Building on the momentum of the ordination of 35 permanent deacons this past September, the Diocese of Harrisburg is accepting applications for a new class of men for the Permanent Diaconate Program.
Candidates – and their spouses, if married – will be admitted to a year of aspirancy (exploration and discernment) beginning this fall. The program will culminate with ordination in 2026.
Bishop Ronald Gainer announced the start of this newest class last summer. Pastors are invited to nominate men who wish to be considered for the program.
Nominees must be faithful Catholic men, between the ages of 35 and 62, Catholic for at least three years, in a valid and stable marriage of at least seven years (if married), and known to the pastor of their parish. In addition, they must possess an undergraduate degree, or its equivalent, be able to undertake graduate level studies, and be gainfully employed.
Applications for the upcoming formation program will be accepted until March 31. A rigorous interview process will lead to admission to the program. Applications must be obtained from the pastor after an applicant’s initial discussion with him; they cannot be obtained directly from any Diocesan office.
Father John Bateman was named the Director of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program in October by Bishop Gainer.
“We had an awesome class of 35 men ordained in September, and we want to build on that momentum,” said Father Bateman, who also serves at pastor of St. Patrick Parish in York and as Promoter of Justice, Auditor and Canonical Consultant in the Diocesan Tribunal.
He said he is building on the strengths of the program in the Diocese, particularly the example of the deacons who serve the local Church, and the dedicated faculty.
The Diocese partners with the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, which has developed the curriculum for the five-year program. Diocesan faculty supplement the online program with in-person programs and guidance.
“We help the men integrate what they’re learning, and offer in-person opportunities to discuss their education,” Father Bateman said. The Josephinum provides the online portion, but we come together to discuss the intellectual, and that’s where the learning happens.”
Diocesan faculty members for the upcoming program are:
- Father Bateman – Director of the Program and Academics
- Father Neil Sullivan – Director of Spiritual Formation
- Father Joshua Brommer – Director of Liturgical Formation
- Father William Barbee – Director of Human Formation
- Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC – Director of Formation for Wives
A permanent deacon will also be appointed to serve as Director of Pastoral Formation.
A Commitment to Service
Men who are interested in being considered for the program should speak with their pastor for nomination.
A desire and willingness to serve is the foremost quality the program is seeking, Father Bateman said.
“So often, the only image we have of the deacon is of them preaching and baptizing. That’s certainly a piece of their ministry, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “First and foremost, their role is service – to the Church and in efforts of charity. Deacons, who are married men with secular jobs, can bring service into whatever they do in the community.”
The desire to serve must also be shared by the deacon’s wife.
“Two are called, but one is ordained. The couple is called to minister to the Church,” Father Bateman said. “The role of the deacon’s wife is also incredibly important. This is a joint venture. They both are entering lives of service for the Church and to a parish.”
He offered words of reassurance for potential candidates who might think they don’t have the background necessary in Theology or don’t know the fullness of Church history and teaching.
“It’s not unlike what we see with our seminarians. We need to help men in their philosophical training, as well as basic catechesis on what the Church believes. That is very much a part of what we’re doing with the deacons as well,” Father Bateman said.
“If a man is concerned that he doesn’t have the background education in all of Church teaching, that’s Ok. Come, and we’ll teach you! We are eager to do so. Anyone who knows the faith will be better able to live it and proclaim it,” he said.
Deacon James Koch and Deacon Michael McGovern, two of the 35 who were ordained this past Sept. 12, spoke highly of the formation program, and offered encouragement for men who are considering an application.
Deacon McGovern, who serves at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Waynesboro, distinctly remembers what he asked God while praying about entering the program: “God, I hear you whispering to me. Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?”
“It took some time in prayer and discussion with some close friends and family before I picked up an application,” he acknowledged. “There was some nervousness, but if I could pass on anything to someone who was thinking about making the application, it would be to understand that you do not discern alone. It’s not necessary to feel that you carry the entire burden on your shoulders. The first year is for taking the time for you to enter into discernment with the Church. It is a cooperative effort. Trust that the Lord will lead you where you are supposed to go. Once you get out of the way, the pieces will fall into place! It is a process that will be a wonderful time of growth regardless of how it turns out.”
Deacon McGovern urged men who are thinking about the program to enter into prayer.
“Anyone can come up with a thousand reasons while sitting on the couch in the clamor of day-to-day living as to why it is not for you,” he said. “However, I personally believe you’ll find that sitting one-on-one with Him, who is calling you to serve, will give you a chance to clear your head and humbly accept His will for you. A candidate who believes they are called to the permanent diaconate should have a servant’s heart. They should be able to listen and be attentive to others’ needs, be committed to the service of the Church, and know above all that if they have a family, that their family needs to come first. Family cannot be relegated to the background during the formation process and beyond.”
Commitment is an important aspect of the program that can’t be overlooked; five years of preparation includes a steady schedule of studies, gatherings, Masses and retreats.
Deacon James Koch of St. Patrick Parish in York said, “It is a huge commitment, but I still marvel how God opened doors for me with my career and home life to allow me to be able to focus on the program. The schedule was given to us, but I am a very hands-on type of learner. So until I started, I could not envision what it involved. Once I was in the program, I simply knew God would give me the skills and abilities I needed to make it through. The sacrifices my family made for my participation strengthened not only my love and commitment to them, but to the Church as well.”
He spoke, too, of the camaraderie that quickly developed among the men in his formation class, as well as among the wives.
“What a tremendous group of men! Even though we all came from different backgrounds, we bonded initially simply by looking at the task ahead of us,” he said. “Over time, the friendships that developed went beyond that. The closeness I feel for my brother deacons was at first because of our situation but that transformed into a true bond of brotherhood. I am so blessed by the friendships I formed during my formation.”
Deacon Koch ministers at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in York – where he has served as manager for a number of years – in addition to his work at the parish in various capacities.
“The past four months have been very interesting, to say the least,” he said, noting the efforts of procedural changes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, finding ways to reach the faithful in their homes, and the appointment of a new pastor, Father Bateman.
“I have had to obtain an attitude of trust,” Deacon Koch said. “Trusting in God, that He put me into this situation to further His kingdom. Whatever He has in store for me, I know that with His grace, ‘I can do all things.’”
Since his ordination in September, Deacon McGovern has been preaching at Masses, celebrating Baptisms, serving at funerals and presiding at the Rite of Committal. He’s also been reaching out to parishioners who are unable to attend Mass due to health concerns during the pandemic.
“I can tell you that I had no idea what it would look like going into my ministry,” he said. “Today, I can tell you, I don’t know what tomorrow will look like, but I’m certain if I did not fill out the application over five years ago, I would not be where God wants me to be.”
About the Diaconate
The Diaconate is an order of the Catholic clergy open to married and single men. As such, the Permanent Deacon is a member of the Church’s hierarchy, who is configured to Christ the Servant through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
In the Diocese, there have been four previous classes of deacons ordained for service: 1978, 1983, 2010 and 2020.
The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos, meaning “servant” or “minister.” Becoming a deacon is a vocation, that is, a calling from God.
A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. They can perform a variety of roles in the Church. During Mass, as Ministers of the Word, they can proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons can baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others and working to match the Church’s resources to meet those needs. Deacons are to be a servant in a servant-Church.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness