Deacon Amado Lim and his wife, Lourdes, from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, look on during the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans. Photo by Scott Warden

A National Celebration

Thousands flock to congress to mark 50 years of the diaconate

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For years, the leadership of the National Association of Diaconate Directors (NADD) had been planning a special celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Church. The culmination of their work took place July 22-26 in New Orleans, where more than 2,800 people — including more than 1,300 permanent deacons — gathered at the 2018 National Diaconate Congress. In an email interview with Deacon Digest, Deacon Thomas Dubois of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, executive director of the NADD, reflected on the success of the congress and also its role in moving forward the diaconate in the United States.

Deacon Digest: In preparation for the congress, what was the goal? What were you hoping the congress would bring to the diaconate as a whole and to deacons individually?

Deacon Thomas Dubois: The goal and mission of the 2018 National Diaconate Congress was to celebrate and give thanks to God and the Church for the renewed ministry of the diaconate on its 50th anniversary in the United States. The congress sought to recognize the diaconate as a significant fruit of the Second Vatican Council, to reflect on the journey and accomplishments of the diaconate thus far, and to envision the future of the order that it may bring even more benefits to the Church.

Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu gives Communion of Columbus, Ohio during Mass at the National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans.

NADD organized the congress to help deacons better understand the history of the order that has resulted in the diaconate as we know it today. For deacons who could not attend, videos of the presentations can be watched on the 2018 website (deacon2018.org). Once deacons see and understand the history of the last 50 years, they will be able to seek out more and better ways to serve the Church and the People of God.

It was our hope that the grand size of the gathering, the opportunity to worship together, to hear inspiring presentations and to interact with other deacons from around the country would inspire an awareness of the breadth of diaconal ministry, and that it would renew us along the congress’ theme of “Christ the Servant: Yesterday, Today and Forever.”

Deacon Digest: Why was it important to you and to NADD to mark the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the diaconate? What does that milestone mean in the life of the Church?

Deacon Dubois: By virtue of NADD’s relationship with the USCCB regarding the diaconate, and because our members are leaders appointed by each bishop, we recognized our responsibility to request a national gathering so that all deacons could celebrate the 50th anniversary. Back in 2009, the NADD Board of Directors passed a resolution identifying the then-upcoming anniversary in 2018. The resolution also identified our intention to respectfully ask the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to issue an invitation to all deacons to join in this event.

The congress recognizes the 50th anniversary of two related events in 1968: Pope Paul VI granting permission to the bishops of the United States to establish the permanent diaconate and the initiative of the USCCB to form the Committee on the Diaconate. To the Church today, the milestone marks the tremendous growth of diaconal ministry and the many ways that diaconal ministry is exercised in word, liturgy and charity.

Deacon Digest: What do you hope are the fruits of this congress for deacons and the diaconate in the United States?

Deacon Dubois: The fruits of the congress are many. Participation alone by over 2,800 people from nearly every diocese in the United States, along with some international attendees, affirms that the diaconate is a significant vocation in the Church. To have so many bishops speak positively about the diaconate sends a message about the value of the diaconate and their contributions to the Church. Several speakers observed that the renewed diaconate is still relatively new at just 50 years old, which means that the potential for the diaconate is still expanding.

Deacon Digest: With the success of the congress, are there any plans for future national gatherings of deacons? What would the benefits and challenges be?

Did You Miss the Congress?
If you were unable to attend the 2018 National
Diaconate Congress in New Orleans, the National
Association of Diaconate Directors has you covered.
On its website for the congress (deacon2018.org),
you can view videos of each Mass and each presentation
from the general sessions, including talks by:

• Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin
• Deacon James Keating
• Deacon Greg Kandra
• Bishop W. Shawn McKnight
• Teresa Tomeo and Deacon Dominic Pastore
• Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo

Deacon Dubois: Enthusiasm among congress attendees generated requests for future national gatherings, but we need to differentiate between milestone events such as the 2018 congress and the possibility of more frequent but smaller gatherings. Certainly, the response to the congress tells us that deacons are committed to their ministry and that they are willing to invest in the costs to attend diaconal gatherings. The next milestone event will be in 25 or 50 years; those responsible for organizing events at that time may not be ordained or even born yet! In the meantime, smaller gatherings may be possible, but first it will require exploration and study by the NADD board. A national gathering, even one that is smaller than the congress, will still require a huge commitment of money, time and resources. There also needs to be an understanding that more frequent gatherings will not carry the significance of an event like the congress, which will limit the number of dignitaries available to speak and the size of the event.

Deacon Digest: What has been the feedback from the deacons and speakers?

Deacon Dubois: The post-congress survey tells us that participants enjoyed the congress. On a scale of 1 to 5, the event scored 4.7 overall, which confirms what we already knew — the congress was a great success! Attendees appreciated the general-session speakers and workshop topics. Many people told us that they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and a sense of joy as they prayed Mass and lauds together in such a large group. There also was the usual gamut of complaints (too hot/too cold, too long/too short, more this/less that), but the overwhelmingly positive evaluations were far beyond the expectations of the planning committee. To everyone who participated in the 2018 National Diaconate Congress, thank you!