Hope in The Lord — Deacons: Heralds of the Gospel

Archbishop Kurtz
Archbishop Kurtz

By Archbishop of Louisville Joseph E. Kurtz

The Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate: “A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2012-2013.” This study presents results from a national survey of United States diaconate directors.

The study presents an overview of the characteristics of deacons in the United States and yields some interesting statistics. Of the approximately 14,780 active deacons in the United States, 93% are married, and 94% are at least 50 years old. Seventy-eight percent are non-Hispanic whites, 15% Hispanic or Latino, 3% African American, and 3% Asian. Six in ten active deacons have at least a college degree, and of these, nearly 3 in 10 have a graduate degree. About 21% of active permanent deacons receive compensation for a ministry position, most in parish ministry. Most dioceses require post-ordination formation.

As this study is being released, the USCCB also is publishing, on its blog, witnesses from permanent deacons serving in the United States, and one of them is our own Deacon Denny Nash of Good Shepherd Parish in Louisville. Deacon Nash writes movingly about the ministry of the diaconate as a ministry of presence, indeed intimacy, as he has the privilege to share in the joys and sorrows of the people he serves.

Deacon Nash conveys a strong sense of the deacon as the one who serves all in the name of Christ and as one who carries this ministry beyond the parish into his work, family life, and neighborhood. (I have included a link to the study and to Deacon Nash’s blog at www.archlou.org/archbishopkurtzblog.)

With the Second Vatican Council, the Church witnessed the restoration of the order of deacons as a permanent state within the Church, and in this Archdiocese, our first class of permanent deacons was ordained in 1976. Deacons continue to be ordained in transition to the priesthood, but most are ordained to be permanent deacons, such as Deacon Nash. In this Archdiocese we have been blessed with a generous response to this call, and we will be welcoming another 20 deacons in 2016.

Consistent with the national study, many of our deacons serve in parishes, but we also have deacons serving in prison and hospital ministry, ministry to persons who are hungry or homeless, drug and alcohol recovery, diocesan offices, parish administration, and many other ministries that are carried out without notice. Most of our deacons find their main source of employment outside of the Church. In fact 9 out of 10 of our deacons do not receive payment from Church ministry. Of the approximately 104 active deacons in the Archdiocese, 87% are married, 8.6% are widows, and 92% are at least 50 years of age. Ninety-four percent of our deacons are non-Hispanic whites, 2% are Hispanic or Latino, and 4% are African American. We join most dioceses in requiring post-ordination formation: our deacons must participate in 60 hours of formation over a 3-year period, with a minimum of 10 hours per year.

As Deacon Nash mentioned in his blog, one of the main areas of ministry for deacons that is unnoticed is ministry within the workplace. Deacons bring the presence of Christ to those they work with day in and day out with their calm demeanor, positive attitude, and openness to listening to others. And, I can’t speak about our archdiocesan diaconate without acknowledging the wonderful ministry provided by deacons’ wives, who support their husbands in ministry and who often share ministry with their husbands in areas such as marriage preparation, Communion to shut-ins, and youth ministry. We are truly blessed with the gifts of these men and women.

When I present each newly ordained deacon with the Book of the Gospels, I charge each one with these words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Through their service in the liturgy, their outreach to those in need, and their witness of faith, our deacons are truly heralds of the Gospel. Please take the time to pray for all deacons and to personally thank those deacons who are serving you.

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