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.
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.