A History of the Order of Permanent Deacon
in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, New York
The Second Vatican Council restored the permanent diaconate. It had been missing from our churches for centuries. The Apostles established the diaconate (Acts of the Apostles chapter 6). They determined a need for assistants to take on tasks that would free them to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Over time the order vanished for many complicated reasons. The Church still recognized an order of deacons but these were men transitioning to the priesthood. The Fathers of the Council saw a need to re-establish a permanent order of men willing to serve the church. These were men who were not called to the priesthood. They could be married before receiving the Sacrament of Orders, with their wife’s permission. If a permanent deacon’s wife predeceased him, he would pledge to remain celibate thereafter. This new order would pledge obedience to their Bishop and work in collaboration with priests to assist the Bishop in his mandate to spread the good news, respond to the needs of his flock through charity and justice and lead people in prayer. This was a challenging new world for Dioceses. How do we select and form such men?
Bishop Stanislaus Brzana restored the diaconate in the Diocese of Ogdensburg on April 22, 1977. Fr. Donald Manfred, now pastor in Croghan NY, was asked to develop a program of formation for the first permanent deacons of Ogdensburg. Since then 107 men have been ordained. Sixteen more will be ordained to the order October 7, 2017.
The faculty for formation initially came from Wadhams Hall Seminary College and Mater Dei in Ogdensburg. By necessity the formation program has evolved. Mater Dei no longer exists. Wadhams Hall is now closed as a Seminary College but continues as a retreat center and diocesan gathering space. Catholic Charities is also located there. The formation faculty today is drawn from among the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese. Aspirants and candidates utilize on-line courses through Notre Dame University. The men in formation still meet one weekend a month from September to June for additional class work, for prayer together and fellowship. A program of formation for the wives of the men in formation is also on-going.
Fr. Manfred has been a proponent of deacons from the start and is generally pleased with the evolution in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. He was succeeded by a number of priests who led the formation program with distinction. The current director is Deacon John White.
Overall Fr. Manfred is satisfied with the development of the order which celebrates 40 years in this diocese in 2017. The Deacons of the diocese, candidates and their wives gather each spring with Bishop LaValley to pray, learn and socialize. Bishop LaValley has also established a Council of Deacons. The representatives of deacons from the diocese and two representatives of the wives of deacons meet with him to discuss matters of interest to the community.
Separately the deacon community established the St. Lawrence Society to foster harmony in the community, provide care and comfort when needed and to establish continuing education opportunities to the ordained.
Deacons are involved in many diverse roles in parishes and diocesan offices. Deacon Patrick Donahue, for example, has just been named director of Catholic Charities. Deacon James Crowley is Diocesan Chancellor. There are deacons working at almost every level of parish and diocesan life
The role of deacons in our diocese continues to evolve. The vision of Bishop Brzana, the work of Father Manfred and his successors, has led to a collaboration that fills a need in our parishes and responds to the call, Here I Am Lord.