Much has changed in the 40 years since the calendar clicked over to 1977.
Numerous things have gone by the wayside, including — thankfully — bell-bottoms, disco and gas-guzzling vehicles. Secularly, we're on our seventh president and, in the Catholic world, our fifth pope and our fifth archbishop of St. Louis.
We've also experienced a drop in vocations to the clergy and to consecrated life, with Catholic education transitioning to the laity as a result. But thankfully, we've seen a great increase in the diaconate in the archdiocese, men firmly committed to serving the Church.
Before Jan. 29, 1977, St. Louis had ordained exactly zero permanent deacons, but on that day, Cardinal John Carberry ordained 12 men as the first class in the archdiocesan diaconate, including Deacon Ken Potzman and Deacon Herb Gettemeier. In this issue of the Review, Deacons Ken Potzman and Gettemeier, the last of the originals, are profiled. At age 75 and 85, respectively, they represent the first dozen, with their 10 cohorts "going to be with the Lord," as Deacon Gettemeier would say.
Gettemeier's son, Dan, cites the word "deceased" as a pet-peeve of his dad, who has authored one book in retirement and has another on the way. "Deceased" portends such finality, as in the deceased are dead, buried and gone — never to rise again. Deacon Gettemeier knows otherwise. Catholic teaching tells us that, just as Jesus Christ rose from the dead to save mankind from sin, we believers also will rise at the end of time and spend eternity with the Lord.
Today, in 2017, we have 195 active deacons and 81 retired deacons in archdiocese — 276 of 439 men ordained over 33 ordinations since 1977 — with 48 men in formation.
An outgrown of the Second Vatican Council, the permanent diaconate was restored in the U.S. just nine years earlier, in 1968, and three years earlier in the archdiocese. The Class of '77 needed two years of formation with a continuing education program after ordination. Now, it's five years of formation with continuing education.
The extra years allow the archdiocese and the candidates to discern whether the diaconate is a good fit for a man and his family. For numerous reasons — family, work or otherwise — some men conclude that it isn't. Others apply but don't even reach that stage; few are chosen and even fewer reach ordination.
Typically, deacons serve the Church by assisting pastors at their home or nearby parishes; they assist at Masses and serve as needed for baptisms, weddings, funerals, communion services and the like. Some also serve in other ministries, such as prison, hospital or pro-life efforts. After ordination, the time commitment is roughly 10 hours per week.
Formation is difficult at times, with men juggling secular careers, family life and diaconate formation, but it's ultimately rewarding. According to prospective deacons and ordained deacons, each year, each semester in formation builds upon another, enhancing men's lives in unseen and unexpected ways. Their spiritual lives improve, as do their temporal lives.
The men also speak of brotherhood among fellow deacons, classmates and their wives. Since the first diaconate ordination in 1977, women have been crucial to the process. They not only support their husbands' formations and ministries but sacrifice their presence at home. They walk with them on this journey and can be formed, too, with regular class attendance, retreats and other outings.
The archdiocesan diaconate is on a rotational schedule, with ordinations every two years. The Class of 2022 will form this summer, with upcoming information nights for prospective deacons and their wives. Together, they'll discern whether the diaconate is for them, whether the time is right to serve the Lord.
The Class of 2022 awaits. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Deacons meet Christ in the face of those suffering