USML | Becoming A Deacon

Institute for Diaconal Studies

Becoming A Deacon

An Exciting Time of Inquiry

 The first steps of inquiry are an exciting time of learning about the role of a deacon as well as the path to becoming one. First, and foremost, is gaining an understanding of vocation discernment. Discernment is an ongoing process where we truly understand what our God desires of us in fulfilling our baptismal commitment.

There are many other preliminary questions in your mind including the role of your wife and what the four-year process of formation entails.

Each of the side-bar buttons will help the inquiry process.

Vocation Discernment

What does God want of me?

The question is not really, “Do I want to be a deacon?” Rather you must ask yourself, “What does God want me to be? How am I responding to God’s personal call?” Through our baptism, God calls each of us to be active in our faith journeys.  A vocation (from the Latin  word vocare—which means “to call”) is an invitation from God to a particular and specific ministerial lifestyle. An authentic vocation to the permanent diaconate receives confirmation from three sources—God, the individual and the Church.


How do I know if God is calling me to diaconal ministry or a more committed walk with Jesus as a lay minister?

This question is what discernment is all about. As you consider inquiring about a diaconal path consider that Christian discernment implies a life of faith and a sense of one’s relationship with God. Discernment requires a heart ready to listen and respond in prayer and reflection. Discernment also requires an open mind and heart prepared to learn about the diaconate and to decide what choice in your life will bring the greatest joy to God, the world and yourself.


The process of prayer and reflection that helps you make a decision about your life with help of the Holy Spirit is called "discernment." It is the process of sifting through or sorting out—and discovering God's will for you.

In this process you deal with three elements: God, yourself, and the Church’s representation. During the process, hopefully, you will get to know yourself better and God better. As you begin, remember that both you and God ultimately desire the same thing—happiness. You want to make a decision about your life that will bring the most happiness to God. If you do that, this also will bring happiness to you in your life. Therefore, you and God really seek the same goal.

However, there is an additional step to discernment, and it follows the recognition of what you believe God is calling you to do. This is the confirmation of your call. If you discern a call to ordained ministry in the diaconate, Jesus’ Church journeys with you to reflect, pray and test your call. If the Church confirms that your call seems to come from the Lord, you are invited on a journey that may lead to a new way of life for you and your family.

Those discerning a vocation incorporate a deeper level of prayer, simplicity of life, and commitment to the poor that fosters a spirit of trust. It fosters mutual respect and humility. Accountability in formation is an invitation to deeper conversion, and, a spirit of service and authentic obedience are visible hallmarks of discerning a personal vocation.


Successful Discernment

In the process of inquiring an individual should search their minds and hearts with the help of their pastor or spiritual director. Our willingness to follow our vocation is a huge factor in our ability to discover it. Discovery includes both our intellect and our heart. True discernment also gains approval from our mentors, pastors and spouses.

It is important to remember, discernment is not one-sided. It is not a decision solely made by an individual. The three major components that confirm an authentic vocation are God, the individual and the Church. The Church is represented by the local Ordinary (bishop) who delegates responsibility to an official and specific program, e.g., the Institute for Diaconal Studies. 

Here are some key thoughts that play a role in successful discernment:

We overcome the instability of our emotions. Christian life becomes a matter of conviction and love.

The attraction of riches and pleasures of this life are not pursued nor minimized – we don’t reject our humanity – but we do know their proper place and perspective.

The Word of God finds ‘good soil’ when it is incorporated in our soul. 

We possess honest and pure motivation and our attitude is that of Christ.

We stop thinking about our gifts and ourselves and concentrate on others.

We are willing to pray for enlightenment.

We desire self-knowledge and we accept the objectivity of outsiders.

We possess a desire for the committed life that is forever. It is not short-term in its nature but a lifetime commitment.

We possess a willingness to assess our life and we are authentic and sincere in pursuing holiness. We not only strive to be a ‘saint’ but we endeavor to lead others to a saintly existence.

We realize that our faith is growing and we desire to be consumed for the Lord.

