Deacons have ‘tremendously positive effect’ on archdiocese

Men who are inclined to serve the community and develop their faith might have a deeper calling — one to the permanent diaconate.

“We’re looking for men who are truly being called to a life of service,” said Deacon Robert Hoffman, director of the St. Francis School of Theology.

Those who are interested in considering the diaconate are invited to attend one of several upcoming retreats where they can discern while getting more information about the St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons, the diaconate formation program for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“It’s a good name, formation, because it will take men from where they’re at to something much deeper — a deeper relationship with Christ,” said Deacon Hoffman.

“We look for that deep relationship with Christ to begin with,” he said. “We look for men that truly have a calling to the diaconate. Because it is a life-changer.”

Called to be ‘God’s living vessels’

The diaconate is a three-fold ministry that includes responsibility for the Word, liturgy and charity. Men hoping to pursue it must be at least 35 years old at the time of ordination and must begin formation before he turns 61 years old. They should be obedient, flexible and willing to serve wherever they are needed.

The deacons in this archdiocese have had a tremendously positive effect on the Church of Denver.”

Every other year, the diaconate program accepts an incoming class. The next one will begin in the fall of 2019.

For men who are married, their wives are encouraged to be involved with their formation. If a wife passes away before a husband who is a deacon, he will remain celibate from that point on. Men who are not married will remain celibate and are not allowed to marry.

The diaconate program takes four years followed by three years of continued education after the men are ordained permanent deacons.

After ordination, the archbishop assigns the deacons to serve at a parish and take on a role within an outside ministry, such as at hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

“The deacons in this archdiocese have had a tremendously positive effect on the Church of Denver,” said Deacon Joseph Donohue, director of deacon personnel.

“Through this liturgical effort, the deacons minister as God’s living vessels,” he said. “To be these instruments, deacons live out the beatitudes — not only in their parish ministry, but throughout the archdiocese.”

Deacon Robert Hoffman presents the Blood of Christ during Communion at the deacon ordination for the Archdiocese of Denver at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on June 20, 2015, in Denver, Colorado. (Photos by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Deacon Hoffman believes going out to the peripheries is a crucial part of the vocation.

“From the charitable side is where you may have the biggest impact with the deacon,” he said. “There are so many things that priests don’t have an opportunity or the time [to do] because they’re so busy with their parishes.”

Deacons minister to those throughout the community, and do so with knowledge of Church doctrine and truth, Deacon Hoffman added. They also perform baptisms, witness marriages, perform funerals and burial services outside of the Mass, preach the Gospel and homilies and distribute Communion.

It’s through being instruments of God’s love on earth, said Deacon Donohoe, that deacons impact the Church.

“In a special way, deacons are able to take the prayers and labors of the people present them to God at the altar so that their burdens and cares are raised up to God,” he said.

Through this liturgical effort, the deacons minister as God’s living vessels.”

Both deacons hope local men will take seriously the call to the diaconate.

“I simply hope that they can assist the archbishop in all of the ministries that he desires and feels are critical to the archdiocese,” said Deacon Hoffman.

Interested in becoming a deacon?

The Holy Spirit calls men to the Holy Order of deacon in a variety of ways. For some, it is the stirring within their hearts that leads them to explore the diaconate. For others, the Holy Spirit may move the man’s wife or family to introduce the subject, thus initiating his inquiry. Within the parish setting, there may be parishioners who, in witnessing the man’s service and ministry, suggest he should consider the diaconate. Finally, the pastor and his staff may identify men who exemplify the spirituality and service for whom the diaconate may seem appropriate. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to consider the diaconate, the St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons is forming a new class for men of the Archdiocese of Denver. If you are interested, please call your pastor or St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons at 303-715-3236, or email

COMING UP: What is a deacon?

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This column is by Deacon Joe Donohoe.

On June 18, 2017, the Catholic Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” (Sacred Order of the Diaconate) by Pope Paul
VI. This ecclesial document is significant to the life of the Church as it restores the offi ce of the diaconate to a permanent position within the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Church uses the word “permanent” to mean that the
deacon does not progress through the hierarchy of the Church but remains a deacon through eternity.

