Deacons a Vital Part of Clergy & Church Life

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
25 Mar 2015

Mervyn Francis with wife, Rita (far right) with other Diaconate aspirants and Father Danny Meagher

Tomorrow evening the Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP will ordain two men to the Permanent Diaconate of the Sydney Archdiocese.

The ordination ceremony will take place at St Mary's Cathedral and is the first Ordination of Permanent Deacons to take place in the Archdiocese in more than 20 years, and the first since the former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell re-established the Archdiocese's Permanent Diaconate in 2010.

The two candidates to be ordained are Mervyn Francis and Aisavali Salu.

Deacon Frank Zacker of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Permanent Diaconate

Their ordination comes after four years of study, spiritual and human formation overseen by the Director of Diaconal Formation for the Archdiocese, the Rev Dr Thomas Carroll, or as he fondly known to many as simply "Father Tom."

For Archbishop Anthony, the first Ordinations to the Diaconate since the early 1990s has profound meaning, for it was he who presented a discussion paper advocating the re-establishment of the Sydney Diaconate when he was Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese back in 2009.

It was this proposal to reopen the Archdiocese's program for the formation and deployment of Deacons at the Catholic Clergy Conference in Terrigal six years ago, along with further discussions with Cardinal Pell that led to the re-establishment of the Sydney Permanent Diaconate.

In the 1990s five men were ordained Deacons for the Archdiocese. Sadly Deacon Angel Portas and Deacon Elliot Casalegno have since passed away. However Deacon Frank Zacka, Deacon Louis Azzapardi, and Deacon Paul Naggar continue to serve and for the past 20-plus years have ministered to the sick, the aged, families and the young and exuberant, as well as carrying out baptisms, joining couples in Holy Matrimony and officiating at funerals.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will ordain two Permanent Deacons and four Transitional Deacons at St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday

Although deacons have been ordained and served the western Church since the second and third century, the numbers of permanent deacons gradually declined and became associated primarily with seminarians who are known as "transitional deacons" spending the last year or two working as deacons before the take their final vows and are ordained priests.

The Second Vatican Council urged dioceses around the world for a reinstatement and revitalisation of the tradition, this began in Sydney in the 1990s. But then for some reason, this fell by the wayside and it has taken the efforts of both Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Anthony to instigate a reinvigorated Permanent Diaconate and with input from Father Tom and the Sydney Catholic Institute to create a four year training, discernment and part-time study program for candidates.

In addition to study and discernment, candidates for the ancient Holy Order of Deacons are also given two years training and mentored experience in their home parishes followed by two years in an outside parish, enabling them to build up confidence for their public role as clergy.

Longtime member of the Diaconate of the Archdiocese of Sydney is Deacon Paul Naggar

Once ordained many of a deacon's duties are similar to those of a priest. He is an official minister in the liturgy and is entitled to preach, deliver homilies, carry out baptisms, celebrate marriages and officiate at funerals.

Unlike a priest, however, a deacon is not able to celebrate Mass, anoint the sick or hear confessions.

Another important difference is that while priests take a vow of celibacy, deacons are not only permitted to marry but for those called by God to the Diaconate are actively encouraged to maintain both their professional lives as well as their family lives.

Tomorrow when Mervyn Francis and Aisavali Salu are ordained Permanent Deacons, praying for the two men will be Mervyn's wife Rita and the couple's adult children and grandchildren, and Aisalvali's wife, Anita along with the Samoan-born couple's large,close-knit family.

The support, understanding and encouragement of families, and in particular wives, during formation, discernment and years of study to become ordained a Deacon, is regarded as vital as well as in the years that follow when the Deacon takes up his ministry.

Rev Dr Thomas Carroll popularly known as Father Tom is Director of Diaconal Formation

The Archdiocese encourages wives to join their candidate husbands at the initial meetings with Father Tom as Director of Diaconal Formation.

"The decision to pursue a vocation with the Diaconate affects the entire family and having the whole-hearted support and understanding of a wife is extremely important," he says, adding that if applicants do not have this support it is doubtful they will be accepted as candidates.

The word deacon literally means 'servant' and the original role of a deacon was to serve the poor.

Ordained in the 1990s Deacon Louis Azzapardi is a member of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Permanent Diaconate

But as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained in 2012 in modern times deacons serve a new kind of poverty, and described this as "spiritual and cultural poverty."

Although the newly ordained Permanent Deacons have already been appointed to parishes, their main role is to serve the bishop of the diocese where they were ordained and to minister to the poor, sick, vulnerable and marginalised as well as the spiritually impoverished and unhappy.

In addition to the Ordination of two Permanent Deacons, the Archbishop of Sydney will also ordain four "transitional deacons" at St Mary's Cathedral tomorrow night.

A member of the Emmanuel Community and a sixth year seminarian from the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Joshua Miechels will be ordained a Deacon. Three seminarians from Chester Hill's Redemptoris Mater Archdiocese Missionary Seminary of the Neocatechumunal Way will also be ordained transitional Deacons. They are Croatian-born, Mate Litric, Daney Irudayadoss from India and Gustavo Criollo Fansan from Ecuador.

The Ordination ceremony will begin at 6.30 pm at St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday evening, 26 March with the public welcome to attend.