A Public Apology to Permanent Deacons Everywhere

This past weekend, I learned an important lesson while giving my keynote address at the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s Catholic Formation and Leadership Conference.

I’ll admit I was nervous going into the talk. I’ve spoken to crowds this size in the past, but there’s something about sticking the word “keynote” into the title of a talk that ups the ante. And this — probably unbeknownst to my hosts — was my very first “keynote”. So yes, I was nervous.

At some point later, I may share the content of my talk with you. But for now, all I need to say is that at the beginning of the talk I did my patented “Saintly Smackdown” whereby I ask different groups in the room to show themselves. I called for the converts, the youth ministers and catechists. I called for the priests and nuns — and we actually gave a rousing ovation to one precious Sister who was baptized in 1928. I called out the Bishop and thanked my hosts and moved along with the rest of my speech.

I forgot to call out the Deacons.

Immediately following the talk, after dismounting the stage with a sigh of relief, I turned to walk to my table and came face to face with a very frustrated gentleman.

“You forgot to mention the Permanent Deacons,” he said with a wag of his finger. My eyes went to the Deacon lapel pin on his collar and I stared like a deer caught in the headlights. “We’re always forgotten,” he scolded.

What could I say? I apologized profusely and, a bit rattled, promised to never let it happen again. I was busted, wrong, and culpable. There was no excuse.

Actually, some of my favorite Catholic guys serve in or are preparing for the Permanent Diaconate. There’s my dear friend Deacon Tom Fox and Patheos’ own Deacon Greg Kandra. I know another dear friend who is involved in studies for the diaconate — a multiyear commitment. And behind many awesome permanent deacons are their wives, who participate fully in the vocational process. So I should have known better.

And you know what, it’s true — many permanent deacons are forgotten. They serve valiantly with very little recognition and no compensation. They show up for sacraments, preach the gospel, serve on demand and live on-call. According the to USCCB website, there are 17,816 men who have been ordained as permanent deacons in the United States. A permanent deacon serves under his bishop and his assignment may be changed at any time at the bishop’s direction. And yes, celibacy does effect the life and service of a permanent deacon. According to the USCCB website:

May married men be ordained deacons?

Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to “mature married men,”later clarified to mean men over the age of 35. This is in keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, in which married men were ordained into ministry. Also in keeping with ancient practice is the expectation that while a married man may be ordained, an ordained man, if his wife should die, may not marry again without special permission.

“Celibacy Affects Every Deacon: In one way or another, celibacy affects every deacon,married or unmarried. Understanding the nature of celibacy —its value and its practice—are essential to the married deacon. Not only does this understanding strengthen and nurture his own commitment to marital chastity, but it also helps to prepare him for the possibility of living celibate chastity should his wife predecease him. This concern is particularly unique within the diaconate. Tragically, some deacons who were married at the time of ordination only begin to face the issues involved with celibacy upon the death of their wives. As difficult as this process is,all deacons need to appreciate the impact celibacy can have on their lives and ministry.” – National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, par. 72.

So now, having studied up on the importance and commitment level of those serving in the diaconate, rest assured that permanent deacons (and their wives!) will hereby never again be forgotten in my Saintly Smackdown. And as penance, I’m praying my Rosary today in honor of all you awesome deacons out there. Thank you for your service to our Church!

If you have a favorite deacon, please share his first name and place of service (and that of his wife) in the comments below along with a note of thanks and help me make amends!  

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Welcome to Patheos, Lisa! Please pray for my husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer.

  • http://www.donnacooperoboyle.com Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    I bet your talk was awesome, Lisa! I’m sure it touched many hearts. I’m glad you are giving a wonderful shout out to Deacons and their wives, but I’m sorry that by not remembering to mention them at the beginning of your talk has caused you pain. I sincerely hope that folks will focus on all of the good points of your talk and not beat you up for one slip up.

    Blessings to you and yours!
    Donna-Marie

  • http://sfomom.blogspot.com Barb

    Our parish is served by 3 wonderful deacons: Deacon Bill and his wife Donna; Deacon Dan and his wife Barbara, and Deacon Tom and his wife, whom I have not met so I don’t know her name. I am thankful for their hard work on behalf of our parish and the Church, for their example and for their excellent preaching.

  • Laura

    Hi, Lisa! Please pray for our wonderful deacon here at St. Mary, Hamburg, PA: Deacon Harry Gordon, and the wonderful deacon, father of a dear friend: Deacon John Konopelski, AND, for Thomas Drogalis, who is preparing for ordination into the Permanent Diaconate, a parishioner of St. Mary, Hamburg, PA. As parish secretary, I know & appreciate each of them! Thanks!

  • Mark S.

    Dear Lisa…not to worry. Stuff happens and there is a big difference between not being on the radar, even for a little bit, and being declared as un-needed, as has happened to some of our brothers in parish assignments. It’s all in a day’s work and if deacons were in it for the recognition, folks would have the right to ask if deacons had Christ as Servant as their image.

    • lisahendey

      Oh Mark, you are so kind — you were the second person I immediately thought of, after Deacon Tom. You’re right, but this won’t happen again… And thank you for your service and the sacrifices you are making as you prepare. Your family is in my prayers in a special way today.

  • http://www.thedeaconspeakin.com Deacon Sean Smith

    First, Lisa, I apologize on behalf of my brother deacon if he did, in fact, wag his finger. I hope that is just a rhetorical device and not what actually happened!

    I have read many articles and heard many talks directed to “Bishops, priests, religious and members of the laity…”, and it saddens me each time. But it isn’t out of a vain “hey, I didn’t get credit” sense. Frankly, I don’t know too many deacons motivated by getting credit.

    The problem with being left off the list is that it reflects and perpetuates confusion as to exactly who the deacon IS. We are not laypersons, we are clerics. This is not to create a barrier or clericalism, or in any way to reflect negatively on anyone else. But it is a reality. And every time there is a Saintly Smackdown, and the deacons are not included, a part of the Church is being left out.

    And thank you for the prayers today, and all you do, Lisa!

    +Peace

    • lisahendey

      Deacon Sean, nope, it was a real wag… but that’s beside the point.

      This was absolutely an important lesson for me and my “apology” is real. It also reminded me to educate myself about the role of the deacon a bit more and to be more of a champion for the true service you deacons give to our Church. Lesson learned, and thank you so much for your prayers! I need them these days!

      • http://www.thedeaconspeakin.com Deacon Sean Smith

        Being rude is never beside the point!

        Never doubted for a second your apology is real! The best reason to recognize a deacon is so others know who can be called on to serve!

  • Kate

    As a daughter AND daughter in law of a deacon, thank you. Jim & Peg(parents) and Dan & LaDonna(in-laws) both serve in the Diocese of Bismarck in western ND. Also their classmates Herman & Mary and Patrick & his late wife Judy. After Pat’s wife died he joined the seminary & will be ordained a priest for our diocese next summer. :)

  • http://estbarts.org Kathy

    Our parish has two wonderful deacons: Deacon Mike and his wife Jean, and Deacon Gerry and his wife Clara. They are truly blessings to our parish family!

  • Kay

    We love our deacons at Church of the Resurrection Tulsa OK
    Deacon James and his wife Suzi
    Deacon Peter and his wife Sharon.

  • Barbara

    My husband: Deacon Mike Scruggs (1999 ordination) Thank you for all and any prayers!

  • http://www.stmparadise.org Colleen

    Hello from St. Thomas More in Paradise, California!
    Please pray for:
    Deacon Gary and Carol
    Deacon Ray and Donna
    Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.beasone.org Susan Bailey

    There’s always a silver lining and this one is that individual deacons are remembered by name. So you’ve done a lot of deacons a great service! :-)

    Please remember my husband, Deacon Elias (aka Rich Bailey) and his fellow deacon, Deacon Dennis, plus my dear friend Deacon Dave, and our just-ordained deacon, Deacon Bret, who used to be our youth minister and is now going to become a Jesuit priest.

    You’re a faithful servant, keep up the great work! Glad to see you on Patheos.

  • http://www.catholicvitamins.com Deacon Tom

    Lisa, to be remembered in your Rosary and in your ‘apology’ are precious gifts. For these and so many other reasons, you are tenderly in so many of our hearts. Blessings always. DT & Dee

  • http://homeindouglas.blogspot.net Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

    I am the wife of Deacon Charles Rohrbacher of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska. He is the director of the Diocese of Juneau’s Office of Ministries and is assigned to the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    He is an iconographer and has been writing icons for over 30 years. He is a blessing to me, to our diocese and to our parish. Thanks for your kind words about deacons and the permanent diaconate!

  • Gordon Zaft

    Please honor my good friend, Deacon Tom Campbell, and his wife Cindy, who serve at Ss. Peter and Paul in Tucson, Arizona!

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Lisa, you rock. Thank you for being so generous and honest.

    I long ago decided that one of the charisms of this calling is the grace to not take offense at being forgotten. It took me a while to realize that. But deacons serve those who are often left out, in one way or another, so I consider it a badge of honor. :-)

    If you can spare a prayer, please remember all the men and their wives who are discerning this vocation and who are in formation. I know the road for them at times seems endless. A little encouragement from the Holy Spirit can do wonders. Pray for all religious vocations!

    Bless you, and thank you,
    Deacon G.

  • http://thepracticingcatholic.com/ Joel Schmidt

    You certainly don’t need me to accept your apology, although I would give you a hug if I could. Also, great to see two of my favorite deacons (Deacon Tom Fox and Deacon Sean Smith) have already commented above!

    As someone who is currently in diaconate formation, I submit that one of the best reasons to be recognized is to promote the vocation to others. I’m constantly amazed by the number of my peers (mid-30s to mid-40s, married with small children) who are discerning the call but can only see the barriers. I am very pleased to represent possibility and hope to those who think they need to wait 15 -20 years, until their children are grown. I am also pleased to represent my bishop and diocese, who are so supportive to my family as we journey through the formation process together. It’s not easy, but by the grace of God and the gracious support, sacrifice, and involvement of my beautiful wife, we’re getting it done day-by-day.

    Please remember us in your prayers, especially her. With blessings and gratitude.

    • http://www.thedeaconspeakin.com Deacon Sean Smith

      I hope as you know more deacons you find better ones to add to your “favorite” list, Deacon Tom excepted. ;-)

      You make an excellent point about being able to promote the vocation to others. I was 38 when I was ordained, and for over 6 years I was the youngest deacon in the Archdiocese, and even today after 9 years I am still the second youngest. When I first started, the formation process saw all the barriers to my age and the youth of my family, but invited us to participate anyway. I praise God for having been able to serve at such a young age, and to be a small witness to others discerning the call in their lives! Maybe St. Paul was talking about young deacons when he wrote to Timothy “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” 1 Tim 4:12

  • Christine Fornoff

    Please pray for the wonderful deacons at Christ the King in Mesa, AZ: Deacon Tom Bishop, Deacon Ron Ruiz, Deacon Neil Tift, and our good friends, Deacon Will Capistrant and his wife Kathy! God bless them all in their ministries!

    • http://www.catholicmom.com Lisa Hendey

      Hey girlfriend! Nice to see you here. And these names are on my list now! Hugs.

  • Deacon George Butterfield

    Lisa, no need to apologize but thanks anyway. I joked with our priest one day that God has his own way of setting things straight. Look at the liturgical calendar, for example. Joseph and Mary have solemnities and feasts. The apostles have feasts. Buildings and archangels have feasts. But no priests have feasts. Not a single one. Not even a pope has gotten a feast. Yet, two deacons have feasts. Perhaps for your penance your next Saintly Smackdown ought to give the deacons a permanent place and then end with an, “O, by the way, yeah, all you priests, too!” I’m kidding, in case you didn’t pick up on it, for everyone who serves the Lord in their own unique way is deserving of honor and respect. And deacons, of all people, shouldn’t be in the finger wagging business. Good grief, we’re deep undercover operatives, spooks for Jesus, penetrating our world and leading the laity in the new evangelization. What deacon has time to worry about kudos? On the other hand, several others have expressed well the need for people to know about the diaconate and be challenged to discern a calling to it. So, thanks for what you have written today. Please remember, from St. Gerald’s in Omaha, Lonnie and Mary, Ray and Sue, Doug and Carol, Chris and Erika, Mike and Valerie, Steve and Angie, George and Deb, and Kathy, Mary Clare, and Jenny whose husbands have gone on. Pray for our wonderful priests, too, Fr. Korte and Fr. Harrison.

    • http://www.catholicmom.com Lisa Hendey

      Thanks for all of the names for the list — please share what the feasts are. You have me curious!!

  • http://www.catholicvitamins.com Dee Fox

    I see my Deacon husband has already commented (Deacon Tom!), and I would like to ask prayers for him and also for the fine gentleman from Ireland who regularly contributes to our Catholic Vitamins podcast: Fergal O’Neill will be ordained a Permanent Deacon in Ireland in 2013.
    Thank you Lisa – you know we love you!! Dee

    • http://www.catholicmom.com Lisa Hendey

      Love you back Dee!! and the future Deacon O’Neill is in my prayers along with the two of you!

  • Gig Zapiain

    Lisa! You ARE a busy lady! You are so right that there are different times in our lives that bring out different sides to us – and I’m glad that this part of your life brings you to this new blogging adventure.
    BTW – the two deacons that are saints that ones that everybody knows, but most people had no idea were deacons – St. Stephen (the first Martyr – Feast Day, Dec. 26) and St. Lawrence (also a Martyr, Feast Day, Aug. 10). But I would dispute the assertion that no priests/popes have feast days – St. John Vianney (Patron of Parish Priests – Feast Day, Aug. 4) and St. Gregory the Great (Feast Day, March 12) are just two examples – there are numerous others.
    And while we ruminate about deacons (I am still embarassed that it was a deacon from our Archdiocese that was rude – yes he was! – to you just as you finished your remarks) it bears mentioning as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, that it was during this Ecumenical Council that the diaconate was restored (Lumen Gentium #29) and subsequently implemented by Pope Paul VI in 1967.
    The Modern Permanent Diaconate – and the men (along w/ their families) who take up its ministry and challenges – are truly a gift to the Chruch

    • lisahendey

      Gigi, you are a font of wisdom! Thanks for sharing this extra information – my education on the diaconate continues! This situation has turned out to be a blessing in disguise…

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  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com MelanieB

    What a classy apology! We do try to pray for our pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians with the kids every night at bedtime. (Though I’m embarrassed to say I currently can’t recall the name of our parish’s deacon. He almost always serves at the Mass we don’t go to.)

  • Anna Cartwright

    Please pray for the soul of the late Deacon Leo Kester and his wife and widdow, Helen Kester. Deacon Leo was one of the FIRST men to come forward for the permanent deaconate in the diocese of Rochester, NY and he served at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster for over 20 years. As a small child, Deacon Leo was the man to really introduce me to and encourage me to have a prayerful relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was an amazing man.

    Also, please pray for Deacon Dan at my current parish, Infant of Prague in the Diocese of Buffalo.

    Merci!

  • Deacon Tom

    Hey, we’re used to it Lisa. It goes with the territory! We’re not in it for initials behind our names, certainly not for pay (personally I’m working on the Retirement Plan which I hear is “Heavenly and out-of-this-world!), or for recognition. Many of us would like to be permitted to wear the clergy shirt with the Roman collar not just because we are ordained clergy, but so that we can fully live out our vocations by being witnesses to the world and reminders to ourselves much like the priests who faithfully wear the Roman collar or the wonderful Religious Sisters who wear their habits! Instead we joke that we are made to dress like undertakers, insurance salesmen, or lawyers! Ha! Not that there’s anything wrong with those wonderful professions, it’s just not who we have been formed and ordained to be! Either we’re clergy or we’re not. Either we’re ordained or we’re not. I would admit that it is particularly frustrating when college kids who happen to be discerning a vocation are serving alongside us or at diocesan events wearing their cassocks and Roman collars, while we who have been ordained and are members of the clergy are banned from doing so. (Even though Canon Law allows such a ban only for penal reasons.) Deacons who have been ordained, but who are continuing forward to hopeful ordination to the priesthood in a year are permitted to wear the Roman collar. A deacon is a deacon is a deacon . . . except when they’re not, apparently. We were taught in Holy Orders by a Bishop and by a priest who is now a Bishop that there are only three levels of Holy Orders, not four. The clear distinction and treatment between “permanent” deacons and “transitional” deacons causes discord and belies that clear teaching of the Church. Wagging a finger at you in public is inexcusable! It sounds like he needs affirmation and recognition and has forgotten the Rite of Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacon. Perhaps he needs to go back and read it again and meditate upon it. God bless you for your wonderful work!

  • http://www.catholic-clergy.org Father John Trigilio

    I am blessed to have two excellent permanent deacons in my parish who work with me in serving the spiritual needs of two parishes. Deacon James Rush and Deacon Joseph Gorini are intelligent, devout, diligent and prayerful men of the cloth. Their wives (Marcia and Veronica, respectively) are fantastic women of faith. As President of a national association of priests and deacons (Confraternity of Catholic Clergy) I am proud to say we have two deacons on our Board of Directors along with six priests. As ordained brothers, we invite deacons and priests to every function, gathering, event and meeting. Not all associations invite nor include both the priesthood and the diaconate, but the CCC does. Bottom line is that BOTH levels of Holy Orders are clergy and BOTH are called to preach and teach sound doctrine and to reverently celebrate the sacraments.

  • Deacon George Butterfield

    Gig, St. John Vianney and Gregory the Great have memorials, not feasts. It’s not really a big deal to me. We celebrate the lives of the saints whether the day on the pecking order is a solemnity (St. Joseph), a feast (Deacon Lawrence), or a memorial (St. John Vianney). But I still find it odd that the Church has decided to have feasts for two deacons. How are they different than others? We celebrate priests who were martyrs. We celebrate popes who were martyrs. We celebrate men and women from around the world, including from Rome, who were martyrs or administrators or great preachers, etc. So, how are St. Lawrence and St. Stephen different from any of these people except that they were deacons. It’s simply a mystery to me.

  • http:/colleenspiro.blogspot.com Colleen

    Lisa,
    Please pray for my husband, Deacon Rich Spiro! Thank you!
    And I agree with Deacon Sean Smith, that a lot of people do not know what deacons are. You are doing a great thing here, educating people about the diaconate. God bless!

  • Deacon Tom Lang

    Fr. Trigilio – Thank you for your wonderful post about the CCC which offers true opportunities for fellowship, collegiality, and most importantly, collaboration between priests and deacons who have (or should have) the same goal of proving humble service to God’s people through the Church! Regarding this article, as you know, there is no deacon, priest, or bishop who, should act in the manner that the deacon did following Lisa’s keynote speech. Although deacons are often overlooked, it usually doesn’t bother us, since just like priests and bishops, we’re not (supposed to be) in this for accolades and praise. Like priests and bishops, we too are called to be servants of the people, and in fact, one of the Pope’s titles is, “Servant of the servants of God!” When we’re excluded, most people know anyway since they always come up afterwards and tell us, “Can you believe the deacons were ignored?” Lisa’s was an honest mistake. When it’s done purposely, it’s not our problem, but the one who made that conscious decision for whatever reason they hold! Anecdotal stories about this kind of stuff in dioceses everywhere are found on Deacon websites, blogs, Catholic Answers, and in articles, and books. Nevertheless, on this his feast day, it makes sense to reflect upon how the Catechism quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch concerning the three grades or levels of the Sacrament of Holy Orders:

    “Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father,
    and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without
    them one cannot speak of the Church [1554].”

    In this sense, it is important to note that the reference to “deacons as Jesus Christ” is of course not meant to imply divinity! Ha! Instead, it points toward the fact that we are configured to Christ as servant. We are in need of God’s mercy just like anyone else!!!

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com Sarah Reinhard

    I love deacons. Our deacon, Deacon Tony, has an amazing pastoral touch, and his wife, Elaine, is one of my heroes. I’ve watched them in the 12 years I’ve been Catholic or becoming-Catholic, and they are truly models and mentors for me. They inspire me in my own vocation.

    So the blessing in your forgetting them is that now we all have a chance to remember how much we appreciate them too! :)

  • Sue Shoreham

    Deacon Rick Wagner, ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in June 2012. Principal of St. Theodore Guerin High School in Noblesville, IN. Author of a collection of essays directed to his family and the families of his students:
    http://www.rememberwhatsimportant.com

  • Mary

    Thank you, Lisa! As the wife of a Permanent Deacon (June 2011). I know full well how these dedicated men at times are ignored and under appreciated. The Deacon (and his wife) live challenging but always blessed lives!

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  • http://www.smalltalentmusic.com Deacon Chuck Stevens

    Hey Lisa; just had time to read some of your articles and came across this gem. I can only add my regrets and apologies for the ‘finger-wagging’ deacon – and thank you for your subsequent apology and opening up of the comboxes for input from the greater diaconal community. (btw, St. Gregory the Great was elected Pope while still a deacon :) ) God bless you and your family Lisa, for all that you continue to do!


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