Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 21, 2007
St. Paul to ordain permanent deacons
Eight men to receive Holy Orders on feast of Peter and Paul
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"It must have been the work of the Holy Spirit because everyone agreed."
-Bishop Luc Bouchard
"It'll have an impact of people associating the Church with service to the poor. It's really false to think about deacons solely within the sanctuary of the Church. The deacon's place is in the world."
Deacons were appointed in the earliest days of the Church in Jerusalem as a ministry of service.
This ministry flowered in the Western Church until the fifth century. For a variety of reasons, it declined slowly until it was reduced to an intermediate stage for candidates for priestly ordination.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) restored the permanent diaconate, making it possible to be conferred on men of mature age who are already married. Deacons have a threefold ministry in preaching, liturgy and the service of charity.
Today the majority of the world's 32,324 deacons are in the United States. In Canada, while some Eastern dioceses have significant numbers of deacons, there are few in the West. The Calgary Diocese set up a diaconate program in early 2000 and now has 26 deacons.
The Edmonton Archdiocese set up a similar program in 2004 and expects to have about 30 deacons within five years, including 12 who are expected to be ordained next year.
Bouchard said he has been excited about the permanent diaconate since he became bishop of St. Paul in late 2001.
"It was one of the first questions that I put to the priests: Should we think about establishing the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of St. Paul?" he recalled. "It must have been the work of the Holy Spirit because everyone agreed."
Bouchard said he had had good experiences working with permanent deacons in Ontario and thought St. Paul would also benefit from their work. Deacons, he said, play a valuable role in connecting the marginalized with the parish.
"They are in a way the living sign of the call of God to everybody; that everybody should be at the service of one another," the bishop said in an interview at St. Edouard Renewal Centre, where most of the diaconal instruction has taken place.
"This was in a way the working of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Church (when) the Apostles chose those who were to tend to the needs of the widows of the Church."
All the diaconal candidates in the St. Paul Diocese are married and they and their wives are active in ministering to the poor, the hungry, the elderly and the sick in the communities of Fort McMurray, Cold Lake, the Elizabeth Metis Settlement, Lac La Biche and Barrhead.
McMorrow, who ministers to the mentally ill in Camrose, is the only candidate who lives outside the diocese.
"They are all leaders in service in their communities," Bouchard noted. "They are leaders who have concern for the poor, leaders who have concern for questions of social justice, leaders who have concern for the life of the baptized and the life of the Church."
While some of the candidates are retired, most hold fulltime secular jobs. Their formation involved classes, discussion, reading and prayer and was largely led by professors from Newman Theological College and St. Joseph's College and by McMorrow and his wife Sharon.
In the course of the four years the candidates also did supervised service ministry in their communities.
A couple's vocation
Wives participated fully in the formation program because "Bishop Luc's vision from the beginning was that (the permanent diaconate) is essentially a couple's vocation," noted Sharon McMorrow, who taught in the areas of spirituality and discernment.
She said in dioceses where the women haven't been fully involved in the formation some couples have experienced relationship problems because the wives aren't growing with their husbands.
As well as ministering to the marginalized and filling liturgical functions such as preaching, deacons officiate at weddings, funerals and Baptisms.
Bouchard stressed their primary role will be to serve the community and to encourage parishioners to do likewise.
"A deacon must be a catalyst to awake what the baptized truly are - disciples of Christ in faith, love and hope," he said.
Following their ordination, the deacons are expected to serve in their own parishes and are already working on a three-part service agreement with their pastors indicating what they will do for their parish and how much time they can dedicate to their ministry.
Bouchard said the deacon must put his family first, his job second and his ministry third. Deacons will not be paid a salary unless they are appointed to a fulltime diocesan position.
The second wave of formation will start in 2008. "My idea would be to have at least one priest, of course, and one, two or three deacons in every parish."
Terry Olson, a training supervisor at the Swans Hill Treatment Centre, has been active in his parish in Barrhead since he became Catholic in 2000 through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
After he was baptized he remained in the RCIA as a team member. Over the years, he assumed a lot of other responsibilities, including liturgical coordinator at St. Anne's Parish, visiting and assisting seniors at the Keir Care Centre and visiting the sick at the hospital.
So when the invitation to join the diaconate arrived, Olson, 56, was more or less prepared for it. "When my local pastor talked about the diaconate program a little switch turned on in my head and I said, 'Hey, this sounds like something that I should look at.'"
He and his wife Theresa did look at it and decided to join the formation program. "But the driving force was just that I wanted to learn more," Olsen said.
"When Father was talking about the diaconate in terms of Holy Orders I thought Terry would make a good deacon because he is totally committed to what he does," said Theresa, who is also involved in several service ministries.
"I knew that if he ever became Catholic he would be a great Catholic, that he would take it seriously and he would always be part of everything. He jumped in body and soul into the Catholic faith."
After learning what the diaconate is about, Olson decided it was something he wanted to do. "I guess I felt a calling to do a little bit more," he said. "I want to demonstrate to others that this is what a baptized Christian should be doing."
