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Archives Forming deacons

February 12, 2020

By Darcy Fargo

OGDENSBURG – With the current diaconate formation program wrapping up in October of 2021, now is a good time for men considering the vocation to start discerning more seriously.

According to Deacon John J. Drollette, diocesan director of Deacon Formation, the first step for men who feel they may be called to the diaconate is to complete the Formation for Ministry program.

“The Formation for Ministry program is a prerequisite unless the individual has completed some other educational component that would replace that program,” he said.

After Formation for Ministry, individuals who want to be considered for the diaconate typically attend information sessions, which will be scheduled around the diocese.

“We try to hold the sessions in central areas to get as many individuals together as possible,” Deacon Drollette said. “These sessions are opportunities to ask questions, meet deacons and learn about the formation process.”
Men who are interested in pursuing ordination as a deacon then apply to the program, and the applications are reviewed by a panel. Men in that stage of the process are referred to as “inquirers.” Inquirers also undergo background checks, psychological testing and interviews as part of the process.

Once accepted into the program, deacon aspirants participate in a four-year process that includes focus on four areas of development.

“The four components are spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral,” Deacon Drollette said. “During the four years, we look to grow in each of those four areas. Before a man can become a candidate and later be ordained, they have to have an understanding of the theology of our faith and be able to talk intelligently to people and explain what our faith teaches for the intellectual component. For the spiritual, they have to practice their faith and be willing to do it in a public way. There’s the human dimension of it, and they have to be able to share what is common within the parish. And they have to have the ability to work one-on-one with people and be pastoral.”

Throughout the program, the participants are building community, deepening their faith and learning.

“It’s an ongoing discernment process,” Deacon Drollette said. “There have been times individuals have completed the program and chosen not to be ordained. And the discernment doesn’t stop even after ordination, for those who make it to that point. We continue to discern and deepen our faith as we serve. We do continuing education. We have regional meetings and convocation. It’s all about community and faith.”

In many cases, the discernment doesn’t just impact the man discerning whether he’s called to the vocation.

“If the man is married, his spouse has to agree,” Deacon Drollette said. “Throughout the program, there are times the wife has to give her permission for her husband to move on.”

Wives are also included in the formation process.

“There’s a wives’ program that mirrors the diaconate,” Deacon Drollette said. “Karen Donahue is the director of that program. Each weekend the candidates meet, the wives are also invited. They talk about what a deacon does, how he serves, how they can help, how to handle it if they don’t have the time to help – those kinds of issues. And there are different levels of involvement. Some wives come every weekend, while others come a couple times each year. There’s no right or wrong. Each couple needs to find its own balance.”

“We try to stress that the deacon and his wife grow spiritually together,” added Deacon Kevin Mastellon, director of the Permanent Deacons. “They may not be in the same place spiritually, but there’s growth – spiritual growth – for both the deacon and his wife.”

Those in formation are required to complete 26 online classes, currently offered through the University of Notre Dame. In addition, they attend one weekend session per month, currently offered the first weekend of the month, through the academic year.

“We typically do five courses Friday through Saturday,” Deacon Drollette said. “We start on Friday with evening prayer, dinner and our first class of the weekend. Right now, we start with a course in Canon Law with Bishop LaValley. We start Saturday with Mass and breakfast, and we do four courses throughout the day. We finish at 5:30, go to chapel for evening prayer, and go home for the weekend.”

In the course of the lengthy process, some men discern that they’re not called to the diaconate.

“In the current group, we started with 24, and we’re down to 14,” Deacon Drollette said. “We had one death, and we had others who determined it wasn’t where they were called right now.”

The discernment continues with those 14.

“I think most guys coming into the program don’t know if the goal is to be ordained,” Deacon Drollette said. “Basically, they have just enough information to want to make them continue delving deeper into their faith. If someone had asked me in my third year if I planned to be ordained, I would’ve answered ‘I’m not sure. I don’t know yet.’ I had to receive the totality of the program and have enough information from the Holy Spirit to make that emotional and spiritual decision. It’s a decision that affects my family and my parish. You know you have the commitment after completing the four years, because of what the program asks of you educationally and spiritually but being ordained is just the beginning. We mature physically and spiritually after ordination. This is an ongoing process.”

For more information about the formation process, or to express interest in a future class, contact Deacon John Drollette at jdrollette@rcdony.org or 518-726-0019.

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