Shining a Light on the Vocation of Deacon
By Lisa M. Hendey
©Catholic Online 2005
An Author Interview with Deacon William T. Ditewig, PhD, author of 101 Questions & Answers on Deacons
In the late 1960s, Vatican II reinstated the role of “permanent” deacon and new generations of men were called to a vocation in the diaconate. Since then, this important role of service has flourished and is now one of the most rapidly expanding vocations in the Catholic Church. Despite this growth, many outside the Church and even many of those served by deacons within their own parish settings have a limited understanding of the nature of the permanent diaconate.
In his new book 101 Questions & Answers on Deacons (Paulist Press, November 2004, paperback, 144 pages), Deacon William T. Ditewig, PhD answers many of the most common questions on the role of permanent deacons. Deacon Ditewig’s approachable style and the question and answer format of this book make it an accessible, informative resource for those looking to learn more about this unique form of service. The book’s introduction discusses the function of deacons in the contemporary Catholic Church.
Deacon Ditewig, Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently took time to discuss the role of the deacon and the special men called to live out this vocation.
Q. It is a great pleasure to share this Catholic Book Spotlight interview with Deacon William Ditewig, author of 101 Questions & Answers on Deacons. Deacon Ditewig, thank you for your time. Would you please share a bit about your own background and vocation as a deacon?
A: I was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, and I spent high school and college as a seminarian for the Peoria Diocese. After leaving the seminary after college (and a BA in Philosophy) I soon found myself about to be drafted into the military. Not wishing to be drafted, I joined the Navy, and served for 22 years, retiring as a Commander in 1993. During my Navy career, I remained active in ministry and in education, serving in a variety of lay ministries at the many places we lived around the United States and the world.
A close friend of mine, a priest of the Peoria Diocese, was the director of the diaconate for the diocese for many years, and when my family and I would visit home, he and I would talk about his work with deacons, and I was increasingly intrigued by the possibilities of the ministry. Eventually, during a military assignment in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, I applied for the diaconate formation program and was accepted. I was ordained a deacon by James Cardinal Hickey in 1990. Since I was still on active duty in the Navy at that time, I spent three years as a deacon at an Air Force base on Okinawa while I was serving as Executive Officer of a Navy base at the same time.
Since my retirement from the Navy in 1993 I have served in parish ministry, as well as diocesan ministry. I served as Director of Pastoral Services for the Dioceses of Davenport, Iowa and Belleville, Illinois and as Executive Director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. Normally, my parish-based ministries include adult faith formation in addition to the assorted other ministries normally associated with parish life (communion calls and so forth). I also teach graduate courses in Ecclesiology and Church History (my Ph.D. is from the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America).
Q. Given the rising popularity of the permanent diaconate as a vocation, your new book is very timely. What prompted you to write this book and what is your goal for the book?
A: There are still many myths and misperceptions within the Catholic community about the nature and ministry of the diaconate. I hoped that this book would be a useful resource for anyone who was interested in finding out more about the diaconate. There has been remarkably little written about the diaconate over the years, and I hoped that this popular format (101 Q & A) would be particularly suited to the issues involved.
Q. I don’t want to “give away” too many of the questions you answer in the book, but I do have a few questions about the role of the diaconate. How does one know that he has a call to be a deacon?
A: A person can examine his life and trace his involvement in serving others, for a start. "Being a deacon" is not something that a person can be taught; what we look for are people who are already serving in many diaconal capacities already: reaching out to the marginalized, active in parish life, attempting to find ways of meeting the needs of others. ...
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