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Deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver: Sign of Hope for the Catholic Church

By Deacon Joseph Donohoe
August 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (

The need for Deacons to be contemplative is now reflected in the formation program where in the first year, men seeking the vocational call will be "dedicated" to contemplation and deep discernment.  This is so important to the life of the Church, that our Archbishop has given us the gift of a full time Spiritual Director for men in formation. Father Dennis Brown, an OVM, who is well versed in spirituality and will help guide the men throughout their formation.

DENVER, CO (Catholic Online) - (Note from the Editor in Chief, Deacon Keith Fournier: I recently had the joy of spending a few days in Denver, Colorado. My readers know that I believe that the Archdiocese of Denver is one of the model Catholic Dioceses in the United States. I am intrigued and inspired by the vision emerging for the Diaconate in Christ in that Diocese. After all, that is my vocation.

In 1996, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), I was ordained to the Order of Deacons in the Catholic Church and my life was profoundly changed. When I lay prostrate on the floor that day in preparation for the imposition of the hands of my Bishop and the reception of the Book of the Gospels, I knew that things would never be the same. The diaconate in Christ is a vocation, a call that changes the man who says "Yes". The word vocation comes from the latin Vocare, to call, or to hear a voice. 

As our Catechism summarizes, "The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the deacon or servant of all." (CCC#1570) Ordination changed me. I now serve as a member of the Catholic clergy in everything that I do. Deacons do not have some sort of "weekend assignment". Ordination affects a man ontologically. Like all clerics, Deacons are called to live a unity of life.  I often say that our own witness is to live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. Deacons have a vital role in the New Evangelization of the Church. We are an icon of Christ the Servant, going from the altar and the ambo into the world, in order to bring those to whom we proclaim the Good news in word and deed, into the new world of the Church. 

During my time in Denver, I had the joy of participating in the Annual Deacon Day Vigil Liturgy and Dinner on the Feast of the Deacon and Martyr Lawrence. Archbishop Samuel Aquila presided at the beautiful Vigil Liturgy and spoke at the dinner. This joyful and holy Archbishop gave one of the finest homilies on the mission and identity of a Catholic Deacon I have heard. His assignment to Denver one year ago is one more sign of the Lord's favor on this New Evangelization Center for the Catholic Church in the United States.

The Liturgy was followed by a Dinner at which Deacon Joe Donohue, the Director of Deacon Personnel for the Archdiocese, was one of the presenters. I am pleased to offer Deacon Joe's assessment of the state of the Diaconate in Denver below for our readers.)

Deacon Joseph Donohoe: Address at the Annual Deacon Day Dinner 2013 

Your Excellency, Archbishop Aquila, Dearest Vicars and Msgrs, Brother Priests and Deacons, Wives of Deacons and my Brothers and Sisters in Christ; this year has seen wonderful improvements for the Diaconate in Denver, as our Deacon community continues to set the trend for our 15,000 brothers across the country. Indeed, the past year has been rich with transitions for the entire people of the Archdiocese of Denver. 

Just a little over a year ago, we saw the installation of our new Bishop Aquila. That was followed by the installation of Bishop Conley in Lincoln only a few months later.  We witnessed the election of a new Roman Pontiff, who humbly took the name of the Deacon Saint Francis of Assisi.  What is more; we are told he took the Deacon's name to show his love for the Church and for the poor of the world. 

At the same time, we watched, for the first time in 600 years, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, step down from the Chair of Peter and dedicate his life to praying for Holy Mother Church and Her children.  How fortunate we are, to have such grace poured out upon us in this post-modern era of relativism! Confident in the fact that we have a Pope that leads us and one that prays for us! With all these blessings, it is appropriate that the Church has declared this time as "the Year of Faith".  Indeed, it is by the grace of God that in announcing this Year of Faith, the faithful have been called to read and to study the Vatican II documents anew and to evaluate the documents in light of today's world. 

