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Deacon LaDuca writes a book on the nature of the permanent diaconate

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What is a permanent deacon, anyway? Are they part-time clergy? Is it for men looking for a second career? To better explain the often-misunderstood vocation, Nicholas J. LaDuca wrote a self-published book last year titled, “Who Do You Say That I Am? A Deacon’s Perspective of the Diaconate.”


Deacon LaDuca said he came to the diaconate more than 35 years ago “kicking and screaming.” Looking back at his young adulthood, Deacon LaDuca, now 80, described himself as “a typical Italian Catholic from New York — go (to Mass) when convenient,” he said. It wasn’t until 1977 when the U.S. Marine was stationed on Okinawa that he began to really understand his faith. His chaplain, who was Mormon, kept asking him questions about the Catholic faith that he couldn’t answer. So he would call up the Catholic chaplain to find the answers. “That’s when the seed was planted,” he said.


When he returned from overseas, he got involved in his daughter’s religious education at St. Michael Church in Annandale, and then began to volunteer in other ways at his parish. Eventually, Msgr. Thomas P. Scannell, pastor, and the parish deacons encouraged him to apply to the diaconate program. Reluctantly, he applied but was told the bishop had put a moratorium on the program. “Fantastic,” Deacon LaDuca replied.


Years later, Deacon LaDuca went through the reestablished diaconate program. But when it came time for him to submit a letter asking the bishop to ordain him, he wasn’t sure. While on a retreat, something changed his mind. After Mass, a man with disabilities asked Deacon LaDuca to tie his shoes. As he was kneeling to tie the shoes, Deacon LaDuca was reminded of Christ kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples. “I said, ‘OK I got the message,’ ” he said. He was ordained to the permanent diaconate by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating June 1, 1985.


Deacon LaDuca has served at many parishes over the years, most recently at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale. He’s now retired but still serves at his home parish, St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. He’s also lived his vocation out in the world working for Computer Data Systems after retiring from the Marines, while teaching religion to students at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly and while being a husband to his wife, Dorothy, a father to their five children and a grandfather to their five grandchildren.


That deacons are out in the world and have “the smell of the sheep” is a great asset to their apostolate, said Deacon LaDuca. “I taught seniors and most of my successful ministry was not in the classroom but when I was out running with the cross country team or sitting in the dugout with the baseball players or sitting in the stands with the swim team where the kids would feel comfortable to come up and ask questions,” he said. “People are more comfortable in an environment where they're comfortable. That’s the strength of the diaconate.”


According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, deacons are ordained ministers of the church. A permanent deacon must be over 35 years old. If the deacon is single, he may not marry later, and if he is married, he may not remarry after the death of his wife, without special dispensation.


Deacon LaDuca’s book was inspired by his friend and mentor, the late Deacon Samuel M. Taub, who served at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, and their discussions over the years on the nature of the diaconate. It looks at not what deacons can and can’t do, but who they are. “I was at a youth conference and one of the youngsters asked (a priest) the question, ‘What can you do that the deacon can't do?’ and the priest said, ‘I’d rather concentrate on what we do together.’ What a powerful statement. I think if we took that approach, we’d be a much more vibrant ministry.”


Deacon LaDuca believes the diaconate is a calling from Christ to serve the faithful in whatever ways they need. “(The diaconate) is Christ the Servant’s presence sacramentalized in the world in which we live.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021