Restoration of the diaconate as a permanent office in the church was recommended by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI restored the diaconate in 1967 but left it up to bishops’ conferences to decide if the restoration was necessary in their jurisdictions. In 1968 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States asked for and received permission to restore the diaconate in this country.
In 1974, the Most Reverend James J. Byrne, then Archbishop of Dubuque, accepted a recommendation of the Priests’ Senate to restore the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese. On May 15, 1975 he appointed Reverend Paul Steimel to be the first director of the Permanent Diaconate Program. A Task Force consisting of Fr. Cletus Wessels, O.P., Fr. James Barta, Fr. Thomas Rhomberg, and Father Edward Frost were responsible for developing the first preparation program. A Core Staff of instructors and consultants included the Rev. Gary Krapfl, the Rev. David Hynous, Msgr. Timothy Gannon, Sister M. Damien, PBVM, and Mrs. Clarice Flagel.
Applications for the first class were accepted in the fall of 1975. Classes began in the spring of 1976. The classes met in regional settings for one semester. Those living in the Waterloo region met at St. Joseph Church in Waterloo. Those living in Dubuque and Cedar Rapids region met at Epworth. The two groups came together in the fall of 1976 and met at St. Francis (now Covenant Medical Center) in Waterloo. On November 5, 1978, 15 permanent deacons were the first to be ordained in the Dubuque Archdiocese.
Members of sixteen additional classes have since been ordained. There are presently 121 deacons in the Archdiocese – 96 are active and 25 are retired. The majority are in parish ministry. Deacons and their wives often exercise joint ministries. Seven deacons serve in full time ecclesial ministry within the Archdiocese. In 2009, five Hispanic men were ordained deacons, and serve the needs of their local Hispanic Community.
Formation of a deacon does not end with ordination. There are continuing education and spiritual formation requirements established and monitored by deacons and wives through the Diaconal Community Council. Each year deacons and their wives attend a day of reflection, a continuing education day and a weekend retreat.
The diaconate office it located at the Pastoral Center in Dubuque. Deacon Tom Lang is the director and is assisted by Deacon Ray Larsen, Assistant Director of Formation; Deacon Rick Wallace, Assistant Director of Post Ordination Activities; and Deacon Gerald Jorgensen, Canonical Affairs. A Permanent Diaconate Formation Board, appointed by the Archbishop consisting of two priests, five deacons and two deacon’s wives. The Board recommends aspirants to the diaconate and helps plan and supervise their program of studies and spiritual growth during the four and a half years of diaconal formation.
Within the Christian community the deacon is particularly called to a ministry of service and presence. The deacon is to call others to shared responsibility and shared ministry. He is further called to facilitate the ministry of others so that the priests are freed for their presidential and sacramental roles. He accomplishes this through his ministry of service, whether it be a ministry of Charity, the Word or the Liturgy. Deacon Jorgensen, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the diaconate in the Archdiocese noted that “Diaconate ministry is not ours to possess. It is a ministry which has been given to us in trust, to share generously and without reservation with the whole church. It is a trust through which deacons model, symbolize, and exemplify what all the baptized – ordained and non-ordained – are called to be and do. We ultimately possess only what we are willing to give up and share with others.”