Inviting men in the pews into a journey to serve the Church as deacons

October 25, 2022

Permanent deacons line up to process during a recent Ordination Mass for the Permanent Diaconate at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — The positive growth trend that began over 50 years ago in the Archdiocese, where adult men “in the pews” answered the call to serve the local Church as permanent deacons, still continues today.

To help form these men into permanent deacons, the Office of the Permanent Diaconate was founded in 1969, later to become an official part of the Chancery in 1991. This year marked the 50th anniversary of 38 men who were ordained in 1972 and recently recognized at an annual convocation in August for their 50 years of diaconal ministry to the Archdiocese.

“Those early deacons in our program helped pave the way for us who have followed in their footsteps, and we are grateful for their example of diaconal service,” said Deacon Phillip Jackson, Director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. “We are proud to be distinguished as one of the top three largest diaconal formation programs in the United States today.”

Current figures show 386 permanent deacons serving in the Archdiocese, with an additional 46 men that will be ordained to the permanent diaconate in January 2023. Two additional “cohorts” or groups of men choosing to participate in the six-year diaconal formation process will include 44 men that are enrolled in the 2025 cohort and 33 men, called inquirers, who will soon be formally accepted into the 2027 cohort.

Deacon Jackson said these men in formation are prepared to serve in a three-fold ministry of Word, Liturgy and Charity. He said to describe a typical “day in the life” of a deacon would be hard to capture because of the broad scope of their service to the local Church. From proclaiming the Gospel at Mass to celebrating Baptisms, marriages and funerals outside of Mass and leading the faithful in prayer, there are many other roles deacons serve that are not as visible.

“In many instances, deacons are seen serving at the altar and preaching, but our ministry goes well beyond that, and in most cases, cannot truly be captured in photographs or in print,” said Deacon Jackson. “Our deacons visit those who are incarcerated, in nursing homes, the homebound, and people we encounter on the street corners who are seeking to see the face of Christ in a kind word or a modest handout. In all cases, deacons treat them with the dignity, respect, and love that all of us are entitled to as human beings.”

Deacon Jackson said the continued growth of the Archdiocese’s diaconal formation program can be challenging, especially when it comes to finding enough space for the cohorts to come together in prayer and for coursework. Regardless of the number, no man discerning the call to serve the Church as a deacon is turned away. It is through formation and the discernment of the call that some will be ordained as deacons.

“We do not limit the size of our cohorts, so if 60 men apply and meet all of the requirements, then 60 men begin the process,” said Deacon Jackson. “These men, along with their wives if they are married, at some point will be on our campus. We often push our retreat centers to capacity as the men, the formation teams, and mentors gather for the spiritual formation of the candidates.”

Deacon Jackson said that social distancing mandates during COVID-19 actually had a silver lining for the ministry and opened the door for distance learning as needed.

“We had to make a number of adjustments to diaconal formation during the period where we were unable to meet in person,” said Deacon Jackson. “We have come to rely on and utilize more technology to allow for an expanded necessity for distance learning, not only to keep ahead of the technological changes but to anticipate future needs as well. For instance, we have expanded our capabilities of providing Spanish translation to the candidates in formation whose first language is not English.”

The Office of the Permanent Diaconate is one of 64 ministries that are supported by DSF (Diocesan Services Fund), which allows the diaconal formation program to continue and grow. Deacon Jackson said the majority of the costs associated with the six-year formation courses offered for each man and his wife are covered by the generous contributions from the faithful to DSF.

“Much of the cost of their tuition, retreats and vestments is covered largely in part by the generous contributions from the DSF,” said Deacon Jackson. “We know that several parishes would like to put men into consideration for the diaconal formation program but may lack the financial resources to do so. DSF makes it possible for those men to come from the pews to make the journey to serve the Church as deacons.”

To donate to DSF that supports the Office of the Permanent Diaconate and 64 additional ministries, go to DSF supports each of these ministries, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to the DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.