Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Department of Permanent Deacons
In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council formally restored the diaconate as a permanent order within the Church with the intention of strengthening the ministry of service among God's people in imitation of Christ the Servant, who "came not to be served but to serve" and give His life for others.
In 1971 the US bishops issued Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry, situating the Permanent Diaconate within the larger body of the Church and affirming its three-fold ministry of the word, of the altar and of charity. Since that time the Permanent Diaconate has developed extensively in response to the varied pastoral needs of the Church all over the country.
In Philadelphia then Archbishop John Cardinal Krol initiated a program of formation for a restored Permanent Diaconate in response to the particular needs of two minority communities within the Church of Philadelphia.
Individual training programs for the Permanent Diaconate were developed first in 1977 for the community of Hispanic Catholics and then in 1978 for the community of Black Catholics, in the conviction that these two communities, already rich in the faith and apostolic zeal, might be further enriched by the service of diaconal ministers drawn from their own midst and strengthened by the sacramental grace of Holy Orders in the Church.
The concern to enrich the pastoral service offered to specific communities within the Church of Philadelphia soon blossomed into a more extended commitment to training and formation of adults for service to all the faithful of the Archdiocese.
Thus in September of 1981 the Church Ministry Training Program was established to provide for the theological, pastoral and spiritual formation of men and women already actively involved in the services of their parishes. During the two years of this Church Ministry Program, participants are guided to discern how God is inviting them to use their talents and gifts in the pastoral ministry of the Church and to commit themselves more deeply to the service of others. Since its inception hundreds of men and women have participated with great enthusiasm in the Church Ministry Training Program.
From among the men who had completed the Church Ministry Training Program, those who believed they may have a calling to a permanent, ordained ministry within the Church were invited to apply for admission to the Permanent Diaconate Program. For those accepted into this universal program as diaconate candidates, a three year program of Formation for the Permanent Diaconate was initiated in the Fall of 1983 to provide for the Spiritual, pastoral and theological skills needed to fulfill a diaconal ministry among the faithful.
After the ordination of the original group of sixteen men from the Hispanic community in 1981 and six men from the Black community in 1982, classes of permanent deacons in the universal program have been ordained each year since 1986.
In 1998, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Catholic Education jointly published new norms for the formation of permanent deacons. National Norms were approved by the United States Bishops in June 2000. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua revised the Formation Program in keeping with the direction of these norms. What was essentially a five year formation program - two years in Church Ministry and three years in formal diaconate formation - has become a six year formation program, all of which are under the auspices of the Permanent Diaconate Office. Men interested in the diaconate now enter directly into this six year formation program. The first year is and Aspirancy year, dedicated exclusively to spiritual formation and further discernment concerning this call. This is followed by five years of formation, dedicated to the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral preparation of future deacons.
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