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

Deacon ordinations follow four years of formation

the Inland Register

(From the July 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

On Aug. 10 Bishop Cupich will ordain to the Order of Deacons 18 men from nearly as many parishes in the Diocese of Spokane. Given the number of candidates, Gonzaga University’s McCarthey Athletic Center has been selected for the 7 p.m. Mass of Ordination. All the faithful are invited to join in the celebration.

The ordination will add the 18 newly ordained to the 32 permanent deacons who actively serve in a variety of ministries in the Diocese.

Father Michael Savelesky, the Diocese’s Moderator of the Curia, and until recently the pastor of Spokane’s Assumption Parish, has directed the program which ends with the Aug. 10 ordinations. He has been assisted by a selection committee whose primary responsibility was to establish the original group of program participants and oversee their formation for their first year of discernment. Supervision of the candidates during the other three years of the formation program has been the responsibility of a special formation team. A variety of lay men and women, as well as deacons and several priests (diocesan and Religious) have served as “faculty” for the program.

“For decades now, permanent deacons have served the People of God in our Diocese with generosity and quiet dedication. In many parishes they have become a common part of parish life and ministry. With the ordination of these eighteen candidates, we will witness a further revitalization of this sacred ministry,” said Father Savelesky.

“With the support of a qualified ‘formation faculty’ I have been blessed richly by the experience of directing our diocese’s Deacon Formation Program. These men and their wives truly are grace-in-action. Their excitement about the future of the Church in our Diocese is a genuine inspiration to all of us who have worked with them in formation.”

Special Formation

Though neither as extensively or as intensely as it does for those preparing for the priesthood, the Church takes seriously the formation of those whom she ordains to the ministry of deacon. Like that of priesthood, the formation program for deacons is anchored in four major areas of personal growth and development: human, spiritual, academic and pastoral. The goals for each area are spelled out in a set of official guidelines approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. An individual diocese is free to adapt the guidelines to its unique circumstances.

In the Diocese of Spokane, the Deacon Formation Program usually has extended over a four-year period. (The first program in the Diocese began in 1976, also under the direction of Father Savelesky.) The guidelines require that the first year be set aside specifically as a time to deepen discernment of vocation and to purify motivation for service. Those in formation are to “listen to their hearts at this point more than to hit the books,” Father Savelesky said.

Each participant in the program moves from an inquirer status to that of a candidate and then, given the determination of the formation team and the call of the bishop, to that of an ordinand. Each participant receives spiritual direction from a qualified priest.

The wives of the candidates are encouraged to participate fully in the formation program. Their support of their husband’s pursuit of the diaconate is assessed at several points in the formation process. Before ordination, it must be expressed in writing.

Ministry with a tradition

The identity and role of deacons in the Church is ancient. Some theologians refer to the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles as evidence of its early beginnings. Others trace the history of these special servants to the ministry of the Old Testament Levites who exercised a unique liturgical role in the temple services; their counterparts on the local scene in towns and villages associated with the synagogue were charged with caring for the menial needs of the people.

Regardless of its origin, the ministry now known in the Church as the Permanent Diaconate has had a long and rich history. At one time in history, deacons elected the pope. A few were elected to the papacy themselves. When a Catholic sees a cardinal dressed in red, how many think of their early beginnings in the seven major deacons of Rome?

For a variety of reasons, over time the identity and role of the deacon in the Church all but disappeared from its original public forum. Until recent times, for centuries deacons were known and their ministries (almost entirely liturgical ones) were performed in the context of roles at the altar. The diaconate – as well as the sub-diaconate – was experienced in the Church as final steps on the way to priestly ordination. Even in the post-Vatican II era, a man must first be ordained to the diaconate before he is advanced to the order of priesthood. Those individuals moving toward priesthood are identified as “transitional deacons,” in comparison to “permanent deacons” like the 18 who will be ordained on Aug. 10.

Following the decisions of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI took steps in 1968 to reinstate the diaconate to its original identity as a distinct share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Accordingly, the bishop, priest and deacon are to have their unique sacramental identity and role in the community of faith. The deacon, in particular, is to assist the bishop and his priests in the exercise of their ministries. As such, the deacon is to participate in three fundamental ministries: Ministry of Charity, Ministry of the Word, and Ministry of the Altar. Because he is to be a type of bridge between the Church and the secular world, as well as the world of the laity, the deacon’s primary witness and presence is to be associated with giving obvious witness to the Church’s preferential option for the poor and dispossessed. He is not to be merely a substitute priest or a glorified sacristan. “According to the mind of the Church, the deacon is to be – and to be seen to be – a servant of others. The focus of his witness and ministry, especially in social service ministries, is to be manifold and ubiquitous, as he strives to give sacramental witness to Christ the Servant,” Father Savelesky said.

Next program

If history repeats itself, a year or more will pass before the diocese begins the process once more for the screening and selection of participants in the next group of deacon hopefuls. Inquiries can be sent to: Deacon Formation Program, Diocese of Spokane, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210-1453.

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