The program of deacon formation for the Diocese of La Crosse, under the direction of Fr. William P. Felix, contains the following elements:
- Five years in length (2 years Aspirancy, 3 years Candidacy)
- Thorough human, spiritual, theological and pastoral formation
- Meets once each month, Friday evening to Saturday evening, fall through spring
- Faculty drawn mostly but not exclusively from the Diocese of La Crosse
- Ongoing pastoral field education (assigned parish experiences)
- Participation of wives in program encouraged, occasionally required
Deacon formation begins with two years of Aspirancy, in which the focus is especially on prayerful vocational discernment, as the aspirants become acquainted with the diaconal life. Aspirancy also includes a series of four courses on the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with other classes. The Catechism courses are taken in common with students enrolled in the Lay Formation Institute, while specifically diaconal matters are covered separately. The formation weekends, held at the same time and location as the Lay Formation weekends, also offer the opportunity for participants to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the rosary together, and to assist at Mass (as servers, readers, sacristans, etc.). Further, the aspirants are required to have and meet regularly with a spiritual director approved by the Bishop. Regular spiritual direction continues as a component of all five years of deacon formation.
After the initial two years of Aspirancy, the aspirants petition to be admitted to Candidacy, which is a three-year period of continued discernment and more intensive formation and classes. The whole of deacon formation is marked by four key dimensions: human, spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral. In this way the men are assured of a well-rounded preparation for life and ministry as deacons. As part of formation, from Aspirancy to ordination, the aspirants and candidates are provided valuable pastoral experience, coordinated by Deacon Jerry Rynda, Coordinator of Pastoral Field Education. This involves being assigned to priest pastoral supervisors, so that the men may emerge from formation with parish experience. Both as aspirants and candidates, the men meet for an annual interview with a diocesan screening committee, which reports to the Bishop. Those who think they may be called by God to serve the Church as permanent deacons should consider the following traits and requirements for that vocation:
- Age: At least thirty-five and no older than sixty-five at the time of ordination. Exceptions to the upper age limit may be made at the discretion of the Bishop.
- Status: A Roman Catholic, married or single, of sound moral character, mature faith and possessing a sense of vocation to service.
- Family: If married, a partner in a stable marriage for at least seven years, who has the expressed consent and support of his wife, and whose children are of such an age and adjustment as not to be unduly affected by their father’s pursuit of a life that involves special apostolic commitments.
- Natural Gifts: Demonstrates the basic potential to develop the ministerial skills of relating to people, speaking well, and being a spiritual leader.
- Spirituality: A man with an established prayer life, willing to make personal sacrifices to be a consecrated sign of God’s love for others in his vocation to serve.
- Education: At least a high school or GED diploma, and the capacity to do college level work.
- Employment: A person who reflects prior stability in career or work.
- Church / Community Involvement: A man living the Christian life who has demonstrated active service, apostolic involvement, and leadership among the People of God, all rooted in a proven life of prayer.
A new class of aspirants to the permanent diaconate is started every two years (odd-numbered years) in the fall. Men who feel they may be called to be permanent deacons should contact the Office for the Diaconate at 608-791-2665.
To learn more about the formation, life and ministry of the permanent deacon, see two excellent Vatican documents at http://www.cin.org/docs/deacon98.html.