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 | By Father Joseph Benedict and Deacon Philip Flowers

Service to the Ministry of Charity

The ministry of permanent deacons is a unique vocation within the Catholic Church. The call to be a deacon is a distinct expression of our shared call to discipleship through baptism. Deacons serve in ways that lay people do not, but their vocation is also distinct from that of a priest. They embody the humble service to which we are called as Christians in the way they assist the bishops and priests and care most especially for the marginalized among the people of God.

In 2000, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath revitalized the ministry of the permanent diaconate to the Diocese of San José. He asked Father Jack Bonsor to research and develop a comprehensive program for the formation of deacons.

Father Bonsor felt that a basic requirement for entrance into deacon formation should be at least two years of the diocese’s new Institute for Leadership in Ministry (ILM), since participation in the Institute both ensures adequate preparation and facilitates necessary discernment. He also felt strongly that if the diocese meant to invest in this kind of program, it should be expanded to include individuals not called to ordained ministry. This would allow lay persons to be trained, educated, and formed alongside the deacon candidates.

Consequently, he collaborated with ILM Director Anne Grycz, and the two met with the director of Santa Clara University’s Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries. The department agreed to strengthen its collaboration with the diocese and provide the academic component of the combined Deacon/Advanced Lay Leadership formation program. This collaboration has deepened over the years and continues today.

Meanwhile, the other essential components of the program’s formation — the spiritual, pastoral, and human components — are provided through a combination of retreats, field experience, and monthly Saturday sessions. Since ordained ministry impacts married life, the wives of men in formation are integral voices of discernment and are required to attend the Saturday sessions and retreats.

The leadership of the program involves both ordained and lay persons. Grycz and Father Bonsor led the program for the first few years. Currently, Deacon Philip Flowers is director, while Irma Alarcon de Rangel leads the Advanced Lay Leader Program.

The first six deacons for the Diocese of San José were ordained in 2005. At the same time, three advanced lay leaders completed their formation. Since 2008, 33 additional deacons have been ordained.

The primary ministry of deacons for the Diocese of San José is charity and justice to the marginalized of the community. Deacons are often involved in ministries such as visiting people in jail or hospitals, caring for the homebound and infirm, and helping house and feed the homeless. Deacons also work to change social and economic systems that marginalize people.

Most deacons are also affiliated with a parish, where most of the faithful encounter permanent deacons. Within the parish context, deacons may assist at Mass; preside at baptisms, weddings, and funerals; and lead prayer services. Deacons, who can serve multicultural and multilingual communities, are vital to our diocese. Some deacons minister primarily among specific ethnic groups, including Hispanic, Vietnamese, and African Catholics.

Father Joseph Benedict is the pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph and the director of the Ongoing Clergy Formation program. Deacon Philip Flowers is a permanent deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Morgan Hill and the director of deacon formation.