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Well-formed men in service

First slide

Most Catholics know, at least in general terms, how a man prepares for the priesthood — he goes to the seminary for about six years to study, pray and be formed. The formation of permanent deacons is a different matter: people know very little about it. There is no such thing as a seminary for permanent deacons. Most of the men in formation are married with children, and all have full-time jobs. So, a break of six years for formation is not an option. Further, the life and ministry of a permanent deacon is different from that of a priest. So, although the fundamentals are the same, the means of formation are designed to fit better with the candidates’ state of life and the needs of the permanent diaconate.

The Diocese of Arlington has a five-year program of formation for the permanent diaconate. After acceptance, a man enters the year of “aspirancy.” During that time, he meets monthly with the director of the program as well as other aspirants and their wives to study church documents, further his understanding of the diaconate and discern whether he should continue on that path.

At this time, the aspirant is assigned both a spiritual director, to guide him in his spiritual growth, and a deacon mentor, to help him better understand the diaconate and its practical demands. At the end of aspirancy, he may petition for admission to candidacy. If accepted, he formally is received by the Bishop as a candidate for Holy Orders. Then his formation begins in earnest.

The formation program provides the spiritual, pastoral and theological formation that a man needs to serve the church as a deacon. The spiritual formation helps him deepen his life of prayer and devotion. He is introduced to the church’s treasury of liturgies, prayer, devotions and spiritualities. He is encouraged to deepen his own spiritual life by conforming it to the prayer of the church. This dimension also helps him integrate his prayer, study, work and family.

Pastoral formation occurs primarily through the candidate’s involvement at his home parish and under his pastor’s supervision. This helps the candidate gain the experience and develop the necessary skills for future ministry in the church. By providing field experience and supervision the program also helps him appreciate the pastoral importance of theology and to integrate his studies with service.

Perhaps the most intense dimension of the program is the theological formation. The candidates meet at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax on Saturdays throughout the year for their theology classes. The day begins with Mass and then, after breakfast and morning prayer, classes begin and may go as late as 3 p.m. The faculty is drawn from local clergy and from Christendom College’s Notre Dame Graduate School.

The theological formation provides the intellectual training necessary for an effective minister of the Gospel. Required courses include philosophy, sacred scripture, dogmatic theology, moral theology, liturgical and sacramental theology, canon law, and church history. Those candidates interested also can take courses for credit in the master of theology program at Notre Dame Graduate School.

Finally, the candidates are evaluated annually by a committee composed of three priests and three deacons of the diocese. The committee receives input from the candidate’s wife (if he’s married), pastor, mentor and spiritual director. In light of that information, the committee makes a recommendation to the Bishop as to whether the candidate should continue. It also provides feedback to the candidate as to his strengths and areas for improvement.

The program provides the church with spiritually and theologically well-formed men who will dedicate themselves generously to service.

Fr. Scalia is episcopal vicar for clergy and director of the Diaconate Formation Program.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018