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Using a doll as a prop, deacon candidate Jay Wingler, right, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, practices the baptism rite with aspirant Terry Boer and wife, Lori, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, at a recent deacon formation class at Immaculata Monastery and Spirituality Center in Norfolk. Photo by Mike May/Catholic Voice

Deacon formation leads to profound transformation

The 2008 funeral of a National Guard colleague was an eye-opener for Gary Krupa of St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue.
 
During the tributes to Deacon Bob Chadwick of St. Leonard Parish in Madison, people talked about how he had touched them, and brought Jesus into their lives and the lives of so many others.
 
“That really struck me,” Krupa said. “Right then and there, I had a sense that I could be doing that – I should be doing something to serve the Lord and letting him work through me.”
 
Over the next several years, Krupa mulled the idea of becoming a permanent deacon himself, talking to friends and colleagues who were deacons and his military chaplain while he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Nebraska Air National Guard.
 
Finally, in 2015, he took the plunge.
 
Now in his third year of a four-year formation process, Krupa said, “it’s ongoing growth, it’s a journey.”
 
A TRANSFORMATION
One weekend a month, September through May, Krupa and nine other men who make up the 2019 deacon class – usually with their wives – attend formation sessions at Immaculata Monastery and Spirituality Center in Norfolk.
 
There they set aside the responsibilities of work, family and home and enter a place of quiet to learn, pray, discern and undergo a transformation.
 
“Even though I’m a cradle Catholic, I’m learning things I never knew. I wish every Catholic could experience this,” Krupa said.
 
“We get exposed to wonderful instruction on the teaching of the church – what our faith is really about – and we have a chance to deepen our spiritual lives through adoration and reflection, Mass and reception of the Eucharist.”
 
Transformation is at the heart of the archdiocese’s deacon formation program, led by Deacon James Keating, director of the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate and director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha.
 
As the Catholic Voice visited a recent formation weekend, Deacon Keating told aspirants (first year participants) that the role of a deacon requires a shift in consciousness.
 
“You are becoming a public person – and an ambiguity – Jesus’ presence embedded in the secular culture in the midst of everything that wants to forget Jesus.”
 
“American males have unconsciously been formed by the popular culture,” Deacon Keating told the Catholic Voice. “A lot of that residue has to be purified out of him so he is free to receive Christ’s love – to become vulnerable and to receive the servant mysteries of Christ into his heart. “It’s a profound conversion, to let go of what has heretofore defined him and to make room for a new definition.”
 
That transformation begins during the first year of formation. The aspirant, along with his wife, if married, attends five formation weekends between September and May, undergoing a period of discernment.
 
NEW IDENTITY
Stephen Doran of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha, one of 14 members of the 2021 deacon class who began formation last fall, said he is learning that the diaconate is more than a role – it’s an identity.
 
“So much of my life is ‘doing’ certain things,” he said. “I do my job, whereas, formation is helping me to ‘become’ – to become a deacon, in the same way that I became a husband, I became a father.”
 
Doran’s wife, Sharon, said, “Our first vocation is marriage, so this will be a second vocation for Steve. The wife of a deacon gets swept up into that, because of our one-plus union, because of our marriage and the grace of holy orders, and I am here to support and serve under God’s will.”
 
The wife’s role is indispensable, Deacon Keating said. “She must continue to challenge her husband to forget himself and to think of other people’s needs, and she does this through her spousal presence and her maternal presence.”
 
Deacon Doug Lenz, ordained last year and serving St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Omaha, said the formation program had a profound effect on him and his wife, Anne.
 
“It was one of the biggest blessings of our life,” he said. “We felt our relationship with God and each other was strengthened beyond what we would have ever imagined.”
 
The program’s emphasis on couple prayer has borne fruit in their marriage and family life, he said. “The calm and peacefulness we’ve experienced as a result is tremendous.”
 
Together, they now conduct a series on couple prayer at their parish and serve on deacon formation weekends – he as a mentor, and Anne as spiritual director for the wives.
 
Deacon Lenz stresses to current candidates that, if married, their primary vocation remains their marriage, and that a strong marriage is key to being an effective married deacon.
 
If unmarried, ordination to the diaconate requires a lifetime vow of celibacy.
 
LIFE OF SERVICE
Deacons serve in a variety of roles – mostly in their parishes, but also in the broader community. They assist at Masses; preside at baptisms, weddings and funerals; visit the sick, homebound and imprisoned; help with baptism and marriage preparation classes, and lead Communion services and liturgies of the Word.
 
The archdiocese implemented the permanent diaconate program in 1971 in response to a Vatican II call that led to the 1968 re-establishment of the deacon’s role in the church. There are now 224 deacons actively serving in the archdiocese.
 
A new class begins a four-year formation program every other year. In addition to the training, mentoring and spiritual formation they receive during formation weekends, candidates receive spiritual direction and pastoral ministry training outside of the weekends, visiting hospitals and prisons, supervised by deacons, Deacon Keating said.
 
Men from ages 31 through 54 are eligible to enter the program, he said. “I would like to see more younger men because of the image they portray for evangelization. We are losing the young people, so we need younger men to model for other men that spirituality is acceptable.”
 
Another possible direction for the diaconate in the archdiocese could be toward greater service outside one’s parish, he said. 
 
“There should be a flexibility regarding men who might have special gifts or special calls, where their ministries could be archdiocese-wide, as spiritual directors for other men or other deacons, providing marriage counseling or retreats, or spiritual direction for the elderly.
 
“We need to be flexible and creative for the service of the whole church,” he said.
 
For more information, visit archomaha.org/ministries/vocations/diaconate/, or contact Deacon Keating at jameskeating@ creighton.edu, or 402-280-3326.

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