Information nights help men discern call to diaconate

Newly retired Kurt Loeffler of Queen of All Saints Parish in Oakville asked God for a sign that dioconate formation was the right move for him. God answered in the form of a parish deacon who called out of the blue asking Loeffler if he had ever considered the diaconate.

"I wanted to get hit over the head with a two-by-four ... and He hit me," Loeffler said, with a laugh. "That was my sign."

For Matt O'Neail of St. Rose of Lima Parish in De Soto, the call was more subtle. Three years of contemplation about "the desire to serve the Church more fully" preceded his joining the diaconate formation program.

Members of the 2018 diaconate ordination class, Loeffler and O'Neail are just two examples of how God calls men to the diaconate. Men's stage in life makes no difference either: God calls family men with children at home such as O'Neail or empty nesters with grandchildren such as Loeffler.

The archdiocese currently has two ordination classes in formation — the 2018 class and the 2020 class — and another on the way; the 2022 class is just entering its preliminary stage. Over the next few weeks, the Office of the Permanent Diaconate will hold three information nights, with three more slated for early next year. The info nights are spread throughout the archdiocese — Ladue, Florissant and Washington in the first go-round, and Creve Coeur, Perryville and O'Fallon early next year — to meet men where they are.

New deacons range in age from the early 40s into the 60s, and come from all walks of life. Loeffler spent his career at Anheuser Busch, Inc., before being downsized after InBev rolled into town.

"At the time, I said, 'God, you gave me this retirement and I feel blessed. What do you want me to do?'" Loeffler said. "That's why I'm in formation."

The diaconate also has a few good men from law enforcement. O'Neail is a criminal investigator with the Jefferson County Prosecutor's Office, and classmate T.J. Wild is a Franklin County deputy. Deacon Mark Byington, a former Dallas police office, has been a driving force behind the St. Michael's Retreat for emergency-responders at White House Jesuit Retreat. Deacon Stephen Young, now a Catholic school principal, is a former St. Louis Police Department officer. While the service component of clergy and law enforcement seem similar, O'Neail discovered a difference in hospital ministry.

"I deal every day with people who are strangers and try to help them solve problems, but what I actually found in hospital ministry was totally different," he said. "I'm not trying to solve anybody's problems. I'm just trying to be there with them, in their problem and walk with them."

Hospital ministry is among many area of expertise for future deacons, who spend five years in formation with classes two nights a week and a workshop one Saturday a month. The time commitment after ordination is about the same as during formation.

Even though the schedule seems challenging, the men's growth trumps the challenges.

"It's not like you ever feel you don't get anything out of it; the fruits of your classes show," O'Neail said. "It's called 'formation,' and you can see that formation from year to year. Of course, you're the same person but your perspective on things and the way you approach people and deal with people changes." 

Diaconate information meetings

Who: Married men and their wives, or single men

Why: To learn about the five-year Diaconate Formation Program and potentially serve the Lord as an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church.

Schedule (All meetings will begin at 7 p.m.):

• Thursday, Nov. 10 at Annunziata (Ladue)

• Tuesday, Nov. 15 at St. Ferdinand (Florissant)

• Thursday. Nov. 17 at Our Lady of Lourdes (Washington)

• Thursday, Feb. 9 at St. Monica (Creve Coeur)

• Tuesday, March 7 at Miraculous Medal Shrine (Perryville)

• Thursday, March 7 at Assumption (O'Fallon)

More information: Contact the Office of the Diaconate at (314) 792-7430

Mass of Remembrance

When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Sacred Heart Church in Valley Park

Why: To remember and pray for departed deacons who used their gifts from the Lord in service to His Church and for departed deacon wives whose sacrifices allowed them to do so.

Who: All are welcome 

Permanent Diaconate
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