Walter Desjarlais knows what service is. When he is not visiting the sick or the bereaved, he is supporting cancer victims or running programs and activities at St. Marguerite d'Youville Parish in the Elizabeth Metis Settlement, near Cold Lake.
He has been serving the Church faithfully since he was a young boy, when he spent his weekends serving at the altar.
But the 59-year-old oilfield rig consultant constantly wondered whether God wanted him to do more. It was this wondering and his desire to serve that led him to accept an invitation from the Diocese of St. Paul to join the diaconate formation program some five years ago.
Desjarlais said yes and together with his wife Rosalie, who is as involved as he is, he began the long journey towards the diaconate.
"I felt called I believe to help my native people," he said. "I feel for my people."
Rosalie's call to service came in 1990 while she was attending a retreat in St. Albert. "I heard the Lord's voice saying, 'Come, work for me' and I have been doing that ever since."
In addition to serving as catechist and parish secretary, Rosalie also visits the sick and the elderly and the bereaved with her husband.
The couple, one of about 100 families in the Elizabeth Settlement, said the formation program introduced them to topics where they would have never gone by themselves.
The Metis leader and father of one developed major doubts about his calling during the second year of the program but said prayer and his wife's encouragement quickly dissipated those doubts.
"She stood by me," he said. "We came as a couple and dealt with our difficulties as a couple."
Now Desjarlais can't wait for his ordination, especially because he then will be able to baptize and officiate at weddings and funerals.
"I think it's a real honour to be able to do that for God," he said.
Other than that, his ordination won't change his life much. "I'll continue providing service to the parish and attending to the needs of the poor and the elderly the best I can," he said.
"We will continue to reach out to those in need bringing the love of Jesus into their lives."
Jerry Metz, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort McMurray and a manager at Suncor, accepted the invitation to the diaconate because he feels God is calling him to it. He also feels he's got what it takes to do the job.
"Deep down inside in the discerning process I felt that the call was there - that there is a strong calling to be a deacon."
Metz, 59, has been in Church ministry all his life. "As a kid I was an altar server. Then I got married in the Church and stayed active in the church; we raised our (three) kids in the Church."
At St. John the Evangelist he has been active in ministries such as reader, Eucharistic minister and lay presider. He also volunteers at a soup kitchen once a month and brings Communion to the sick in hospital after every Sunday Liturgy.
"I have been given gifts and talents that support the deacon role," he said. "I'm comfortable in terms of working with the poor and the needy. It comes naturally and it comes easy."
For his wife Linda, her job is her ministry. As vice president of operations for the non-profit Wood Buffalo Housing Development Corp., she provides subsidized and affordable housing to families who can't afford the cost of living in Fort McMurray. The corporation also runs a homeless shelter for street people.
Jerry Metz will serve as a deacon in his own parish. "I hope to be a visual sign to the rest of the parishioners in terms of what does it means to be a Christian - and that's being of service to others."
"I'm really looking forward to being able to serve the Church as a deacon," says Ernie Sehn, a member of St. Catherine's Parish in Lac La Biche.
Sehn credits his wife Joanna, the president of the Catholic Women's League, with his joining the diaconate program.
"She had a lot to do to with it because she kept telling me that when I retired I needed to have more to do than just being retired. She said I needed more challenges in life than just going for coffee.'"
Neither of them wanted to join because they thought they were too old. In the end their pastor convinced them to take the step, saying, "Why don't you join? You are already doing the work."
Sehn, 64, began wondering whether God was calling him to continue his life of service, which began as a young adult.
A Saskatchewan native, Sehn joined the Missionary Oblates after high school thinking he was being called to serve in the Church. "But after five-and-a-half months I realized it was not my call."
He left the Oblates, married Joanna and then he went into teaching, spending the next 32 years in education. After seven years as teacher and administrator in various public schools, Sehn went to Portage College in Lac La Biche, where he spent the remainder of his career.
In Lac La Biche the father of three served as public school trustee, president of the Alberta School Trustees' Association and town councillor. He has also done pastoral care at the hospital and at the seniors lodge.
Over the years Sehn and his wife have also served in numerous liturgical and service positions in the Church, including lectors, Communion ministers, lay presiders and members of the Knights of Columbus and the CWL respectively.
"We are busier than when we had jobs," quipped Joanna, a retired teacher.
"I've been in the Knights of Columbus for 42 years," Sehn pointed out. "So service to the community and to the Church has always been part of what I've done."
Patrick Murphy, a human resources consultant in Lac La Biche and member of St. Catherine's Parish, believes becoming a deacon is a "natural progression" of his lifelong involvement in the Church.
Born and raised in a Catholic family in northern Manitoba, Murphy was involved in the parish as a child, serving as an altar boy and in a Catholic youth group.
He has been an active member of St. Catherine's Parish since he and wife Darlene moved to Lac La Biche in 1978.
Over the years Murphy, a father of six, took leadership roles in his parish as chair of the pastoral council and member of the finance committee. He also assisted in the preparation for the sacraments and as liturgical training coordinator.
