Oldest deacon in NY Archdiocese to sit next to Pope Francis at St. Patrick's Cathedral

NANUET (WABC) -- He is the New York Archdiocese's oldest serving deacon, at a mere 91 years young.

And Thursday, Deacon John Maloney will have a very special honor.

Not only will he get to be part of Pope Francis' escort to St. Patrick's Cathedral, he will get to sit right next to the pontiff.

"I'm just going to say, 'Welcome to New York, your holiness," said Maloney.

He isn't planning on small talk, but he will have Pope Francis' attention. The deacon will lead the pontiff to his chair during evening prayers at St. Patrick's, then take his seat right next to the Holy Father.

"It's exciting," he said. "To see the pope is one thing, but to be that close to him is something else."

Maloney initially studied to become a priest, instead he joined the inaugural class of deacons in 1972.

Four decades later he's a fixture at St. Anthony's Parish in Nanuet, serving during Saturday evening mass, holding Sunday services for inmates at the Rockland County Jail and distributing communion to homebound parishioners.

A life of service, not unlike the message he says Francis is trying to spread.

"He's trying to tell us, hey we're all citizens of this world, let's love each other," said Maloney.

Maloney was originally picked to distribute communion during the mass at Madison Square Garden but declined, saying it was a bit too physically demanding. He was then offered this special assignment.

"And a well-deserved honor," said Rev. Joseph Deponai, pastor at St. Anthony's. "He's a wonderful man to work with and we enjoy each other's company."

The work, he says, keeps him young, and though cardinals must retire at 80, there's no such limit for deacons.

"You try to do the best you can. As long as the good Lord wants me to keep going, I'll keep going," said Maloney.

May that be for many years to come.
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