Deacon Stephen Pitre is the Coordinator of Diaconal Ministries for the Archdiocese of Toronto. As we continue to celebrate the Month of Vocations, we asked him about the permanent diaconate, and steps a man can take if he feels God might be calling him to this ministry.
What are some qualities that are important to have as a permanent deacon?
Someone thinking about the permanent diaconate should always strive to be a humble servant. When we're considering an applicant, we want to see that they are able to integrate their marriage and family life along with their work and community involvement. They should be men who want to grow in their faith life as well.
What would you say to someone who calls you and says "I'm not sure, but I think God might be calling me to the permanent diaconate?"
Any time someone calls us, we direct them to the Permanent Diaconate tab on the Archdiocesan website. There, they can find links to five articles written by Cardinal Collins on the Permanent Diaconate, as well as an outline of the Intake Process. There is also a link titled Formation Program for the Permanent Diaconate which outlines the Propaedeutic Year and the four years of candidacy program.
In one of the articles, Cardinal Collins writes: "In calling someone, God speaks gently in the silence of the heart, through recurring thoughts of serving as a deacon, and also through the voice of others. Being called is an act of God…a person may think he is called to ordination, but the call is not real unless the bishop confirms it, for ordination is not a private thing, but rooted in the life of the whole community of faith."
If a person is married and is discerning the diaconate, this isn't a decision he makes alone. His wife needs to be fully involved too.
How does spiritual direction play a role?
Once someone becomes a candidate for the permanent diaconate, he is required to have a spiritual director. Spiritual directors can help with discerning the call to the permanent diaconate and also help with strengthening the faith life of each candidate. Once ordained, all deacons are required to keep attending spiritual direction.
How do you determine whether someone should enter St. Augustine's for the permanent diaconate program? What's the process?
Each applicant has a phone interview with me and fills out an application form with specific information. I gather this information and send it to St. Augustine's Seminary, where an admissions committee reviews the information and selects applicants for an in-person interview. Both the applicant and his wife attend the interview.
If the admission committee accepts the applicant, he enters into a year of discernment called the "propaedeutic year." During this year, he and his wife attend nine sessions that unpack the ministry of the permanent diaconate and ensure that he is called to this role within the Church. If all goes well and the time is right, he starts candidacy, which takes four years.
Why is it important to have a six year process from initial application to ordination?
Some of the men who call me are surprised the process is so long. But formation is too often mistaken as just being academic. Education alone is not enough. Some of our applicants have PhDs in theology, but they still have to go through the same process as everyone else. Formation involves the human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral aspects of the Catholic faith. You can find more information on the program on the St. Augustine's Seminary website.
Why should a man consider the permanent diaconate?
In our promotional material, Cardinal Collins has a great quote: "Each one of us must discern how God is calling us to serve the Church. Deacons play a vital role in evangelizing both to the gathered and scattered in our community. Their ministry is of great importance to our Archdiocese, answering the call of Jesus to love and serve."
How can someone contact you?
You can reach the Diaconate Office at 416-924-3400 ext. 304 or ext. 305. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.