Ministry of Jesus Christ sees growth in Archdiocesan permanent diaconate program

September 28, 2021

Deacons walk past the Blessed Sacrament at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart at a recent Mass. The Catholic Church around the world, and especially in Galveston-Houston, has seen an unprecedented growth in the Permanent Diaconate. The Archdiocese is estimated to have the third most permanent deacons in the U.S., according to a 2021 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — The many roles and responsibilities of men currently working in the ministry of Jesus Christ through the Church’s Permanent Diaconate program require integration of the parts of their life, including at home, their parish, their community and the Archdiocese. This important ministry to the worldwide Church continues to experience unprecedented growth in the Archdiocese and across the U.S.

Deacon Phillip Jackson, director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, said he oversees one of the largest formation programs in the country. Currently, the Archdiocese has 423 permanent deacons and 138 additional men that are considered “inquirers” as they discern the call to this vocation.

Approximately 50% of the permanent deacons have reached retirement age, but many continue to serve well into their 80s.

“We do not place a cap on the number of men that we accept into formation, despite some of the challenges this kind of growth brings to our program, namely adequate space to meet,” said Deacon Jackson. “When we gather for our monthly Saturday sessions in the areas of human, pastoral, and spiritual formation, we will have over 450 people on the campus of St. Mary’s Seminary. These include the men and their wives if married, as well as deacon mentor couples, and members of the formation team.”

Deacon Jackson said the mission of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate is to continually form these men to be the best deacons God has called them to be through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Responsibilities include proclaiming the Gospel, providing Baptisms, leading the faithful in prayer, witnessing marriages and conducting wake and funeral services.

They also are committed to identifying the needs of those in their parish and assigned Archdiocesan ministries, finding Church resources to meet whatever needs they may discover.

Deacon Gustavo Camacho, one of two active permanent deacons assigned to St. Vincent DePaul Church, has taught formation classes in the seminary since 2014.

He currently serves as an Archdiocesan Hispanic Liaison, Southwest Deanery representative, and a member of the committee that oversees the Deacon Crisis Fund. In the past, he was active in the Archdiocesan Prison Ministry and served as a mentor on the formation team with his wife from 2013 to 2021.

“Our program is recognized in the world as one of the best, not only in the formation but continued education and continued support of those already ordained as permanent deacons,” said Deacon Camacho. “The Office of the Permanent Diaconate is by far the engine that continues to move the diaconate into the future, and I am ever grateful to the men that have been called to administer it. I also have witnessed how our deacons are loved and supported by the faithful in their assigned parishes and other ministry responsibilities.”

Deacon Camacho said, above all, he has witnessed how the Office of the Permanent Diaconate’s work impacts the ordained men and the entire family structure by providing ongoing support, such as cost-free counseling when needed.

“Being a deacon is not easy, with the responsibilities of the home, a parish, and community, but the Office of the Permanent Diaconate provides the assistance needed so that the yoke is light,” said Deacon Camacho. “My experience with the program has provided me with a greater knowledge of the inner workings of the diaconate, including self-growth in my continued education and the ability to expand to other diaconate programs, such as in Austin and Arkansas. This ministry has been instrumental in providing my wife and me with opportunities for spiritual growth and theological knowledge I don’t think we would have received without it.”

One of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), Deacon Jackson said the Office of the Permanent Diaconate benefits greatly through the generous contributions of the faithful.

About one-half of the formation expenses for the 138 men currently in formation are paid through DSF support. If the man is married and his wife chooses to take the academic credit courses, her tuition expenses also are supported by DSF. Deacon Camacho said, without DSF funding, there would be no diaconate program, no services to the community, and no way to guarantee a good education, both theological and spiritual, for those in formation. He said DSF also provides for ministry outreach to the marginalized in the community, such as prisons and hospitals that would not be possible due to a shortage of priests.

“An example of this would be after the flooding of Hurricane Harvey or the mass shooting in a local school, when our permanent deacons were mobilized to provide much-needed spiritual support to those communities,” said Deacon Camacho. “We help bridge the gap between the clergy and laypeople in the community, and this is where the impact of the program is most felt, as well as Baptisms, marriages and funerals. Without DSF funding, the Permanent Diaconate program simply would not exist.” †