The Diocese of Little Rock has accepted 50 men to begin the diaconate formation process, making it the largest class in the history of the diocese.
The men and their wives will begin monthly classes at St. John Center in Little Rock in August and are expected to be ordained in 2012. It is the sixth diaconate formation class since it was reinstituted in the state in 1977 and the first class in 10 years.
The men will be divided into two classes -- one for English speakers coordinated by Deacon Robert Wanless and one for Spanish speakers coordinated by Deacon Marcelino Luna.
Twenty-nine men were accepted for the English-speakers class from a total of 61 applications. The list includes Chuck Ashburn, vice principal at Catholic High School; Norm DeBriyn, the former Arkansas Razorback baseball coach; John Hall, the former diocesan youth ministry director; Danny Hartnedy, the son of Deacon John Hartnedy; and Kenneth Stengel, whose son Josh is studying to be a diocesan priest.
Twenty-one men were accepted for the Spanish-speakers class from a total of 35 applications. The list includes Ricardo Puello, whose son Alejandro is studying to be a diocesan priest; and Aroldo Jonas Zacaria, a charismatic movement leader in the diocese.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor is supportive of the formation program and knows personally what it takes to coordinate such a class.
"I was directly in charge of deacon formation in Oklahoma City from 1988 to the mid 1990s -- about seven years," he said. "I continued to serve on the deacon board and help with formation weekends on an occasional basis for several years after that."
He was even scheduled to teach Scripture to the deacon candidates in the archdiocese on April 11-13, but was forced to cancel it because he was appointed bishop of Little Rock April 10.
"I'm excited about having an upcoming class of 50 deacons because I have seen what a great contribution deacons make to the life of the Church," he said. "I also know that the diaconate requires sacrifices not only on the part of the deacons themselves, but also from their families and so I am grateful for the generosity of these 50 men -- and their wives and children -- because their support is crucial."
Wanless, the diaconate formation director for English speakers, said all candidates completed extensive applications, a 567-question psychological test and in-person interviews before they were chosen.
"I am so excited," Wanless said. "I feel we have a very good quality of people ... They can hardly wait to get started. And I can hardly wait too."
Luna, the diaconate formation director for Spanish speakers, is one of only two Hispanic deacons in the state currently.
"I can see we will have some more help in the future," he said. "I am very pleased with the response from the community. They responded more than we expected."
Luna said the Hispanic candidates will be working on learning more English, but he hopes the Anglo candidates will be learning some Spanish as well.
"The effort we will make for both groups is to be bilingual," he said.
For four years the candidates and wives will study a variety of topics, including Scripture, catechism, Church history, canon law, counseling and homiletics. The first class for all 50 men will begin Aug. 1 at St. John Center in Little Rock. Leaders from the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio will discuss multiculturalism. Bishop Taylor will celebrate Mass for the couples.
"I want this to be a practical, growth-filled experience for them," Wanless said.
While the English and Spanish speakers will be separated for classes, they will attend meals and bilingual Masses together.
"Hopefully they will get to know each other," Wanless said.
Wanless said a Diaconate Formation Fund will be established at the diocese to help offset the overall costs of educating, feeding and providing lodging and books for 50 men and their wives for four years. In addition to the fund, the costs will be paid for by the diocese, parishes of the candidates and the men themselves.
Luna said many of the Hispanic candidates and their wives will lose income because they will have to take off more time to attend classes and study.
"These men and their families are sacrificing a great deal of time and effort, and the rest of us should chip in to help defray their expenses when these become burdensome," Bishop Taylor said.
Note: After the June 28, 2008, story was printed, the following two couples joined the program. They are Jeff and ChristiLynn Priore of St. John Parish in Russellville and Jaime and Maria Josefina Flores of Immaculate Conception Parish in Fort Smith.
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