We open ourselves to a growing sensitivity to the needs of people and to learning to lead people to Jesus Christ.

We acquire in a spirit of humility and virtue a growing sense that God has something great and special planned for us

We humbly accept the objective assessment of the Church’s representative (IDS) in formal vocation discernment.


All applications are requested through and submitted by the sponsoring pastor.

Deacons must be involved in the world. As the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States tells us, “The diaconate is lived in a particularly powerful way in the manner in which a deacon fulfills his obligations to his secular occupation, to his civic and public responsibilities, and among his family and neighbors. This … enables the deacon to bring back to the Church an appreciation of the meaning and value of the Gospel as he discerns it in the lives and questions of the people he has encountered.” (par. 58)

“The deacon is ordained precisely for service in both the sanctuary and the marketplace.” (par. 59)

The Institute for Diaconal Studies (IDS) is looking for men who are already living a lifestyle of service to the Church and their community, men whose lifestyles of service would be further strengthened and sacramentalized by the reception of Holy Orders.


Ministerial Involvement

  • Have a verifiable record of service to the parish community in ministry of the Word, Liturgy, and Charity and Justice.
  • Be passionate about the Church’s mission of charity, and involved in these ministries.

Vocational Support

  • Recommended by your pastor and have the full support of the pastoral staff.
  • Have the full consent of your wife (if married) and family.
  • Also, your wife must possess the Christian moral character to support your vocation, and must be willing to participate in those formation program activities where her presence is required.

Stability of Life

  • Be fully initiated (baptized, confirmed, received Eucharist) into the Catholic Church for at least three years and be living a life that adheres to Catholic teaching.
  • Be of good moral character with an active spiritual and prayer life that incorporates Catholic worship (Eucharist/Mass) regularly and the Sacrament of Penance frequently.
  • If married, should be in a stable, valid and sacramental marriage for at least three years (Catholic Matrimony).
  • If divorced, living a chaste lifestyle and decree granted at least three years prior to application.
  • If widowed, living a chaste lifestyle for at least three years.
  • If single, living a chaste lifestyle and be willing to commit to a lifetime of celibacy at ordination (Chastity refers to correct moral living based on Catholic Christian moral teaching and celibacy refers to not being married).

Age, Residency, Health, Employment

  • Be at least 31 and not older than 62 at the time of application.
  • Reside in the Archdiocese of Chicago (Cook or Lake Counties).
  • Be in good physical and mental health, and, if addicted, actively in recovery.
  • Financially self-sufficient with a history of steady employment.

Education and Background

  • Have at least a high school diploma or GED, with an ability to do the required college-level academic work of the program.
  • Have completed a criminal background check, Code of Conduct form, Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System form (CANTS), attended Protecting God’s Children (Virtus) awareness program as well as Mandated Reporter Training,  undergo routine physical examination (men and women) and psychological inventory (men only), and (if married) participate in a marriage inventory.
  • Complete a Pre-Application & Inquiry Form and provide all required documentation with formal application (applications are made through a sponsoring pastor).


The Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons states “… Moreover, in addition to stability of family life, married candidates cannot be admitted (to formation programs) unless ‘their wives not only consent, but also have the Christian moral character and attributes which will neither hinder their husband’s ministry nor be out of keeping with it.’” Paragraph 37

The Institute for Diaconal Studies (IDS) provides opportunities for growth, enrichment and information needed by wives to make such a decision — to ascertain her compatibility with her husband’s diaconal vocation and eventual ministry, and to offer continued formation so that she may give her informed consent to her husband’s participation. In fact, four times during the formation process, wives are required to give consent for their husband’s continued participation in formation: prior to Candidacy, Institution as Reader and Acolyte, and prior to Ordination.

What is required of wives during the formation process?

Wives are strongly encouraged to participate fully during the Aspirancy Path but may choose a ‘Key Event’ path. If their husbands are called to the three-year Candidacy Path, wives participate in the Women of Witness series. The series focuses on the spirituality and support systems unique to wives of candidates and includes some weeknights, Saturdays, retreats and participation in all Rites, practices and Theological Reflection groups. The series also fosters healthy marriages and the positive role wives play in the formation of their husband and enhances the ability to give informed consent.

