New Diaconal Formation Program in 2020

The Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York have developed a new joint deacon formation program that will begin in the fall of 2020.

The process of creating the program began in 2017, said Canon Vanessa Butler, who oversees the ordination process on the bishop’s staff.

“Our Joint Board of Examining Chaplains, which started in 2015, was the first collaboration of our partnership and the project that made us realize we could do more together,” she said. “When both dioceses realized that our deacons didn’t have all of the tools they needed to live into their ordained life to the fullest extent possible, we knew we could work together to find a better way.”

Beginning in June 2017, representatives from the Commissions on Ministry, staffs, and deacons from both dioceses began working in partnership with the Rev. Lynn Orville, a priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island who has worked with other dioceses to develop similar programs. Their goal was to create a joint program that would “form deacons in a community based in worship and common life,” said Butler.

In May of this year, the committee charged with developing the program sent it to the two Commissions on Ministry for approval. Since then, the chairs of both commissions and staff have been working to integrate and align the diaconal discernment processes in both dioceses before a joint Explorer’s Day, which will take place on August 24 at St. Luke’s, Jamestown, New York, from 10 am until 2 pm.

Catherine Way, chair of the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Western New York, says that the new formation program will strengthen diaconal ministry across the region by providing a consistent foundation for all deacons, regardless of their home parishes.

“Deacons are deacons of the church, not of a particular parish,” she said. “The ministry of a deacon is to bring the world to the church, and this new program will help deacons do that in any parish the bishop asks them to serve.

“We want to be sure that people discerning a call to the diaconate understand that their ministry will be to be in ministry outside the walls of the church and to involve the church in that ministry,” Way said. “This program will help people think about all the aspects of diaconal ministry they need to consider as they are discerning.”

In the new diaconal formation program, students will participate in a cohort that will work together for ten quarters, or two-and-a-half years. Participants will take part in ten quarterly weekend retreats focusing on theology, liturgy, canons, mission and community organizing, and other subjects deacons need to master. In between retreats, students will complete homework assignments, meet online with classmates, and, in the final year of the program, complete an internship.

The first cohort of the program will begin in the fall of 2020, and people who are interested in discerning a call to the diaconate and participating in the program can take the first step by attending the August 24 Explorer’s Day event or another upcoming event.

To learn more, please talk with Vanessa Butler at 814.456.4203 or