Deacon Convocation: We are living in challenging spiritual times

FAIRFIELD—Bishop Caggiano unveiled a plan for a spiritual association called the Diaconate Confraternity of Saint Stephen, whose mission would be to deepen the personal holiness of members by fostering a spirituality centered on the Eucharist, at the Deacons Convocation held recently at Fairfield University.

“We are living in challenging spiritual times,” the bishop said. “And it is extremely important that you and I have as our foundation our personal relationship with the Lord.”

The challenges facing the Church are the result of a loss of trust in the leadership and a significant decrease in understanding and belief in the Eucharist. He said the latest research shows that nearly half of Catholics in the United States no longer believe in the Real Presence or cannot articulate what it means.

The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ that comes in the Sacrifice of the Mass must be central to the deacons in their lives and ministry, he said. The confraternity is similar to the Confraternity of St. John Vianney, which was inaugurated last December and had 16 priests as original members.

The goals of the confraternity, which the wives of deacons would be invited to join, are to deepen reverence for the Blessed Sacrament through prayer and adoration, to foster ongoing spiritual renewal and fraternal bonds among its members, and to encourage works of charity and acts of reparation for the sins of deacons, priests and bishops. Members would commit to weekly Eucharistic adoration, daily silent prayer, weekday Mass, monthly confession and other duties.

The deacons responded enthusiastically to the bishop’s proposal, which he hopes to inaugurate on the Feast of Pentecost.

Deacon John DiTaranto, who is assigned to St. Stephen’s in Trumbull and is pastoral administrator of Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel in Bridgeport, welcomed the group and announced a restructuring of the Office of the Diaconate. Responsibilities will be divided among three coordinators — Deacon Tim Bolton will assume diaconate vocations and inquiry, Deacon Jerry Lambert, diaconate formation, and Deacon DiTaranto, continuing formation.

Of the 100 deacons in the diocese, 66 are in active service. Six men will be ordained on June 15 at 11 am at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, and there are five aspirants in the formation program.

The daylong convocation also included a session for diaconate wives by Ilene Ianniello, a Liturgical Practicum by Deacon Patrick Toole, sessions about spiritual direction and programs at the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Fairfield University, and a presentation by Patrick Donovan, director of the diocesan Leadership Institute.

Father Paul Check, rector of St. John Fisher Seminary, gave a talk on the Resurrection, which he defined as “the central mystery and sum of the Christian faith.” He told the wives of deacons in formation that the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection should stir them just as it did the first Apostles and draw them closer to the Lord. It cannot merely be a fact in history because, he said, “God intends for us to enjoy a measure of Easter joy right now” even as we carry the crosses in our lives for the sake of Christ.

“As Christians, we don’t rely on ourselves, so instead of thinking of self-confidence, let us think of Christ-confidence,” he said.

Marianne Smythe, wife of Deacon Brad Smythe, led a discussion with the women and was joined by Ilene Ianniello, who is president of the ministry for the wives of deacons. They explained their work at St. Joseph Parenting in Stamford, St. Vincent DePaul Center and their projects at St. Raphael School in Bridgeport.

Patrick Donovan, director of the Leadership Institute, delivered a talk based on the pastoral teaching of Pope Francis, titled Ten Traps for Ministry, and offered a recipe for a successful ministry, which included suggestions like be friendly, be approachable, be polite, be serene, be enthusiastic and be joyful.

He also offered recommendations, based on his doctoral dissertation, which he defended last month. They were formulated from research that spanned more than a century and examined the behavior of families where the faith remained strong in their children in later life.

Donovan said that for the faith to remain vibrant in young people, the Church must 1. Continue to accompany the family of newly baptized children in their faith journey 2. Ensure that young people continue their religious education after confirmation and 3. Develop meaningful programs that prepare couples for marriage and sustain them.

He said there are five fundamental practices that characterize a home in which children grow up to be faithful adults: the parents pray with and for their children and talk with them about God; provide “silent homilies,” such as sacred objects and sacramentals on display in their homes; practice a living faith; celebrate ordinary moments in family life such as graduations and getting a driver’s license; and encourage family members to share illuminating stories about their lives.

Donovan also encouraged the practice of having meals together and said children who ate with their family four to five times a week were three times more likely to stay active in their faith and community.

Bishop Caggiano later celebrated Mass with the deacons and their wives. Deacon  Smythe, who delivered the homily, told about his conversion to Catholicism. He said he suffered from a speech impediment, which caused him to be mocked by his classmates and in later life was an obstacle to pursuing a call to the diaconate. However, the Lord lifted him from the fear of stammering, he said, and the Holy Spirit gave him the courage to enter formation.

In 1993, he made a Cursillo and as a result “came to believe that Jesus loved me, warts and all.” More than a decade later, he and his wife Marianne gave a talk at a Cursillo day of reflection and afterwards, the facilitator approached him and said, “Every time I saw you today, I heard the word ‘deacon.’” He knew he could no longer ignore the call. At 60 years old, he started formation and was ordained after four years in 2011.