Following a lot of prayer, Deacon Lynn Pion decided to apply for a new role as the director of the Edmonton Archdiocese's permanent diaconate formation and study program.
"All of a sudden I got the phone call, and they said, 'Guess what? You're the one!' It's something that's been on my heart for quite a while to be able to serve in this capacity, so I'm quite excited about it," said Pion.
Pion, 51, takes on his new role effective Sept. 16. He succeeds Ron Woytiuk, the former principal of St. Joseph's High School, who has overseen the program since January 2004.
"When I was approached in the fall of 2003, the request was to build the program from a grassroots level and have a structure in place by September 2004 to begin the formation of deacons in the archdiocese as nothing had existed before," said Woytiuk.
What exists today, more than nine years later, is quite an accomplishment.
Woytiuk is stepping down from his role voluntarily, but still intends on helping Pion in the transition process.
"With the transfer of information and so on, there is so much to share with what has transpired in the past years, and even months. For example, there are men approaching me all the time requesting information on the diaconate, so getting that kind of information to my successor, Deacon Lynn, is very important," explained Woytiuk.
The Edmonton Archdiocese has 25 permanent deacons, and 18 of those have been formed through the archdiocesan program. Woytiuk said that having a deacon or two in every parish would be ideal.
"There is enough work in the parishes and in the archdiocese to at least occupy two deacons per parish. Maybe that's a pipe-dream, but it's certainly something to strive for," he said.
Deacons do not spring up evenly throughout the archdiocese, of course. He pointed out that Holy Trinity Parish may soon have three deacons, whereas some parishes have no deacon at all.
The candidates for the diaconate program must attend 10 weekend study sessions a year for four years to be eligible for ordination. Wives must participate in at least four of those sessions, as it's deemed important for the deacon to be supported by his wife.
Currently, two classes of men are in formation; one group in its second year of formation, and another in its fourth year. There are about nine men in the two formation classes. With an intake of new men every second year, there will not be another group of candidates until next fall.
Deacon Lynn Pion
The program prepares deacons through sessions on such topics as human formation, spirituality and the Scriptures.
Woytiuk explained that the roles of deacons vary, based on the needs of each individual parish and the skill sets of the deacon.
Deacon Paul Croteau directs Catholic Cemeteries, while Deacon Pat Hessel has mission responsibilities. Deacons tend to bridge the lay and clerical roles in the Church, often doing some liturgical functions such as preaching, and officiating at weddings, funerals and Baptisms.
Woytiuk said that the archdiocese is blessed with many resources and much expertise, citing St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College. He has had recent discussions with Archbishop Richard Smith, and representatives from the seminary and Newman about online delivery of formation courses.
"Certainly we have begun work on developing a new template of formation, so the resources that we have in Edmonton can be shared with other dioceses in Canada," he said.
Since being ordained to the permanent diaconate in June 2008, Pion has been carrying out his ministry at St. Anthony's Parish in Lloydminster. He recently sold his home there, and is starting to search for a home in Edmonton, as he will work out of the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices.
Pion and his wife Shelley have five adult children, including two daughters in Edmonton. He has another son and daughter in Calgary, and another daughter in Melfort, Sask.
"The move definitely makes sense from a family perspective. They are quite excited to hear that I'm moving to Edmonton," said Pion.
From a career standpoint, it's a big change. Pion has worked as a manager of collections with Synergy Credit Union since October 1997. Before relocating to Lloydminster, he was an office manager with a 20-lawyer law firm in Saskatoon, from 1992 to 1997.
"The type of work that I'm doing here (at the credit union) is absolutely different than the work I'll be doing in the chancery office. Will there be a learning curve? Yeah, I think it will be pretty steep for me," admitted Pion.
"But with God's help and the good people I'll be working with, I feel confident I'll be able to do my best and give it my all."
He said the archdiocese needs more deacons. For those men who have a calling from God to serve as deacons, Pion's goal is to help expedite the process.
Since 2008, Pion has been serving on the Permanent Diaconate Advisory Board. In that role, he was helpful in finding out whether the men in the program were getting the proper tools and sound theological training.
"There are some discussions in regards to tweaking the content of the curriculum, and that's something always ongoing. Since my time on the advisory committee, we've done one or two reviews of the curriculum, self-examining our program with the men who have been ordained already," said Pion.
Though all are servants by Baptism, the permanent deacon is ordained as a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant.
"When a priest is ordained, he is configured to Christ the Priest, but as a deacon you're configured to Christ the Servant. You really have to develop that servant heart, that willingness to want to meet the needs, whatever they may be," said Pion.
Permanent deacons offer direct service to those in need, especially to those who are marginalized and most vulnerable. For any deacon, service is the calling. They are expected to serve about eight hours or more per week proclaiming the Gospel, doing works of charity and working in various parish ministries.
Since early 2002, Pion has directed a charity called 5 Loaves 2 Fish, a group of volunteers committed to finding ways to meet the needs of the poorest in Lloydminster. Helping with food to feed the hungry is their prime focus, and the group also strives to find ways to meet the other needs of those less fortunate.
Permanent deacons are ordained for the service of the archdiocese as collaborative associates of the archbishop and the priests, of lay ministers and of all who care for God's people.