By LINDA BEHRENS
Do you already have the heart of a deacon? Do you have passion for Christ-like charity? Do you exhibit diaconal gifts in everyday life?
Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The call to diaconal service is a gift of the Spirit to the Church.
Are you called to diaconal service?
Father Steve Pautler, director of permanent deacon formation for the Diocese of Belleville, says most permanent deacons are called by their community because they have taken an active part in their local parish.
“Many are already active, serving as lectors, cantors or extraordinary minister of communion,” he says.
A person called to permanent diaconate should have a deep faith, a good personal prayer life and recognize the need for this in the church.
“The main difference when you become a deacon, you become part of the clergy. You are ordained to serve,” he says. “A deacon is ordained to the bishop, to serve where mostly needed in the diocese.”
Permanent deacon candidates have varied backgrounds, sometimes working in pastoral care or professional areas. They can be married and maintain their jobs. Spouses, and sometimes children, are involved in the formation process.
“Discernment is important. It is committing to something that takes a lot of time and requires life changes,” Father Pautler says.
Deacons are most visible during Mass, assisting the priest or bishop.
“But many responsibilities happen behind the scenes,” he notes. “What they do, how they help, makes the parishes what they are.”
He adds, “Each of us are given gifts and talents that we can share with each other. The tapestry that is woven into our very souls helps to answer if you are called and what you bring to the people you serve.”
Permanent deacons may baptize, witness marriages, conduct funeral services, and preside at prayer services and devotions.
They may also preach at Mass, give instructions to people wishing to become Catholic, be involved in religious education, and conduct marriage and family enrichment programs.
Deacons also serve in special ministries, such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.
Father Pautler says there is no simple answer to the question, “Am I called to be a deacon?”
A person of faith through personal prayer, spiritual direction and recognition that the Church has the obligation to discern if such a vocation is truly present can discover God’s will.
Becoming a permanent deacon
Deacon formation is the process for discerning whether a particular person has these gifts of Christ-like charity and service.
In the Diocese of Belleville, this process is facilitated through a five-year program of human, spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral formation, through the St. Meinrad School of Theology.
The first year of formation is known as aspirancy and consists of one-day workshops held once a month.
The next four years are more demanding, involving one weekend per month (Friday evenings, all day Saturday and Sunday mornings) for academic studies. These sessions take place at the Pastoral Center in Belleville.
The Diocese of Belleville and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau partner in this discernment process.
Those currently in formation are scheduled to be ordained June 3, 2023. There are 15 men presently in formation to the diaconate.
“The formation program is a big commitment, and we want everyone to feel comfortable and prepared,” Father Pautler says.
The Deacon Formation Committee reviews and makes recommendations to the bishop. The bishop then decides who he will accept for ordination as a permanent deacon.
Later in 2022, the diocese will begin a process of seeking those who may be interested in pursuing the diaconate in the next class.
The initial selection process for this class will begin with a series of “Come and See” events at various parishes around the diocese August through November 2022.
Formation of the new class for ordination in 2028 will begin with a retreat in August 2023 to start a period of aspirancy.
Those who are interested need only to attend one of the Come and See gatherings to learn more about the permanent diaconate and the formation program.
Applicants must be baptized Catholic men between the ages of 30 and 60 (at the time the formation program begins), active in the parish and recommended by their pastors.
Father Pautler adds that for this upcoming formation class, they would like some of the participants to speak English and Spanish, because of the growing demand in the diocese to connect with Spanish-speaking parishioners.
Father Pautler will be publishing a monthly blog, called “The Belleville Deacon,” beginning Aug. 1.
This two-page blog is intended to share progress of the deacon formation program and to introduce prospective candidates to the Belleville deacon family.
For more information on the deacon formation program or the Come and See gatherings, visit www.diobelle.org/canonical-affairs/deacon-formation.
Come and See Events
St. Joseph Parish
Sunday, Aug. 7
2 p.m. (Church)
220 South Elliott
Olney, IL 6245
St. Francis Xavier Parish
Tuesday, Sept. 13
7 p.m. (Church)
303 S. Poplar Street
Carbondale, IL 62901
Cathedral of St. Peter
Saturday, Oct. 15
10 a.m. (Undercroft)
200 W. Harrison Street
Belleville, IL 62220
St. Mary Parish
Wednesday, Nov. 16
7 p.m. (Church)
1550 Main Street
Mt. Vernon, IL 62864
Pre-registration is not required. For additional information, contact Father Steven Pautler, director of deacon formation, at 618-722-5043 or [email protected].