Up in Canada, one region that has never had permanent deacons is about to see that change.

From the Western Catholic Reporter:

Members of the Edmonton Archdiocese’s first class preparing for the permanent diaconate will be ordained July 4 at St. Joseph Basilica, says the man who has been steering their formation for nearly four years.

Ron Woytiuk said Archbishop Richard Smith will likely ordain 11 men to the permanent diaconate as well as ordaining Michael Schumacher, who is preparing for the priesthood, to the transitional diaconate at the July 4 liturgy.

The 11 candidates “are sprinkled throughout the archdiocese,” with five living in Edmonton and the other six in outlying areas, Woytiuk said in an interview.

“It’s a sprinkling more than an even distribution,” he said, noting that candidates were chosen on the basis of their suitability, not their location.

The archdiocese currently has three permanent deacons – Jim Scott in Innisfail, Pat Hessel in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain, and Bernie Ouellette in Rocky Mountain House – but those to be ordained in July are the first class to receive their preparation from the archdiocese.

Five more men are currently in their second year of preparation and another group that Woytiuk says will likely be five to eight in number will begin preparation in the fall.

The archdiocese still has not released the names of those preparing for ordination.

“It would be nice to have a lot of publicity on these people in formation,” Woytiuk said. But they are in a process of discernment. They need anonymity so that if they choose to leave the program, they can do so quietly.

One man has left the first group and another chose to defer his formation until a later date. Three who began in the second group are no longer part of it, he said, noting the average age of the first group is in their 50s.

The process of discernment is fragile, he said. Men leave for reasons such as health problems for themselves or family members, changes in their employment, stress in the family or changes in their discernment.

Woytiuk, retired principal of St. Joseph’s High School, said he expects the establishment of the diaconate “will have a profound impact” on the archdiocese.

Permanent deacons have a ministry of Word, altar and charity. They read the Gospel, preach at the liturgies, officiate at weddings, Baptisms and funeral vigils, and perform a wide variety of works of charity.

“It’s all volunteer. It’s not a paid ministry,” Woytiuk said.

“The word ‘catalyst’ comes up often. The deacon becomes a catalyst for works of charity or for lay ministries.”

As an example, he spoke of one candidate for the diaconate who initiated a process to repair the home of a poor elderly woman.

Unlike priests who are transferred from parish to parish, the deacon tends to remain in his home parish indefinitely. When a new priest arrives, the deacon can be of great assistance in helping the pastor to get to know the people and the parish, Woytiuk said.

Priests coming from foreign countries, especially those whose first language is not English, face “a huge challenge,” he said. The deacon can help ease that transition as well as on occasion giving the Sunday homily.

Key to the deacon’s ministry is his wife.

The wives of the candidates were integrated into the formation process in the archdiocese, he said. The majority have attended all of the monthly formation weekends at Providence Renewal Centre. They have benefitted from hearing the presentations without having to complete all the assignments their husbands face.

“A wonderful community has been built through the four years among candidates and spouses. The journey has brought them much closer together – forged them together.”

The person in ministry “can get swallowed” by all the demands on his time, Woytiuk said. But the wife serves both as a confidante and as someone who can draw the deacon back to his family responsibilities.

In Eastern Canada, some deacons have their wives run their schedules to ensure that a balance between home and ministry is maintained.

For the deacon, he said, family must come first, career second and ministry third.

The archdiocese expects that a deacon will put in eight to 10 hours a week of service. “For some individuals, it’s going to be more,” he said, while noting that others still have children in school.

For the archdiocese, understanding the role and ministry of the permanent deacon has just begun, he said. Until now, the Latin rite Church has not had married men ordained to ministry in this diocese. Nor has it seen what the deacon can accomplish.

Woytiuk said he has found it “a wonderful experience” to be part of the diaconate program.

Looking to the future, he is optimistic. “I wonder what it will be like in 10 years. Will we have 30 deacons? Will we have more?”

The way things are going, I’d say more. A lot more. Bless ’em.

More from Beliefnet and our partners