Diaconate Office to accept Permanent Diaconate applications July – September

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Does your parish have an ordained, permanent deacon assisting the priest and serving the parish needs? Do you know who he is and what he does? Are you curious?

The role of the deacon is an ancient one, dating back to the first century when the Apostles saw that widows and their children were underserved. Seven men were chosen, “hands laid on them” (ordination) so they could carry on ministries in the Apostles’ names. One of them, Stephen, was later canonized St. Stephen, the first martyr. The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek, diakonos, meaning servant or minister.

The deacons’ ministry expanded as time passed to include others in need; preaching; certain sacramental ministries, and administration of the day-to-day affairs of the growing Church.

About the middle of the 6th century, the permanent diaconate disappeared as a separate, distinct entity in the Western Church.

Pope Pius XII first mentioned the need for restoring the permanent diaconate in the late 1950s, a few years before the Second Vatican Council, but said the timing wasn’t right.

The time was right in the mid-1960s. The Order was restored as a permanent, public ministry in the Western Church by the bishops at Vatican II, and officially authorized in the United States in 1968. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was in the first group of U.S. dioceses to initiate a permanent diaconate program after Vatican II. Bishop Charles Helmsing assigned Msgr. Ernest J. (Bud) Fiedler as the first Diocesan Director of the Diaconate in 1970, a role he held until the summer of 1973, when he was appointed Executive Secretary of the United States Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate. Msgr. Fiedler was succeeded by Father Patrick Rush.

Diaconate formation in the diocese was interrupted in 1984, but restored in 1998. There are 45 ordained, permanent deacons active in the diocese today, six retired but still active and 10 fully retired.

If you’ve ever considered parish community service, the Diaconate is sending an invitation and an opportunity to learn more about it.

In this diocese, the diaconal structure is overseen by Director Deacon Paul Muller (St. Margaret of Scotland), and three Associate Directors, Deacon Michael Lewis (St. Patrick-KC), Deacon Ken Albers (St. John Francis Regis) and Deacon Joe Olshefski (St. Charles Borromeo). “The range of experience helps our teamwork,” Deacon Muller said. “We are rebuilding the diaconate.”

A permanent deacon is an ordained Catholic Church minister, a “sacramental sign” of Jesus the Servant in the world. His role is defined as a lifestyle of personal commitment to Christian service to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the forgotten, the alienated, the imprisoned, the divorced, the marginalized, those who have no voice and those who suffer injustice, and those who need to talk to someone. His works of charity, justice and his administrative duties are done in the Church’s name.

But, Deacon Albers said, “A deacon is not just on the altar. He is preaching the message of Christ as a husband, a father, a grandfather. He preaches it at home, to the store, to work, the playground, the park, wherever he goes.”

A deacon may baptize, officiate at marriage and funeral services, and assist the priest in the Liturgy; including reading the Gospel and serving as homilist.

“We don’t ordain deacons because of shortages,” Deacon Lewis said. “We ordain because of who they are and how they serve. It’s a three-fold ministry. The deacon is committed to life-long service to the Word, Worship and Service.”

A permanent deacon is not a mini-priest, Deacon Muller said. Faculties of a priest that a deacon doesn’t have include the ability to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and the faculty to forgive sins during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Both priests and deacons wear the stole. A priest wears it around his neck with the ends hanging down, while the deacon wears it over his left shoulder, connected at his right hip. Deacon Lewis said the way deacons wear the stole dates to Roman servants who tied a towel around themselves to allow easy access for drying the feet of guests they had just washed.

A permanent deacon is not a priest, yet a priest is a permanent deacon. During his final year in seminary, a seminarian is ordained a “transitional deacon,” as he will transition to priest soon. Along with priestly faculties, when the transitional deacon is ordained a priest, he continues in the role of servant to God’s people. A permanent deacon will not supplant or replace the priest, but work alongside.

A deacon maintains his current job, although some deacons work as parish staff. Many permanent deacons are married with families. Wives are collaborators and partners in the work of the deacon. In fact, a couple in formation take many of the same courses, undergo the same tests, including psychological and criminal background checks. Married men whose wives are unwilling to make the commitment are not accepted into formation.

The Diaconate Office will accept applications July through September, and interviews will be conducted September through November. Applications are reviewed, home visits and interviews conducted with applicants and wives by two deacon couples, who then make written recommendations to the office. Acceptance, deferral or denial letters will be sent out in December. Aspirancy begins January 2018.

There are minimum requirements. At the time of ordination, candidates must be a minimum of 35 and a maximum of 60 years old. Therefore, formation must begin by age 56. He must be a practicing Roman Catholic at least five years and a registered member of his current parish at least three years. He must be a resident of or committed to serving in this diocese.

If married, a minimum of seven years and a stable family life is required. The wife must support the husband’s interest in the diaconate, and be willing to be involved in the screening and formation processes. Children must also be considered. If an applicant is single, he must commit to remain single and celibate after ordination.

He should be involved in the civic community, the marketplace or the Church in ministries of charity, justice and peace.

Completion of high school or a GED is required, and the ability to do the required studies in the formation program. There is a great need for Spanish-speaking deacons to serve the Hispanic community.

He should be in good physical and psychological health and a physician’s statement is required.

He must develop a consistent prayer life, including private and public prayer. The aspiring deacon and his wife, if married, will be required to submit sacramental records and other documents to the Committee on Admissions and Scrutinies for review.

He is expected to have a stable employment record.

He must be willing to make a lifetime commitment to ministry in the Church and community; be willing and able to commit the required time to all aspects of formation. He must also commit to regular involvement in the diaconate community, participate in support and reflection groups, and continue formation after ordination.

Aspirancy (18 months): the period during which the aspiring deacon, his wife and the church discern more intently if he is called to the diaconate. It’s a period of prayer, reflection, monthly meetings with a spiritual director, and continued study through formation sessions.

Candidacy (three years): the period wherein candidates and their wives attend one weekend formation session monthly, focusing on the academic dimension of formation. He and his wife also attend three retreats during this period and the candidate meets monthly with his spiritual director. He doesn’t “learn how” to be a deacon, he “becomes” a deacon.

At ordination, the bishop assigns the deacon to two ministries — a ministry of charity where he serves in a leadership role and strives to improve lives of the poor, the marginalized or those with no voice. “We are called to see unseen needs in our parish and the larger community,” Deacon Albers said. “In working to meet those needs, we take on the smell of the sheep, as Pope Francis wants priests and deacons to do, be one with the poor and the marginalized.”

Deacon Olshefski said, “We deacons are intended to be the bridge between those we serve and the Church.” Deacon Muller added, “[We’re] the hinges on the doors to the Church.”

The second is a liturgical ministry in a parish where he functions as a deacon at Masses, baptisms, weddings, funerals and the like.

Do you have a heart for the poor, a longing to serve the marginalized or those who can’t speak for themselves and, in so doing, serve the Church? If you are interested in learning more or receiving an application packet, contact Deacon Paul Muller, Diaconate Office, (816) 756-1850 ext. 210 or email muller@diocesekcsj.org.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph comprises 99 parishes and missions in 27 counties in Northwest Missouri.

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Thursday
May 25, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph