What about the deacon wives?

What about the deacon wives? May 13, 2011

Chicago is getting set to ordain a dozen new deacons, and the Catholic New World looks at an often-overlooked aspect of the deacon’s vocation: his wife.


There are close to 600 permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and most of them are married. Many of the wives live lives of service, volunteering in parish and social ministries along with their husbands.

Deacons’ wives do everything from serving as field advocates for the Marriage Tribunal to sacramental preparation to visiting the sick and the homebound, said Marge Colgan, whose husband, Deacon Dennis Colgan, is associate director for the Diaconate Community.

“Just about everything the guys can do we do, except serve at the altar,” said Marge Colgan.

Colgan and several other deacon wives are coming together to provide opportunities for the deacon wives to get to know and support one another, get spiritual sustenance and education. Their next big event is a day dedicated to learning about domestic violence on Sept. 24.

Service is not required from the wives. What is required is the wives’ written, informed consent for their husbands’ ordination, and their ongoing prayer and support, said Deacon Robert Puhala, director of diaconate formation in the archdiocese.

“The ‘role’ of deacons’ wives can best be articulated by two goals: to discern through prayer and participation whether she can support her husband during formation; and if he is ordained, do the same during his diaconal ministry,” Puhala said in an e-mail.

“Deacons’ wives are equal partners in the sacrament of matrimony; however, they do not share with their deacon husbands the sacrament of holy orders. The deacon’s ordination does not confer any ministerial role to his wife. That’s why ‘deacon couple’ is a misleading and theologically incorrect descriptive tag of a deacon and wife.”

However, many deacons wives are already active in lay ministry before their husbands are ordained, and they continue that involvement.

Read more.

My wife serves as a lector at our parish, and joins me to lead the Stations of the Cross during Lent.  But her greatest contribution to my own vocation is with her prayers, her support, and her sacrifice.  Again and again, she gives up time she might otherwise share with me — time that I have to spend meeting with people about annulments or baptisms or weddings, preparing homilies, attending diocesan events or (ahem) working on my blog.   The day after my ordination, a priest told me, “In a lot of ways, your time isn’t your own anymore.”  A similar thought could also apply to the wife of a deacon.   After ordination, her husband isn’t her own anymore, either.  She becomes part of a difficult juggling act — as her husband continually works to balance home, job and ministry, keeping all those flying objects airborn.  It’s easy to let something drop.  More often than not, it’s the deacon’s wife who helps him to catch it — and remind him what truly matters.

These women play a unique and invaluable role in the Church.  God bless ’em.

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18 responses to “What about the deacon wives?”

  1. Has anyone done a study of the children of Deacons? I know that in some dioceses applicants for the Diaconate with young children are not accepted.

  2. What is saying? Behind every successful man is a good woman? Seems to fit the women of Deacon’s. :o)

  3. Sacrifice and humility are concepts not accepted or understood today. Instead we want power and hubris.

    I thank my wife who is supporting me in my vocational process to become an ordained Deacon in the Church. She does not wish for a moment to be an ordained minister.

  4. Bravo, Deacon Greg!!! I don’t have the time to work on such a project, but I have long thought that a book of reflections by deacon’s wives is a missing gem in Catholic book shops. They are great women whose sacrifices and stories really need to be heard. A book of about 25-30 women’s stories would be a great thing.

    A humorous aside, as a testimony to the wit and wisdom of deacon’s wives…

    Back in the late 1970’s when I began running youth retreats, a permanent deacon by the name of Jean Duhamel (one of the first to be ordained for New York), told the story of his interview for the formation program.

    The faculty committee brought in Mrs. Duhamel for her interview and posed the following question:

    “You know that if you die first, Jean can’t remarry. How do you feel about that?” Mrs. Duhamel’s response was one for the ages;

    “Well, that will be Jean’s problem, now, won’t it? Perhaps you should ask him.”

  5. Yes, indeed, God bless those wives of deacons who minister separate from or in partnership with their husbands. They are truly a blessing to the church. Being a deacon’s wife is not necessarily a vocation. As with most issues, there are two sides of the coin. Owen Cummings has written deeply about those wives of deacons who, while fully supporting their husbands in ministry, do not want a role for themselves. Cummings ahas alluded to the British series The Rectors’ Wife in this regard.

  6. Has there been some change in the regulations on the ministry of lector? I understood that this ministry was only open to men hence most people are not instituted as lectors but read as ministers of the word.

  7. Thank you Deacon Greg. It is not always easy keeping my DH on track as he has a demanding day job.

    But being a pew widow is easier than I thought. But that is probably because of God’s grace.

    It has been a wild and wonderful ride.

  8. 600 deacons in a diocese! How many priests are there in this diocese?

    Thanks for this article, it is a good balance to the usual line and shows how marriage can enhance ordination rather than detract from it.

  9. with all the research into women deacons, i wonder what requirements and expectations will be placed on husbands?

  10. Kevan, I think it is according to the practice of the diocese where one lives. In a few places only men are instituted as lectors and acolytes. Those offices used to be called minor orders, and were steps on the way to the priesthood. The minor orders were suppressed in the western church.
    In most places, including our location, there isn’t this practice of institution, and both men and women can be lectors and EMHC’s. However the men in deacon formation are instituted as lector and acolyte by the bishop prior to ordination.

  11. The offices of lector and acolyte are not only presently reserved to men, but are typically conferred only on those destined for holy orders. In contemporary church vernicular those who proclaim the Scriptures in and to the assembly are called lectors, which just means “reader,” or “one who reads.” Besides, ecclesiologically-speaking, calling them “ministers of the word” presents more issues than does referring to them as lectors.

    How many people call extraordinary ministers of communion, “Eucharistic ministers” and do so with no ulterior motives? Most Catholics I’d say.

  12. My wife is indeed a great source of love, prayer and support. She too has a ministry as well as a great career and is a super mom. She and I both bristle at the term deacon wives used as if it is an “order” in the church. I’m a banker by profession; is she a bankers wife? The article says that wives can do almost all a deacon can do. That’s true of any Catholic! Again, the diaconate is not as much about what we “do” but who we “are” and that is the icon of Christ the Servant. We stand on the altar not because we can but because the deacon gives sacramentality to service!

    Congratulations to all the new deacons in this year of 2011 and to their wives, children, family and friends and all who supported them throughout formation!

  13. Dcn Scott thank you for your comments . You present a good example of “two nations divided by a common language” In the vernacular in Britain they are known as readers. Whilst I take your point that it can cause confusion about ordinary and extraordinary ministries both the the Catechsim (903) and Code of Canon Law (230 $3) state they “…exercise the ministry of the word. Logically if someone exercises a ministrt they are a minister. If there is an ecclesiological issue it’s one contained in the code and catechsim.

  14. Geerald,
    Somewhere in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia such a book was written and published. Perhaps contact the Head of Deacons for that diocese.

  15. The theology of the diaconate and of the deacon wife is yet to be written. Instead of focusing on the function of a deacon and wife, we must focus on the essence of what the deacon couple is, icons of service within the Church (JPII). This essence is conferred sacramentally. Through baptism, are we not all anointed priest, prophet and king (even the wives)? In marriage, are we not sacramentally one body, one mind in Christ? If this is true (and it is) how can ordination only be for the man? The one who is ordained is actually two people. Is God’s grace from the sacrament of ordination limited to only the man? How can you limit God’s grace? In my book, the grace of ordination is shared by both the man and the wife, it cannot be anything else because of the additional grace of marriage. Now, how we function within the grace of the sacrament is other story. Function can be limited and determined by tradition and need. Function can and has been changed (Vat II). But does that mean the wife has an obligation to serve in a certain capacity? No, but she has the grace of freedom to answer her own vocation which can be expressed through the grace of the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, eucharist, marriage and ordination. Let’s pray that Mother Church can recognize the deacon wife as a sacramental being, and we can develop the theology to include her fully in this life we call diaconate.

  16. Well put, Dcn Tim, and whole- heartedly agreed to and so lived out by my wife and me as we minister as one in our parish and in the formation of new deacon couples. Unfortunately, canon law will lag behind theology and practice for years, if not centuries. In the meantime, we will live our joint calling within the law, confident that the Spirit will lead God’s people and, eventually, guide Her Church.

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