So, what have we discovered about this vocation since 1967? First of all, we have learned that a deacon is not
a priest nor is he a parishioner. He is clergy and an ordained minister with the indelible mark of Holy Orders.
His vocation comes from his ordination in which he promises obedience to the bishop and becomes radically
available to Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.

We also know that some deacons are single; yet, many are married and have families. Most deacons have secular jobs and a few are employed within the Church. Deacons are also in the seminary. Men discerning the priesthood are first ordained deacons and retain this charism into their priestly ordination. Regardless, all deacons are called by God to evangelize and bring the message of the Gospel to those in the workplaces, parishes, homes and the public square.

We’ve learned that deacons are called to be an example of holiness; especially important to those who lack a positive role model in their homes and work places. A deacon is called to make frequent prayer an important part of his daily routine.

As an icon of Jesus Christ, the servant who came to serve, not to be served, prayer proves to be essential for his
ministry and his life.

Every deacon prays in the morning when they wake and in the evening before they retire to bed. They often will spend 15 minutes a day reading Scripture and allowing God to respond to them. Each day is met with opportunities to encounter God in prayer and in deeds.

In service, the archbishop sends the deacon out to accomplish the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

The deacon visits prisoners, cares for the sick, dying and abused, feeds the hungry, provides shelter to the homeless,
wipes the tears from the sorrowful, and is a voice of the forgotten and helpless, including the unborn.

In one example, a deacon ministering to single mothers in the archdiocese tells me of the first time a mother handed over her infant son for him to hold. As he blessed the child, the deacon was struck with gratitude as he realized the incredible trust the mother had just turned over to him. It was the first time she had ever allowed her baby to be held by someone else since she had arrived at the home.

In his ministry of the word, the deacon teaches and preaches in his parish assignment and witnesses to
those in secular society. He proclaims the Gospel and occasionally preaches the homily. The deacon often teaches both those entering into the Church and away from the Church; and often instructs those in religious education and Sacramental preparation classes.

Many deacons have extensive expertise in life issues. Some are medical professionals who stand before congressional committees to defend life and meet with any person or group to talk about what happens medically with the diff erent procedures that terminate life. These
deacons also visit with patients and families to help them understand the church’s position on life issues.

No doubt, they have turned a lot of people away from the culture of death through their ministries.

The vast majority of deacons are certified as advocates for annulments which can be a very spiritual experience. One petitioner tells the story of how a deacon assisted her with the annulment process, helped her reconcile her relationship with the church and is a spiritual advisor to her, even today. She would even seek his advice on any potential future spouse and felt he was more of a father figure than a friend. She lives a comfortable life with a beautiful young son and a wonderful husband.

There are a couple of deacons who visit the homeless at Samaritan House. One deacon meets clients in the lunch rooms, eats with them, shares stories and then gathers them together for Bible study. Many of the men are anxious to come back when he is around to get their spiritual nutrition. He himself is a cancer survivor
and is dealing with debilitating disease; yet, his joy is with his friends at the homeless shelter.

In the ministry of the liturgy, the deacon assists at the altar, coordinating the activities of the liturgy and promoting reverence. He also conducts baptisms, marriages and funerals.

At the Mass, the deacon’s right to the altar is because of his participation with the faithful. He is ordained for the care of souls. One deacon prepares for Mass by greeting the Lord in the Adoration chapel and praying for the people at Mass. When he receives the gifts at the off ertory, like all deacons, he recognizes the prayers of those in the congregation and presents them to the celebrant as an offering to God. Yet, the faithful gathered together on Sunday are unaware of the prayers that are being lifted up
to God.

Deacons preach by example. They harmonize their vocational sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders
and model themselves after Jesus.

Many Deacons bond with the couples they have blessed in marriage and further their relationship by being available to them. There is a Deacon who sends a nice anniversary card to all the couples he has blessed and to couples of parents whose children he has baptized. The card often goes beyond a greeting and suggests that they meet and find out what is happening in the lives of the newlyweds
and newly baptized.

Even though we have learned much about deacons in the past 50 years, there is still much to discover and learn about the vocation. With the help of God and the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, the diaconal adventure will be filled with blessings and the grace of the Holy Spirit.