Diaconate Formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles consists of a five-year program. Applicants for the program must have at least one year of hands-on service to those in need within their own parish, or in the larger community. Types of service would include helping the poor and homeless, ministry to those in jails and prisons, visiting those in hospitals or confined to their homes due to illness and caring for the bereaved.
The first year of formation is for aspirants.The second through the fifth years are for candidates. The program has three main interrelated components: spiritual/personal growth, academic/theological, and pastoral/ministerial. During the summer prior to the beginning of each year’s class, those in formation are involved in reading assignments and special projects. They meet with designated deacons (deacon couples) who are instrumental in the formation process by serving as mentors during the summer and at various times throughout the year. In addition to mentors, there is a journey deacon couple for each formation group.The journey couples are present during most of the formation sessions and assist the formation coordinator for that group in a variety of ways.
In each of the five years, the participants develop a sense of community through shared Eucharist, shared prayer, shared ministry, shared meals and relaxation, and shared conversation. The entire program follows an adult learning model that includes presentations, assigned readings, shared reflections, and group processes. Each year has a Justice and Peace component. Theological reflection is an important part of the overall program. The program complies with the document of the Congregation for Catholic Education Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, as well as the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States.
Classes begin on the Saturday following Labor Day and end in June. Classes are, for the most part, scheduled every other Saturday and begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m. The majority of classes are held at Alemany High School in Mission Hills.
The following is a brief summary of each year of formation:
The aspirancy year is primarily a time of discernment. The aspirants experience the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises (19th Annotation) throughout their year of aspirancy.
Throughout the year participants meet regularly with a spiritual director individually and in small groups. While the Spiritual Exercises are used as a primary avenue for personal discernment, those in formation are also exposed to other forms of prayer and spirituality. During this aspirancy period and throughout the formation program, those in formation are expected to have a spiritual director who will be able to help them deepen their relationship with God and explore their gift for diaconal ministry.
Along with some academic studies (primarily the Old Testament), marital spirituality workshops are given to the aspirants and wives. For unmarried men there are sessions on celibacy and related issues. The aspirants are introduced to two tools that are used throughout the formation program –The Reverent Approach to the Word of God and Ministry Reflection and Assessment. These tools help the aspirants to understand early in their formation the importance of integrating their personal lives with Sacred Scripture and with their experience of ministry. Aspirants become familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours which is an essential part of their prayer life throughout the formation program.
The conclusion of the aspirancy period is determined through a formal assessment conducted by the committee on admission and scrutinies. This occurs when the aspirant, with the express permission of those responsible for his formation, makes a written petition to the bishop for admission to Candidacy. Each petitioner will be interviewed by the committee on admission and scrutinies to appraise his readiness for nomination into candidacy. The committee will also meet with the wife of a married aspirant to ascertain her level of consent and support for her husband’s promotion into candidate formation. At various levels of the formation process, a letter of consent by the wives is necessary. The committee will review all pertinent data on the aspirant before a recommendation is made.
Candidacy Year I
During this year of formation candidates and their wives are encouraged and helped to deepen their personal and communal prayer life and to become familiar with a variety of spiritualities and ways of praying. Also, workshops/sessions are provided to help participants become familiar with a method for personal growth, self-understanding, and reflective living.
With regard to the academic/theological dimension, those in this first year of candidacy continue their study of Sacred Scriptures—the New Testament. They are also given sessions on Theological Foundations and discuss issues such as faith, divine revelation, and grace. Presentations and discussions concerning Catholic Social Teaching are an important part of this year’s formation. There are also practicums on the art of reading, proclaiming and speaking in public. Pertaining to the pastoral aspect of the program, there are sessions on grief ministry and listening and communication skills. During this year the participants have experiences in ministry to the sick, e.g., visiting hospitals.
Candidacy Year II
Throughout this year those in formation study and experience many forms of prayer and spirituality.
In this year participants study Christology. Also, there is an introduction to some of the major themes of Ecclesiology, and a discussion of Church History (with an emphasis on the Early Church and the Middle Ages.) There is also the study of Mariology (the role of Mary in Sacred Scripture and the Church). There are presentations and discussions on issues of Justice and Peace from a Biblical prospective. There is also the study and presentation of effective methods of evangelization, catechetics, and mission.
To prepare participants more fully for preaching the word of God there are formal presentations on the ministry of preaching (homiletics) and practicums throughout the year. There is the study of Funeral Rites and there are practicum’s for Vigils and Committal Services.
Relating to the pastoral dimension of the program, the participants have individual and group experiences in ministry to the homeless.
Candidacy Year III
One of the main purposes of this year is to help those in formation come to a deeper appreciation of the Church’s Liturgy and the Sacraments. With regard to liturgy there are formal presentations on the liturgy documents of the Church and practicum’s on presiding at Baptisms. Participants also have sessions dealing with Baptism Preparation. Concerning the sacramental life of the Church, there are presentations on various themes pertinent to the Church’s teaching on the Sacraments. There is a study and discussion of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation) and the Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage and Holy Orders). Participants are also given an understanding and appreciation of the RCIA process and how it might be incorporated in the life of the local Church.
During this year those in formation continue their study of Church History, with an emphasis on the Reformation and Modern Times. There are presentations and discussions on contemporary Church issues, including the role of women in the Church and the role of the laity.
Participants are engaged in a variety of discussions on ecumenism, which include the study of Church documents as well as becoming familiar with the primary tenets of other Christian denominations and world religions. Present day issues regarding justice and peace are studied and discussed.
Relating to the pastoral dimension of the program, there are special sessions on pastoral care with an emphasis on pastoral counseling skills, referrals, etc.
As a personal growth tool, those in formation experience the Myers-Briggs Inventory which is applied to issues of decision-making, communications, self-awareness, and spirituality.
Candidacy Year IV
In this year of formation, the participants continue to grow in their appreciation of the sacramental life of the Church. They study the Sacraments of healing (Reconciliation, Sacrament of the Sick). They become conversant with the spirituality and ritual experience of Marriage and, in preparation for their own ordination, aspirants deepen their awareness of the role of the deacon in the Church through presentations, discussions, and practicums.
During this year those in formation further their understanding of Christian morality in both its personal and social dimensions. They also have various presentations and discussions on contemporary Church issues. Other subjects that are part of this year’s curriculum include Justice and Peace Ministry, Catholicism in a Multi-Cultural Society, Issues of Personal and Professional Growth, Marriage Preparation, the Canon Law of the Church, and Small Faith Communities. There is also a continuation of the study of pastoral care and pastoral counseling.
In this year of formation candidates and their wives are introduced to other personal growth tools to help them further develop in their spiritual journey. There are a variety of group processes that assist the participants in their endeavors to relate more deeply with others and with God.
As in the previous year, those in formation engage themselves in Parish Field Education with specific projects determined after discussion with their pastor and diaconate formation facilitator. Also, there are occasions for individual and group ministry experiences in the area of family life.
(As a norm aspirants are accepted into Candidacy at the beginning of candidacy Year I. The Rite of Reader is received at the beginning of candidacy Year II and the Rite of Acolyte is received in candidacy Year III. The Ordination to the Diaconate takes place at the end of candidacy Year IV of the formation program.)