The Permanent Diaconate Division of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary has as its primary purpose implementing the four-fold dimensions of formation (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) of potential candidates for the diaconate of Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic Church. Its guiding focus is the example of Jesus Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45).
In theological instruction and pastoral education, the Permanent Diaconate Division seeks to engage men in a process of reflection on the issues of life, to provide a better understanding of the Gospel message, a clear awareness of the historical development of the Christian faith and to impart a sensitivity to the human concerns and spiritual demands faced by contemporary men and women of faith. Of particular emphasis is a strengthening of the man’s personal ability to explain and articulate the Catholic faith to members of the Catholic community and to men and women of other Christian traditions and other faiths. By means of its integration of the four components of formation the Permanent Diaconate Division has these as it primary goals:
The fostering of Human Formation consistent with the attainment of the maturity demanded for ordained ministry as a Roman Catholic deacon.
The deepening of Spiritual Formation to sustain a lifetime of diaconal service and to advance that continual conversion of mind and heart so necessary for every baptized member of the Church and especially to be expected of its ordained deacons.
The sharpening of Intellectual Formation effectively to assimilate a graduate, professional theological education consonant with the ability faithfully to grasp, represent, and apply the Church’s Tradition as an ordained deacon.
The broadening of Pastoral Formation to develop the specific capacities for ministerial and public leadership required for diaconal service.
Structure and Procedures
The National Directory for the Formation, Life and Ministry of Permanent Deacons in the United States [National Directory] describes four separate but related paths in the formation of a man called to serve as a deacon: those of inquirer, aspirant, candidate, and deacon in post ordination. The four stages are closely linked and form one journey of faith in living out a life that models Christ as Servant. In each path, the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions of a man’s life are developed so as to achieve progressive growth and maturity in the exercise of ministry.
The goal of spiritual formation is “putting on the mind of Christ,” thereby establishing and nurturing attitudes, habits, and practices that provide a foundation for the development of an authentic and dynamic spiritual life.
The intellectual dimension is “oriented toward ministry, providing the deacon candidate with the knowledge and appreciation of the faith that he needs in order to carry out his ministry” of word, liturgy, and charity as an ordained minister.
The goal of a “suitable human dimension” is to help the deacon candidate develop “his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ”, building on the human qualities discerned in an individual and developing and adding necessary skills for an effective and responsible diaconal ministry.
The focus of the pastoral dimension is to develop the practical application of the individual’s gifts for the threefold ministry of word, liturgy, and charity, and, during formation, to assess his capacity to make a lifelong commitment to these ministries.
Inquiry (Application Period)
During the period of Inquiry, men and their families begin to more intentionally explore the possibility of a call to the diaconate. Just as the possible applicants begin to get to know the Church and the diaconate in a more specific way, so, too, does the Church begin to get to know these men. The inquiry period includes participation in discernment groups and workshops and concluding with the man, with the consent of his wife, entering into the Aspirancy Year.
Paths of Diaconate Formation
The Aspirancy Year is “primarily a time to discern the capability and readiness of an aspirant to be nominated to the bishop for acceptance as a candidate for diaconal ordination” (National Directory §182). In addition to classroom sessions that focus on spirituality, prayer, and discernment, time will also be spent participating in workshops and days of recollection. The aspirant will also begin meeting with a deacon-mentor and priest-spiritual director.
According to the National Directory, the “Candidate path in diaconal formation is the occasion for continued discernment of a diaconal vocation and immediate preparation for ordination” (§204). The study of theology and related topics becomes a central part of the five years of Candidacy. Workshops, days of recollection, parish and Archdiocesan ministry and meetings with one’s mentor and spiritual director continue.