyond myself. To find fulfillment, joy and peace in the sacrifice of my life for the good of others following the intimacy and model of Jesus,” said Kuestersteffen. 

Kuestersteffen’s parents, Mike and Christine, helped model a life of Christian values and build a family rooted in faith and love. They instilled in their children to follow the vocations — whether in the form of marriage, religious life or priesthood. 

Kuestersteffen holds his award and smiles for a photo on Newman's campus.
Kuestersteffen holds his award and smiles for a photo on Newman’s campus.

“Becoming a deacon was a very special moment for me. That day I was called out from my family and chosen by the community to be more deeply configured to Jesus Christ and be at service of the community. After so many years of formation and preparation, it was a joyful thing to make that permanent commitment in freedom and peace,” said Kuestersteffen. 

Kuestersteffen spent seven years in the Wichita Seminary and he is grateful for his childhood pastors of St. John the Evangelist Church in El Dorado and FOCUS ministries for helping him in this role.

“The priests of our diocese, especially my childhood pastors of St. John the Evangelist Church in El Dorado, gave me my first glimpse into the life, work, and fulfillment of the priesthood. FOCUS missionaries at Wichita State University invited me deeper into a relationship with Jesus Christ and gave attractive witness to living a radical life with him,” said Kuestersteffen.

Kuestersteffen, along with Banuelos and Clark, asks for prayers from the Newman Community as they enter into this next phase of their journey. 

“I ask for the prayers from our whole Newman University community as I and my classmates prepare for our Ordination to the Priesthood and begin our formal life of ministry. May God’s grace continue to be abundant,” Kuestersteffen said. 

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