Eight years ago, Monsignor Michael Chaback, then the Director of the Office for Permanent Diaconate Formation for the Diocese of Allentown, presented 47 men to then Bishop John Barres to be ordained as deacons. You read that number correctly: four – seven.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, which studies church trends and demographics, it was the largest class of deacons in the United States ordained in 2015 – perhaps even in the world. While the number of candidates is impressive and needed, Monsignor Chaback sees beyond the numbers. He looks back on that moment, and the formation experienced by that class, with such gratitude.
Monsignor Chaback on Importance of Permanent Deacons
“My personal joy—and satisfaction—was witnessing a group of men and their wives, very few of whom really knew each other, actually become Church together,” Chaback said. “We became, during the years of formation, a real community, learning and praying together, and caring for one another.”
Having a hand in the formation of permanent deacons has had a profound impact on Monsignor Chaback’s life. So much so that it led him to creating the Diaconate Endowment Fund with the Catholic Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania. The fund supports the education, training and formation, professional development, recruitment of permanent deacons, and special programs related to the Diaconate Program in the Diocese of Allentown.
The Diaconate Endowment Fund: Now and Later Gifts
Monsignor Chaback established the Diaconate Endowment Fund with both “now and later” gifts. A gift of cash got the fund started and then a planned gift of naming the endowment as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy will help the fund grow later. Chaback also followed the same process to start a scholarship endowment fund for his alma mater Bethlehem Catholic High School.
“There is much the Diocese has to support, and budgets can be tight at times,” Chaback said. “An endowment fund can help keep the permanent diaconate program flourishing.
“Personally, I would hope that whatever monies become available might fund useful resources beyond the ordinary ones and also assist individual candidates should some financial need arise for them.”
As vocations to the priesthood have declined, the diaconate’s role has become increasingly important in serving the Church.
“The diaconate is as much part of the will of God as is the priesthood and the episcopacy,” Chaback said. “It signs the servanthood of Christ, the form in which the holiness of God appeared among us.”
The Journey of A Permanent Diaconate
“A vibrant diaconate then will ensure a servant Church, as a vibrant priesthood ensures a holy Church,” Chaback said.
The journey of the permanent diaconate is a six-year period of discernment and study. Candidates are educated in church doctrine, liturgy, history and law. Once ordained, they assist the priest at the altar during Mass, proclaim the Gospel, preach the homily and distribute communion. They also may baptize, witness marriages, conduct funerals, and preside at prayer services. Many deacons take on temporal roles in a parish such as finance or other operating functions to assist the pastor.
“Since 1982, the Diocese of Allentown, like the Church in various places in the world, has benefited from the witness of so many men of faith who have answered the call to the diaconate,” said Father Eugene Ritz, the current Director of the Office for Permanent Diaconate Formation. “Permanent deacons bring various skills, and insights from their families and work experiences into their ministry which benefit parishes and the people they serve.”
There are two diaconate classes currently in formation with ordination set for 2024 and 2028. Ritz said the Office for Permanent Diaconate Formation is always recruiting future diaconate candidates. They are in regular contact with men seeking to discern what is the will of Christ for them.
“This endowment will have a very positive impact on our efforts,” Ritz said. “It will assist men in responding to Our Lord’s call by continuing the thorough and substantial formation men receive, spiritually, academically, and pastorally.
Father Ritz acknowledged his personal gratitude for Monsignor Chaback in having the vision to start the Diaconate Endowment Fund.
“I appreciate Monsignor Chaback sharing his knowledge, his counsel, and especially in his sharing the wisdom that can only come from experience,” Ritz said. “His gift to establish this endowment is one more of the great and many ways he has contributed to the Formation of Deacons.”
By starting the endowment fund now, Chaback was able to work with the Catholic Foundation to shape the direction of the fund and get it up and running.
“Now other donors who see the importance of supporting the permanent diaconate program might contribute to it,” Chaback said. “Wouldn’t that be great!”