National Vocations Awareness Week runs from 4 to 11 August.
In December, I will celebrate my 10th Anniversary of being Ordained as a Deacon – in the same year my wife, Annette, and I celebrated 31 years of marriage.
Yes, deacons are some of the few people currently in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church who are both married and ordained.
The last decade has been a rewarding and rich time for me in living out this vocation alongside Annette and our three now young adult children, Jamie, Lisa and Julia. But it has also had its share of challenges as both we and others have adjusted to our new roles.
And most permanent (married) deacons will tell you the same thing: they experience some challenges but, overall, their vocation is deeply meaningful and richly rewarding.
As married men, we get to be celebrants for the marriages of other people in the church. As parents who have raised our own children in the faith, we get to baptise the children of other people and bring them into the church. We can play a role in numerous areas within the church and outside of the church, in chaplaincies to hospitals, prisons, schools, to the various services like police and other emergency workers. To working with the poor and those who serve them.
Despite a fair degree of confusion or uncertainty in the church about who deacons are and what they do, most deacons have no regret about their decision to pursue this vocation.
The diaconate (the collective name for our vocation) is growing in Australia. There are currently almost 200 active deacons in Australia – of which 13 are in our Diocese of Parramatta, and we have a further ten men in formation to be deacons.
The importance of the role of the wives of deacons is highly valued in our diocese. Wives are supported on the formation journey as their husbands are trained for their vocation. During our monthly formation gatherings, there is a time for wives to meet, to both be supported and to support each other. And it is important to know that any married man wishing to be ordained as a deacon cannot do so without the written permission of his wife.
Deacons need to be as comfortable in ministering alongside the bishop, in working with their parish priest, in discussions with parishioners, meeting with couples preparing for marriage and in preparing parents for the Baptism of their child as they are in ministering to people in hospital, to prisoners, to the poor and those who have suffered a significant loss in their lives.
One view of the role of deacons is that they are a bridge between the church and the world – so that the two may be brought closer together.
Just over 18 months ago, Annette and I moved to the new suburb of Marsden Park as Bishop Vincent Long had appointed me to start a new parish (initially called a parochial district). It has been both a challenging and rewarding time. Starting a new faith community from scratch can be daunting but also very exciting. Watching our congregation grow from initially 150 per Sunday to now more than 300 per weekend has been rewarding. Seeing people take on new ministries and watching a culture of hospitality and welcome grow has been a joy to witness.
Our role at Marsden Park is just our expression of the way diaconate might be lived out. For most, it involves being appointed to a parish where they serve in a part-time capacity on weekends and some nights while they continue their secular working role the rest of the week. But, no matter whether a deacon is assisting at Mass, with their family or at work, they are always living out their vocation.
The following are characteristics required of a man wishing to be accepted into formation to be a deacon:
- A Catholic man of sound moral character and mature faith with a vocation to service;
- Demonstrates prayerfulness and openness to further spiritual formation;
- If married, must be at least 30 years of age;
- Usually no older than the commonly accepted retirement age;
- If not married, he must be at least twenty-five years of age;
- Is actively supported by his wife and family if married
- Is of sound mental and physical health;
- Is supported by his parish priest or other equivalent church leaders;
- Is involved in parish or other apostolic life;
- Has the ability to undertake undergraduate theological studies to degree level, or the equivalent;
- Is able to devote time for formation without detriment to family or work responsibilities;
- If not married, or if widowed in the future, accepts the lifelong commitment to celibacy;
- Is not under any irregularity or impediment (such as being married outside of the church).
If you believe this describes you and would like to explore whether the calling of deacon is something for you, you can visit our website parracatholic.org/permanent-diaconate/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start the process.
Two deacons and their wives comprise the vocations team (Deacon Willy and Beth Limjap and Deacon George and Kay Bryan) and will lead you through the initial stages of enquiry.
Deacon Tony Hoban is the Pastoral Director of St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community, Marsden Park.
For more information about Vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, please visit: www.parracatholic.org/vocations/