Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Two priests appointed to formation assignments

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 25, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop William Skylstad has named Father Michael Savelesky, pastor of Spokane’s Assumption Parish, as the new director of the Diocese of Spokane’s deacon formation program.

At the same time, Msgr. John Steiner took over the role as Director of Continuing Education for Priests, which Father Savelesky had been filling.

This isn’t the first time that Father Savelesky has served the diocese through ministry formation.

“In 1975, when I was on the formation staff at Bishop White Seminary,” Father Savelesky said, “I was asked to establish the formal process for the formation of permanent deacons for our diocese. I held the position of Director of Permanent Deacon Formation until the spring of 1980, and then again from 1992-1995, during which time I also was serving as pastor of St. Peter Parish and also was a member of the bishop’s Secretariat.”

Father Savelesky explained that the director of deacon formation “acts much like a principal of a Catholic school, identifying, forming and supervising faculty as well as providing a positive, Gospel-oriented process in the supervision of the overall program of deacon formation.” The director recruits, as it were, and remains in communication with those who serve as faculty, teaching the various courses that deacon candidates must complete during the four-year formation program leading to ordination. The director also remains in close contact with the deacon candidates and their wives throughout this process.

“One of the director’s primary responsibilities,” Father Savelesy continued, “is to assure as best he can that those eventually ordained to the diaconate are men given not to position and clerical influence but to self-sacrificing service in the church. For that reason, screening of candidates is of paramount importance.”

Over the years, Father Save-lesky said he has been delighted “to watch the formation and ministry of deacons mature in the diocese.” Indeed, the program has changed and developed in ways comparable to other similar programs in the diocese.

“In a significant way,” he said, “I sense that our experience in the Diocese of Spokane has contributed to a collective wisdom which now has produced a formation process which – both nationally and locally – is much improved since its inception here in 1975. In fact, I know that it has! Those changes are reflected particularly in the team approach to formation, the sense of vocation, and a much more parish-focused discernment of vocation. The last ‘class’ of deacons formed under the competent directorship of (former deacon formation director) Father Mike Kwiatkowski (pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Colbert) and his team has blessed our diocese with diversified Gospel servants.”

Because the ministry of the deacon is, by its very nature, to be “flexible and varied,” Father Savelesky said, it is impossible to look very far into the future to identify the specific ways that deacons will serve as the diocese continues moving into the 21st century. “Much depends on the bishop’s discernment of the needs of the local church. In the end, the effectiveness of the deacon’s ministry will be validated to the extent that he responds to our Lord’s admonition to serve and not to be served.”

For such reasons, the church remains always cautious about the deacon becoming “a mere liturgical or ‘sacristy’ deacon, or even a publicly stable member of the governing structure of the parish. A full-time salaried deacon may be useful in some circumstances, but (this) seems to speak contrary to the church’s sense of the revised ministry of the permanent deacon,” said Father Savelesky. “The deacon is not to be a surrogate or substitute (for the) priest-pastor, but an available and humble servant of God’s people who assists the priest-pastor in the service of the faithful.”

Since the diaconate was restored in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, history has shown that “the more a deacon is identified with a clerical position of power, governance or influence in the church, the less effective is his ministry.” A permanent deacon dressed in ordinary everyday attire “is a much more effective witness to the Sacrament of Orders that he enjoys through ordination than he would be wearing Roman collar.”

As he reflected on once again taking up this work, Father Savelesky said that “The one who oversees the formation of future priests or deacons holds a unique and privileged position in influencing the future shape of ministry in the local, diocesan church. I stand in awe of that responsibility and eagerly engage with renewed faith and commitment the task entrusted to me by Bishop Skylstad. Even after three decades of ministry as a priest, I remain anxious about being up to the challenge.”

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