Wives of Aspirants and Candidates invariably grow and benefit enormously as they accompany their husbands in the formation program. Candidates and wives are nurtured and nourished by the intellectual and spiritual development of their faith through various classes, presentations. And prayer opportunities. This not only better prepares them for their husband’s ordination and ministry, but allows them to discover their own gifts and talents as they ponder the ministerial possibilities they see for themselves as lay ministers in the Church.

It is important to note, however, that wives of deacons are not conferred any special status, rights or privileges to minister in a parish on the basis of their husband’s ordination. The primary role of a deacon’s wife is to provide support of their husband’s ministry.

Formation Program Overview

Journey to ordination is minimally four years

Aspirancy is one-year of formal vocation discernment prior to acceptance into candidacy (three years).  In essence, participants are ‘aspiring’ to become a candidate and the journey to ordination is minimally four years. Though the foundation is formational and not necessarily academic in the first year, there are academic introductions during the Aspirancy Path.

  • Introduction to Theological Studies
  • Theology study skills—reading and writing application to theology
  • Catechism (20-hour academic course with an exam/assessment)
  • Catholic Social Teaching
  • Ecumenism
  • Presiding at Rites & Rituals I (intro to leading public prayer)
  • Homiletics I (intro to public speaking/communication)
  • Theological Reflection I
  • Overview to Christology, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Scripture, Church History, and Moral Theology

All aspirants and candidates meet regularly in a Theological Reflection Group and attend an annual retreat.  At the conclusion of aspirancy, participants meet with the Admission & Scrutinies Board for potential recommendation for entry into candidacy.

Here is a glimpse of some of the required academic and formation activities each year during candidacy.  Also, year 1 and 2 candidates and their wives participate in an annual Theology of the Body / Celibacy Retreat.

Candidacy Year 1


Old Testament
New Testament
Special Moral II

Sacraments of Initiation
Proclamation Skills and Techniques (Homiletics II)
Diversity Competencies


Diaconal Ministry in a Multi-Cultural Church
Theological Reflection Groups
Pastoral Issues


Presiding at Rites and Rituals I
Worship I (Ritual & Music)


Service to the Word Field Education


Rite of Candidacy
Institution of Reader

Candidacy Year 2


Eucharist as Sacrament and Sacrifice
Special Moral III
Homiletics III (exegesis)
Canon Law


Theological Reflection II
Theological Reflection Groups
Pastoral Issues


Presiding at Rites and Rituals Intensive
             Presiding at Baptisms
             Witnessing and Blessing Marriages
             Assisting at the Funeral Mass

             Presiding at Wake Services, Interments
             Assisting at Mass (Sunday/weekdays)
             Adoration & Benediction

             Presiding at Communion Services
             Pastoral Care of the Sick
             Deacon’s role in the Triduum


Service to Liturgy Field Internship


Institution of Acolyte

Candidacy Year 3


Special Moral IV
Homiletics IV
Integrating Seminar
Church History
Sacraments of Healing and Vocation


Preparing engaged couples for Marriage
Theological Reflection Groups
Vicar’s Meetings
       (Faculties, Rights, Privileges, Duties and Responsibilities of Deacons)
Pastoral Issues


Presiding at Rites and Rituals III
             Presiding at Baptisms
             Witnessing and Blessing Marriages
             Assisting at the Funeral Mass
             Presiding at Wake Services, Interments

             Presiding at Benediction/Devotions
             Presiding at Liturgy of the Hours
             Assisting at Mass (Sunday/weekdays)
             Leadership and the Liturgy of the Hours

Worship II (Chants & Responses)


Comprehensive examination

Admission & Scrutinies Board

Year 3 candidates meet with the Admission & Scrutinies Board at the end of the winter quarter for potential admission to the ‘ordination path’ (final months) leading to a five-day ordination retreat and potential ordination.


Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate

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