The Office of the Permanent Diaconate is charged with the formation and spiritual enrichment of Permanent Deacons in the Diocese of Jackson. As of May 2020, the diocese has six active deacons and one retired. Another group of men has begun formation in hopes of being ordained in 2022. Formation cohorts are convened by the bishop and make their journey together. When an opportunity for another class opens, information on how to apply will be posted to this page.
The Diaconate Formation Phases
Inquiry: An inquiry and eventual application for entrance into diaconal formation is not just a personal and family journey. The Church must accompany it. The parish is the primary experience of Church for most inquirers. It is the responsibility of this community and, in particular, its pastor to invite from among its members those who may be qualified to serve as ordained ministers of the Church. Similarly, those church and community agencies that have often carried out the Church’s mission of charity and justice have a unique opportunity to call forth appropriate nominees from among their personnel. [National Directory 171]
Aspirancy: (T)he aspirant path must be a distinctive program that provides for a thorough discernment of a diaconal vocation. Therefore, it must provide an appropriate initiation into diaconal spirituality; supervised pastoral experiences, especially among the poor and marginalized; and an adequate assessment of the aspirant’s potential to be promoted to candidate formation, and ultimately to ordination. The aspirant path also must enable the formation personnel to create an environment in which a wife of a married aspirant can be appropriately prepared to give her consent to his continuation, and more essentially, to ascertain her compatibility with her husband’s diaconal vocation and eventual ministry. [National Directory 186]
Candidacy: The candidate phase . . . is the occasion for continued discernment of a diaconal vocation and immediate preparation for ordination. Throughout this path in formation, the candidate himself assumes the primary responsibility for his discernment and development. [National Directory 204] A substantive program includes not only class preparation, participation, and attendance, but also seminars, workshops, field education projects, theological reflection, shared opportunities for spiritual growth (e.g., liturgical celebrations and prayer, spiritual conferences, retreats), individual spiritual direction, and other formation experiences. [National Directory 206]
Post-Ordination: The goal for this path in formation is to responsibly address the various aspects of a deacon’s ministry, the development of his personality and, above all, his commitment to spiritual growth. . . . The primary source for post-ordination formation is the ministry itself. [National Directory 239]
On June 18, 1967, Pope Paul VI issued the Motu Proprio, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem restoring the diaconate as a permanent degree of holy orders. The permanent diaconate can trace its origins back to the Book of Acts. A permanent deacon does not aspire to become a priest but rather chooses to remain at the service of the Church, in a special relationship with the bishop.
A permanent deacon may be married or single and must be at least 35 years of age but not older than 60 at the time of ordination. The role of the wife is an essential part of the formation process. Not only is her consent and support necessary, she will share in her husband’s ministry. While the exact nature of the wife’s role varies widely, it is most effectively lived out in their ministry as husband and wife, committed to their marriage as the primary vocation in their lives, and to service to the Church as a natural part of the life-giving nature of their marital vocation.
It takes five years for a man to become a deacon. His first year in the five-year process of formation is called aspirancy. During this time the aspirants meet monthly to hear talks on prayer, discernment and the ministry of the diaconate. This period is also a time for diocesan leadership to discern if the aspirants demonstrate and articulate an authentic call to ordination.
Once a man completes the period of aspirancy, he may petition the bishop for admission to candidacy. The petitioner’s wife (if he is married) must also submit a handwritten letter of consent. Like priestly formation, there are four dimensions to the formation of the diaconate: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. In order for a man to be considered for the permanent diaconate, he must show that he has a stable marriage and home life as well as a stable job. His human development will be further evaluated to be sure that the formation process has a positive impact on his life and leads him to greater maturity as a Christian man.
Candidates must also meet regularly with a spiritual director and attend monthly spiritual formation conferences. They will also work with their pastor each of the four years, following candidacy, in some aspect of diaconal pastoral ministry. (e.g. catechesis, ministry to the sick, social outreach, etc.)
The Diocese of Jackson has reached an agreement with Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., to help with the theological formation of the candidates. The candidates will be able to earn a Masters of Theological Studies through Spring Hill as part of their intellectual formation. Spring Hill will also assist the diocese in the spiritual formation of the candidates, drawing on its rich Ignatian spiritual heritage as a Jesuit institution. Each year the candidates are expected to make a group retreat with their wives. This retreat will help them more clearly discern their calling, their area of ministerial service and their own spirituality.