Of course, among those significant historical transcripts are the words that reinstated a dedicated Diaconate within the Church. It is no coincidence; indeed, it is providence, that these Vatican II documents, along with the priorities of Archbishop Aquila, remind us, as Clergy, to reassess our spiritual health and to make the quest for holiness our number one goal. The document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum, calls the Clergy to hold fast to Sacred Scripture through diligent sacred reading and careful study, so that "none of us will be empty preachers." 

At the same time, we are being challenged by Archbishop Aquila, to seek holiness first and to be men immersed in Sacred Scripture-not just reading the text, but, as stated in Dei Verbum, making it 'a prayer' so that in the reading and in the prayer, "God and man may talk together". The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, calls the Diaconate to "read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful" and "to instruct and exhort the people". 

And so, a renewed emphasis has been placed on Deacons to study scripture and know the Gospels intimately, so that when we teach and when we preach, we speak from the heart of Jesus Christ who was obedient to God the Father, even unto death. Lumen Gentium also tells Clerics that we are "Bound! - to bring our hearts and minds" in accord with our vocation by our "constancy in prayer".

The need for Deacons to be contemplative is now reflected in the formation program where in the first year, men seeking the vocational call will be "dedicated" to contemplation and deep discernment.  This is so important to the life of the Church, that our Archbishop has given us the gift of a full time Spiritual Director for men in formation. Father Dennis Brown, an OVM, who is well versed in spirituality and will help guide the men throughout their formation.

Also, to enhance our conversation with the Triune God, we have increased the number of silent retreats for active Deacons so that our souls may be refreshed and clear from all outside distractions during our retreat experience.  These retreats are designed to enable us to contemplate deeply on the word of God, and configure our lives to the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Deacon.

For as Pope Francis explained, "when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are NOT Disciples of the lord.  We are worldly." As Deacons, we must be examples to others by carrying our cross with humility; otherwise, our words and deeds are empty. It is important for us to know, that the Deacon cross is marked with the martyr's stole, requiring us to be witnesses even unto death, if necessary.

In consideration of these words, the Deacon Council has also established an Emmaus group similar to the Caritas group for Priests. This program enables Deacons to help each other in spiritual enlightenment and daily prayer. This year has also seen an increase in the Deacon's ministry of charity; especially as it relates to the Archbishop's ministry of service. In Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Letter, Ad Pascendum (a product of Lumen Gentium), it states "the Deacon is at the disposal of the Bishop in order that he (the Bishop) may serve the whole people of God."  It is this statement and our own ordination promises that call us to a radical availability to the mystery of Christ and to the service of the people of God.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, initiatives are underway to help Deacons seek out those situations where the Archbishop's diaconal ministry is not being realized and to assist those who have been neglected and forgotten.  And through the blessing of the Archbishop, dedicated Deacons, as servant leaders, are increasing their presence in the homeless shelters, work camps, prisons and hospitals, in coordination with Catholic Charities, Centro San Juan Diego and the Deaneries. Deacons continue to be present in nursing homes, hospices, and assist living facilities, bringing Christ to homeless, the poor, the elderly and the dying allowing them to have solace and peace in their lives and to give comfort to their family and friends.

In this year of growth and transition, we have also witnessed the first Encyclical of our new Pontiff, Lumen Fidei and the family that brings children to God through faith and light. Deacons, working with the Office of Evangelization and Family Life, are finding ways to promote the sanctity and holiness of a Sacramental Marriage between a man, a woman and God.  These Deacons are doing research to help their brother Clergy in defending the Holy Sacrament against a society unable to comprehend that truth; goodness and beauty have their origins in Almighty God.

In this Archdiocese, Deacons have long been assertive in protecting life from conception until natural death.  So, as a part of Archbishop Aquila's priority, the Diaconate, in conjunction with the Office of Regina Caeli Counseling Services, have been participating in training sessions to better assist those who suffer from the guilt of an abortion-encouraging them to get help and leading them into the confessionals and into the church.

With all the transitions and improvements over the past year; we have much to do and much to inspire us.  In our prayers, let us thank God for our Archbishop and his leadership and for the Grace of the Holy Spirit that leads us to the work of the Father in the name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Deacon.

Deacon Joseph Donohoe  is the Director of Deacon Personnel for the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit their web site

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