A little diaconal news from my neighbors to north in Toronto, Canada, via the Catholic Register:
St. Augustine’s Seminary is not only a training ground for priests but it has been a centre for deacon formation since the permanent diaconate came to Toronto 41 years ago.
“It’s been a very good relationship at the seminary because the deacons got a chance to integrate with the priests, the seminarians got a chance to integrate with the deacons,” said Deacon Stephen Pitre, co-ordinator of the diaconate office in the archdiocese of Toronto.
“They get to know each other a little bit. Hopefully, it encourages collaboration between priests and deacons.”
Pitre said the benefits of training deacons at the seminary also lie with its 100 years of pastoral training, teaching theology and cultivating spirituality and a relationship with Christ.
In the early Church, priests didn’t exist for a while, he said.
“So deacons were providing certain administrative (functions), certain service functions to the people… They were (also) expected to go out, not only bringing food and what not, they were expected to preach the Word.”
During Vatican II, the diaconate was revived to assist in parishes and to proclaim the Gospel, especially through acts of charity. Archbishop Philip Pocock was enthusiastic about the program and decided it was a good fit for the Toronto archdiocese, and St. Augustine’s would be where the program got its start.
After the launch of the program, with 33 candidates in 1972, the diaconate has spread across the country.
St. Augustine’s program has evolved over the years, beginning as a two-year program, expanding to a three-year, then a four-year program, before settling into its current format, a five-year program.
“It was felt that they needed more time and more subject matter because of the types of things deacons get involved in, especially preaching, but also understanding the sacraments, understanding ministry,” said Pitre.
Extending the length of the program was also due in part to believing it should take more than two or three years to cover formation in terms of spiritual development and to provide candidates and their wives more time to discern the call.
The archdiocese would lose a lot without deacons, said Pitre. Deacons serve in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, parishes, administrative capacities and on the streets. Some were even involved in the most recent pastoral plan, he said.
“If they’re married, they bring their strength as fathers, experience as husbands and their spirituality. You can rhyme off a whole litany of lists of things they could do, but the thing is they’re supposed to be adaptable and available to the priests in the parish they are assigned to.”
There are more than 100 active deacons in Toronto. Since the program began, 276 deacons from St. Augustine’s have been ordained.
“It’s just a question of what’s needed and who can do it,” said Pitre.