When the parish went without a priest for 10 months three years ago, Murphy became the lay presider. And for the past 13 years he has been serving as program coordinator for marriage preparation.
How does he feel about his upcoming ordination? "I've come to really appreciate and humbly accept this calling," he said. "It is truly a calling of service."
His role after ordination may not change much. "I think I'm going to continue visiting the sick and the shut-ins on a regular basis; that would be primary."
His wife Darlene, secretary at St. Catherine's, vows to continue supporting him. "I've been going with him when he's been doing the visiting to the shut-ins and that will continue. I will also continue doing the behind-the-scenes work for marriage prep."
Murphy's goal as a deacon is simple and straightforward. "Overall I want to be a visible sign of Christ's love and the Church's love for the people," he said.
Raymond Chan of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort McMurray is heavy into serving the needy. Following his ordination Chan, 60, will also be able to baptize and officiate at weddings and funerals.
But that's not his main concern. "To me, that's just another thing we can do that lay people probably can't do," he said. "Personally I'm more focused on the service part than the liturgical part. A deacon is basically for service and that's why my focus is the pastoral care in the hospital and the soup kitchen."
Chan, a retired engineer with Syncrude Canada and chair of St. John the Baptist's liturgy committee, attended a four-year formation program for deacons with his wife Philomena.
They enrolled in the program without fully understanding what the diaconate is about. "It seemed like a formation program provided by the diocese," Chan recalled. "So we started it and at least for the two first years we didn't feel a call. But the more we got into it the more I felt God was calling me to serve."
Serving is what the couple does best. For many years the Chans have served at the soup kitchen every Friday.
"The need is great here and we get all kind of people, from street people to working people," he explained. "In Fort McMurray even if you have a fulltime job you may not be able to afford a place to stay. Yes, there are jobs in the oil sands but then also the housing and the cost of living are higher here too."
Visiting the sick in the hospital and the elderly in their homes has also become part of the Chans' routine. Now they are thinking of expanding their ministry to some of the work camps in the city.
The Chans, who have two children and four grandchildren, also volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society.
"As a matter of fact, I'm a cancer survivor," he said. "I had cancer in 1993 and I'm still here. God must have a reason. Maybe his reason for me to continue on my earthly journey is to serve others."
Philomena volunteers along with her husband because that's what a deacon's wife does. "As a deacon's wife I have to support him in whatever he is doing," she said. "But I'll make sure he is not overworking because the bishop always says the family is a priority. And I like that very much."
After more than four decades serving his country, John Woodcock is ready to serve the people of God as a deacon.
"I'm really looking forward to it," said the 64-year-old retired chief warrant officer with the Canadian military. "But I'll continue doing what I do to support the needy regardless of ordination."
Woodcock, a member of Holy Name Parish in Cold Lake, has been attending the diaconate formation program with his wife Stephanie for the past four years.
Following retirement from the regular forces in 1996, Woodcock spent 10 years with the Canadian Cadet Movement.
But one day he woke up and realized he had to do something else with his life. He wasn't sure what that would be until an invitation to join the diaconate formation program arrived. He liked it because it meant service to the people.
Woodcock believes his being a deacon would give structure and meaning to his already active life of service to the needy in Cold Lake.
In addition to serving at both Holy Name and Assumption parishes, Woodcock volunteers with the local food bank a few hours each week, and visits long-term care hospital patients, the elderly at seniors homes and the shut-ins at home.
He also volunteers with the Cold Lake Youth Justice Committee, which deals with teenage crime the Crown doesn't wish to pursue in court.
Armed with new tools for ministry, Woodcock is now ready for his new life as a deacon. "I'm going to continue to do the things that I do in the support of the poor and needy," he vowed.
Not content with just turning out permanent deacons, Joe McMorrow decided to become a deacon himself.
The 65-year-old Camrose religious educator is one of eight men to be ordained permanent deacons for the St. Paul Diocese June 29.
Bishop Luc Bouchard hired McMorrow and his wife Sharon as coordinators of the formation program in 2002.
As Joe prepared the program and learned more about the diaconate, he became personally interested in it. He talked to Bouchard about his calling and the bishop agreed to allow Joe to join the four-year program as coordinator, instructor and diaconal candidate.
In his role as instructor Joe taught Scripture and faith reflection. Sharon taught in the area of spirituality and discernment.
His first diaconal job upon ordination will be, along with Sharon, to screen candidates and coordinate the second wave of the program staring next year.
The McMorrows are well suited for the position. Joe holds a master in theology and a doctorate in ministry, while Sharon has a master of divinity. They have both been working for the Church for most of their 33 years of marriage.
Joe's vision of the diaconate is simple. "The real basis of service for a deacon is service for the poor," he maintains. "He's meant to represent Christ as servant; that's his particular charism."
While Joe ministers to the mentally ill in Camrose, Sharon does hospital visiting and palliative care.
Joe and Sharon say coordinating and participating in the diaconal program has enriched their relationship. "The spiritual input, the worship together and the community of married couples has been really nurturing," Sharon said.
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