What was it like to be one of the first permanent deacons in the United States? The Catholic Review chats with surviving members of the class of ’71:
After Cardinal Lawrence Shehan ordained Deacon George Evans as one of the first permanent deacons in the United States 40 years ago, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of the new clergyman.
“It was a struggle in the first few years,” remembered Deacon Evans, now retired but still assisting at St. Rita in Dundalk. “People were asking, ‘Why are you doing what priests do?’”
Deacon Hubert Derouaux, another new deacon in the same pioneering first diaconate class as Deacon Evans, encountered similar reactions as he began his ministry.
“I was accepted,” said Deacon Derouaux, now retired in Florida, “but people had a difficult time with some of the things we were doing in the liturgy. To them, it was important that the priest do everything.”
Even some priests, unsure how the permanent diaconate related to their own ministry, could be suspicious.
“We were the first (permanent) deacons in the United States,” Deacon Derouaux said, “and I know there was apprehension amongst the laity and some priests and we had to prove not only to them, but ourselves, that we could function properly as deacons in answering the needs of our community.”
Four decades after Deacons Evans and Derouaux joined four others in becoming the first men in the country ordained to the permanent diaconate in a diocesan program, there’s a far greater acceptance of the diaconate.
Today, there are nearly 200 permanent deacons serving in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and more than 17,000 permanent deacons throughout the country.
As Deacons Evans and Derouaux celebrate the 40th anniversary of ordained life, the only two surviving deacons from their historic class believe the permanent diaconate has become a vital ministry in the church. They see it as a blessing.
And thank you, brothers, for blazing that trail four decades ago. Ad multos annos!