By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Deacon Denny Nash, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Diaconate Office — sees the parish as a deacon’s anchor.
The parish is the place where a deacon’s ministry begins; however, it’s important for that ministry to flow out of the parish and into the wider community where it can reach more people in need, said Deacon Nash during an interview July 21.
With that in mind, the Diaconate Office has set its sights on a new vision and has been making changes to ministries — namely hospital and jail ministries — to that end, he said.
Over the past year and a half, there’s been a “new twist” on hospital ministry, said Deacon Nash. “A lot of our hospital ministry and charisms were around the parish, but we’re broadening the scope of that,” he said. In addition to helping care for parishioners who are hospitalized, deacons are now responding to the needs of other Catholic patients at Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville Hospital.
In the past, the hospital’s chaplain would call around until he located a priest and in the process, would leave messages for several different priests. This led to miscommunication, confusion and instances when several priests would arrive at the hospital to minister to the same patient, said Deacon Nash.
The new system, he noted, has one point of contact and one phone number to call, which a group of deacons rotate to answer. A group of priests is also on call in the event the need is immediate for anointing. The deacons have also developed a questionnaire for the patients’ families. This helps them assess the need and determine the next step.
If a patient requests prayer, then a deacon can respond. If the patient is in need of viaticum, then a deacon or an extraordinary minister of holy Communion can respond.
This structure “eliminates
confusion, mitigates misinformation and creates a better process for ministry,” said Deacon Nash. “It improves the ability of the church to respond and it’s a team effort.”
Deacon Nash said his office is working with Catholic Charities to build a “vision statement for jail ministry” for all the jails that are served in the Archdiocese of Louisville. It’s an effort, he noted, to “develop a common understanding of the needs in county jails” and also find ways to support individuals working in that ministry. They are also looking for ways to invite the laity to be a part of this ministry, he said.
“We’re finally putting some vision behind it and out of that vision will come a program,” said Deacon Nash, though he said he doesn’t like using the word “program.”
His goal is to “build some connectivity between those who work in that area.” He said they hope to develop a working model for prison ministry as well. It’s about looking at what is already there with a “different lens” and asking “how can this look and what resources do we have to make it happen?”
“We have an incredibly talented staff at the diocesan and parish level. We have so many wonderful lay ecclesial ministers who we can work with in order to get this vision into practice,” said Deacon Nash.
Role of the deacon
Over the five decades since the permanent diaconate was reinstituted in the Catholic Church, the relationship and understanding between bishops and their deacons has been deepening, said Deacon Nash.
In an effort to further that connection with deacons, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz led a series of five listening sessions with deacons and their wives in May, said Deacon Nash. The archbishop asked deacons what aspect of their ministry they find most rewarding and what they find most challenging? Deacon Nash said the consensus was that deacons find the “ministry of presence,” sharing the lives of parishioners and the lives of the faithful, to be most rewarding.
The sessions were “very rich,” said Deacon Nash. As director of the Diaconate Office, he said it gave him the chance to connect with deacons he rarely sees. It gave the archbishop a chance to connect with deacons and their spouses in an “intimate setting and the opportunity to hear from them, said Deacon Nash. During the sessions, the archbishop asked deacons to think of the roles they can play in helping the church grow.
The broader church too is starting to understand more deeply the role of the deacon, he noted. “We are ordained by the archbishop to serve the needs as he sees them. We also bring the needs we see to the archbishop,” said Deacon Nash.
The deacon is not only a servant, but a servant leader, noted Deacon Nash. “The deacon ideally responds to the need as the bishop perceives it and then invites the laity to do the same and usually helps the laity develop the ministry,” he said.
The deacon then steps back to address the next need. This is a “wonderful collaboration of ministries” and it “serves the church well.”