by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Deacon Mike Schreck puts on his collar as a deacon for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, he expects to get questions.
And not just because many members of the archdiocese have never met a deacon before.
No, as a member of the clergy, answering questions about the Catholic faith is one of the many duties Deacon Schreck will be expected to fulfill.
But that’s only the beginning. The 17 newly ordained permanent deacons in the archdiocese can only expect their responsibilities to grow in number and evolve in complexity in the months and years to come.
Since he was ordained in April, Deacon Schreck has immersed himself in his assignment at Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
A member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, Deacon Schreck is now getting to know the people of Nativity.
He’s already given several fine homilies, said Nativity pastor Father Francis Hund. And the newly ordained deacon is learning to balance his many responsibilities — family, full-time job, and a new ministry.
To help him, he and Father Hund joined other pastors and permanent deacons from around the archdiocese at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan., for a special session on the role of a deacon in the church.
The June 22 workshop provided a good overview, said Father Hund. And it affirmed that he and his deacon were taking the right approach — a patient one — as they figure out how to work together.
The workshop was presented by Deacon Bill Ditewig, of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and a five-year veteran of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters, where he served as head of its diaconate office.
Deacon Ditewig first visited the archdiocese last January to share some history of the diaconate with the presbyterate.
This summer’s session looked at the specifics of introducing deacons to the parishes and negotiating what responsibilities a pastor would delegate to his deacon.
Deacons are distinct from priests, explained Deacon Ditewig. But, like priests, they are clergy, with their own specific role to play in church life.
“Deacons were renewed at the Second Vatican Council,” said Deacon Ditewig, and not because of a lack of priests. The renewed impulse for deacons can be traced to World War II, he explained.
While priests are signs of Christ the high priest, deacons are the sign of Christ the servant, and the need for that sign drove the renewal.
Like a priest and a bishop, he explained, deacons are ministers of word, sacrament and charity. Their functions include proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, and conducting wake and funeral services. Deacons lead in identifying others’ needs and bringing together church resources to meet them. A deacon also works to weed out the injustices at the root of those needs.
The archdiocesan workshop touched on everything from how often a deacon will preach to how to fulfill obligations in and outside the parish.
This is a two-pronged effort, explained Msgr. Gary Applegate, the head of the diaconate program for the first class of deacons. The deacons have their parish ministry, but will eventually also have a ministry related to charitable work.
That’s because in addition to the deacon’s role in the church, his reach should go far beyond its walls, said Deacon Ditewig.
The church needs “the deacon to be out and about, stirring things up in the street,” he explained.
And just as a priest can never “take off the priesthood,” he said, a deacon cannot step out of his role.
“If he’s a schoolteacher, he’s a deacon schoolteacher,” said Deacon Schreck. “If he’s a judge, he’s a deacon judge.”
A team of three is now heading up the brand-new archdiocesan diaconate office. Father Gary Pennings is the director, Father Greg Hammes is the associate director, and Leon Suprenant is the pastoral associate for administration. Father Pennings told the group that as this first class of deacons moves forward, the archdiocese will soon begin the discernment process for a future class.
Men interested in learning more about becoming deacons and about the process can look for information in the months to come through the archdiocese. There will be information nights scheduled and other opportunities to learn more. Those interested in the diaconate can find more on the archdiocesan Web site at: www.archkck.org. Anyone with questions may also send an e-mail Suprenant at: firstname.lastname@example.org.