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A look back at Arlington’s reinstitution of the diaconate

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deacon 50th anniversaryThis is the second in a series of articles throughout the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate in the United States.

Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde was studying to be a priest in Rome when the Second Vatican Council decided to restore the permanent diaconate, a role that dates back to the early church. After Bishop Loverde was ordained a priest, he worked with deacons in his home Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He continued to see their good works when he became an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Hartford, then bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y. 

The Diocese of Arlington, which was formed in 1974, started its permanent diaconate program in 1975. Under Bishop Loverde’ s predecessor, Bishop John R. Keating, the ordination of permanent deacons was suspended in 1985, pending further study on the basis of need. 

When Bishop Loverde came to Arlington in 1999, he met with the diocesan deacons, many of whom had been ordained in the 1970s and early 1980s. “They asked would I think of restoring it, and I said yes, let me study it,” said Bishop Loverde. “We studied it for a while because we wanted to have a good formation.”

In 2005, Bishop Loverde reopened the program, which consisted of five years of theological, pastoral and spiritual training for the men. “The permanent diaconate will provide the Diocese of Arlington with many hands to join with trained laity, religious and priests in the work of the Lord’s vineyard,” he said in a letter to the diocese.

In 2011, Bishop Loverde ordained the first class of permanent deacons in more than 20 years. With 16 deacons, it was the largest number of men to be ordained — priests or deacons — in the history of the diocese. Since 2012, 33 more permanent deacons have been ordained.

“I was convinced the deacons would be of real service to the priests and to the people. I was glad to reestablish it on the premise they be well-formed,” he said. “They’ve helped me by being assigned in parishes so that the ministry I oversee is done well.”

This year, the Catholic Church will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate. Bishop Loverde sees the year as a time for reflection. “It’s a great moment to rejoice in the 50 years since its reestablishment, and as we continue to live out the diaconate, there’s always time for a reevaluation, a moment to ask — can we do what we’re doing better?” he said. “We always have to be open to where the spirit of God is leading us. It's a wonderful complementary ministry in the church.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018