New deacons poised to make history
Diaconate ordinations divided between Little Rock, Rogers to accomodate crowds
For the first time in a decade, the Diocese of Little Rock will ordain new deacons to minister and serve the Catholic faithful in Arkansas. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will ordain 40 candidates this month in Rogers and Little Rock, more than double the number for the last diaconate ordination in 2002.
This year's class is noteworthy as the first dual-formation class in diocesan history, with 23 Anglo and 17 Hispanic candidates. As a result, ordination rites -- set for Nov. 17 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers and Nov. 24 at Christ the King Church in Little Rock -- will be celebrated in both English and Spanish. Both liturgies will begin at 10 a.m.
This year's ordination Masses were divided into two dates to shorten potential travel distances for congregants and to help accommodate standing-room only crowds.
Directors of formation Deacon Robert Wanless and Deacon Marcelino Luna led the class through their four years of formation in English and Spanish, respectively. The monthly classes for the men and their wives began in 2008 with 52 candidates.
Luna said the opportunity to educate the Hispanic candidates in their native language was "a great experience."
"This was a big challenge," he said. "We really had to depend on the Holy Spirit from day one. I can already see the impact these men will have on the Hispanic community. I'm getting calls from others in the diocese asking questions about discerning a vocation."
Wanless said discernment always involves deep commitment and sacrifice from candidates and their families. Bringing a bilingual element to formation added to the complexity of the process, but steps were taken to combine the two groups wherever possible, such as for Mass and meals. Through it all, the unique circumstances did nothing to dampen the spirits of the candidates.
"What stood out about this class was their enthusiasm," he said. "Even after four years, there's still such an enthusiasm they have that it really validates that they have been called to this."
The 2012 class brings the total number of deacons in the diocese 112. Arkansas Catholics will likely have more deacons in service per capita than most dioceses its size, estimated Deacon John Marschewski, minister to deacons. Wanless said the additional deacons come at a good time, as many current deacons in the state are entering their 70s and might want to retire.
Luna, who completed his formation in English and was the only Spanish-speaking member of his 2002 ordination class, said he was preparing for an emotional experience.
"I've grown with these men, like a father with a bunch of kids," he said. "When I look at them, it's like my 17 sons right there."
The Deacon Advisory Group issued a statement Nov. 5 in response to questions Catholics have posed about when the Diocese of Little Rock would begin a new diaconate formation class. Bishop Taylor will ordain 40 new deacons Nov. 17 and 24 after a program of monthly classes for four years and three months.
Deacon John Marschewski, minister to deacons, said the total number of active and retired deacons in the diocese will increase to 112.
"The formation team has begun to evaluate the just completed program and will be preparing recommendations for future diaconal formation plans," the statement said. "This review and recommendations will be presented to the Presbyteral Council for their discernment particularly regarding the timing and makeup of the next diaconate formation program.
"One overriding point that must be taken into consideration before the next group of permanent deacon formation begins is making sure there are adequate certified spiritual directors to provide competent spiritual direction to any men in diaconate formation. That need is being addressed with a three-year spiritual direction program the diocese is sponsoring, which is scheduled to begin in August of 2013. Additionally, a future class will target the areas of the diocese currently underserved by diaconal ministry."
The new total of 112 deacons ranks the Diocese of Little Rock 17th among the 175 dioceses and archdioceses nationwide, per capita. Little Rock's ratio is one deacon for a little more than 1,223 congregants. The diocese is just two spots outside of the top 10 percent in this measurement, trailing the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., at one deacon for every 1,203 congregants and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, at one deacon for every 1,221 congregants. The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, leads the country with one deacon for every 560 parishioners.
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