The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Defining deacons

The diocesan paper for San Francisco is taking a look at deacons this week — and offers a solid overview of the vocation and the men who are becoming a part of it:

An active parishioner and energetic volunteer outside the church, Ven Garcia was discussing plans for a spiritual retreat with an assistant pastor at the Church of Epiphany in San Francisco several years ago when suddenly, apropos of nothing, the priest asked him if he had ever considered becoming a deacon.


“That was the first time I heard about it,” Garcia said. “My initial reaction, after he explained it to me, was ‘no.'”

Now in his fourth year of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s five-year formation program for permanent deacons, the 61-year-old retired state worker is on track to be ordained by Archbishop George Niederauer in 2012 in an elaborate ceremony marking his entrance into an ancient and honored order of the Church.

For many Catholics, it is an order whose identity and role remains shrouded in mystery.

“They see you in your alb and stole standing outside church after Mass and they call you father,” said Deacon Ed Cunningham. “I say, ‘yes, I am a father – I have two children.'”


While deacons may perform many of the offices of a priest – such as baptizing, marrying, burying, and preaching the Gospel at Mass- the ministerial boundaries of this resurrected order are still being drawn. Some work in parishes. Others serve as chaplains in hospitals and prisons. Still others work in shelters for battered women or, like the deacon who ministers to cross-country truckers at truck stops, create their own style of service.

“I think the real role of the deacon,” said Deacon Ray Noll, “is being defined by the people who are deacons now.”

There’s much more, include a succinct history of the order, at the link.

Comments read comments(7)
post a comment

posted October 6, 2010 at 8:51 am

Very good article. There is confusion among Catholics about the role of the deacons and lack of information as to what the role is. Even some priests and bishops seem to be unclear as to what to do with the deacon. But thank God the vocation seems to be growing and many men (and their wives) are being called to this ministry. I am an aspirant to Deaconate in Boston and I know that it is in our lifetimes that the role will become clearer. In the end is about service (Diakonia) and service can take many forms; liturgical, educational, social, helping the poor, etc. Called by Jesus Christ to be witnesses with our lives and our mouths.

report abuse


posted October 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I’m glad that some dioceses are encouraging active older men into this ministry. My own diocese of San Diego has, according to my recently-retired pastor, a policy against starting to train men over 50 because they’d be “too old” when finished. I suppose that this is a pragmatic cost vs. benefit analysis, which I’m sure they regard as similar to how Christ chose his disciples.
How, I’m not sure, but there it is. I had lots of enthusiasm and desire to serve as a deacon, but after being shut down by Father N., I’ve not only taken my enthusiasm elsewhere, but my family and I have become active in our local Ukrainian Catholic parish. At least there I can worship authentically without the plethora of minor abuses common to a liberal diocese bothering me.

report abuse

Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Mark …
I’m sorry to hear about the hostile reception you received from your pastor. I’m frankly puzzled by the “over 50″ rule, since most men who go into this do so as they near retirement (or after retirement). They still put in a good many years of valuable service — as do men ordained as priests on the far side of 50…
FWIW: One of the men in my class was ordained a deacon at the tender age of 72.
Dcn. G.

report abuse


posted October 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Wow, old at 50. Am 49 so better hurry up! President Obama is 49 also, perhaps next year he will have to retire. In this day and age most people in their 50’s are just starting their second life. I feel your disappointment, but don’t give up! Diakonia is a vocation for all, not just who make it to ordination (four long years!).

report abuse

Deacon Norb

posted October 6, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Deacon Ray Noll? It’s been years but I have crossed his path before since I am an alumnus of a major Jesuit University where he once was on the faculty. Good to hear he is still among the living and says things quoted in major RC newspapers!
Ad Multos Anos — Ray!

report abuse


posted October 6, 2010 at 5:18 pm

The deacon’s ministry is not being defined by those who are deacons now, if by that Deacon Noll means we are unclear as to what exactly our ministries are intended to be. Rather, Vatican II lists in a general way what deacons are intended to do and the Directories of the Holy See and the USCCB clearly spell out further some rather clear definitions and details of the vocation and ministry of the deacon. We simply need to go to the sources and implement what is there. Nothing needs to be re-invented, only lived in its fullness.

report abuse


posted October 7, 2010 at 8:56 am

Dear Diakonos99,
Perhaps, but I don’t think so.
There is much criticism of matters that may be put under an umbrella of practices called “the Spirit of Vatican II.” That criticism can be legitimate, though I would distingush between an authentic Spirit of the Council and a misguided one.
But there is a problem in the other extreme as well — the false notion that after more than a millenium of the diaconate being a transitional and solely liturgical ministry, that the Pope and some Council Fathers were having lunch one day and fully developed down to all of the details the renewed ministry of the diaconate, writing it on a napkin.
While abuses and errors have occurred from excessive experimentation and pluralism (and please, let us not use this as an occassion to recount all of them), an excessive fear of any experimentation, organic development or discretion on the part of the lay faithful or those clergy not serving in Rome, does not pastorally benefit the people of God.
The renewal of the diaconate was a bold and positive action by the Church. But I expect it will take a full century for the Church to perfectly (or near prefectly) develop its proper place in serving the needs of God’s Holy People.
Confusion and lack of definition can cause serious problems in the Church. But so can an overly rigid and centralized approach that does not live room to observe the pastoral needs of the faithful and develop ministries to serve that end.
I think the deacon’s ministry is being gradually defined by those on the ground, engaged in the minsitry — not apart from but with the rest of the Church.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz ...

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives! ...

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below. ...

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The ...

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy. ...

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.