PROVIDENCE — Bishop Thomas J. Tobin celebrated the Rite of Candidacy of a new diaconate class during a Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Sunday, formally accepting the candidates and initiating the period of formation that will conclude with their ordination to the permanent diaconate.
“It’s a very brief ceremony but a very important one because it’s the first public recognition of our deacon candidates as they begin to prepare for their ordination to the diaconate in about three years or so,” Bishop Tobin said during the homily.
“As we recognize our deacon candidates as official candidates today, we will continue to pray for them and offer to them our prayers, our blessings, our support and our appreciation for their willingness to respond to God’s call in their lives.”
Sunday’s ceremony marked the formal beginning of a three-year period of study and formation for the candidates, all of whom underwent a yearlong discernment process prior to presenting themselves before Bishop Tobin. During the next three years, they will study theology at Providence College and engage in human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation to prepare for their roles in the diaconate ministry.
According to Deacon Noel Edsall, Coordinator of Formation for the diocesan Diaconate Office, the Rite of Candidacy marked an important step for the new diaconate class, as the ceremony was the first time each candidate publicly declared his intention to serve the Church as a deacon.
“This isn’t a part-time job or something that they’ll do for a while. When you make the vows at Holy Orders, it’s for life,” he told Rhode Island Catholic following the Mass.
The current class consists of 12 candidates and represents the first diaconate class since 2013, when 21 permanent deacons were ordained at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Of the 12 current candidates, 11 will serve as deacons in the Diocese of Providence, while one, Farid Zaarour of St. George Maronite Catholic Church, Cranston, will serve in the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, the Maronite Catholic eparchy to which the parish belongs.
“All of these next three years are to help them understand the life of a deacon,” explained Deacon Edsall.
In addition to welcoming the new candidate class, Bishop Tobin acknowledged the dedication of the permanent deacons currently serving in ministries throughout the Diocese of Providence, thanking them for the service provided to Christ and the Church. With the approach of All Saints Day, he also reminded those gathered of the universal call to all Catholics to aspire to holiness in the example of those who have gone before.
“As we honor the saints this week, it’s important to remember that holiness is not the privilege that’s granted to just a few select individuals,” he said. “Yes, you and I are called to be listed among the saints as well.”
Following the Mass, the candidates gathered with their family members to celebrate the milestone in their journey toward the diaconate. John Regan, a candidate and parishioner of St. Joan of Arc Church, Cumberland, shared that he had spent many years discerning his vocation to enter the diaconate.
“I think he’s been calling me to it my whole life but it just took a while to get there,” he said. “It’s been great to be able to serve the Church.”
Regan said he looked forward to becoming a better disciple and growing in his own faith, a process he had already begun during the year of discernment and would continue through the three-year formation period.
“The program itself has been fantastic. I feel so blessed at the investment that they’re making in us.”
Steve Valliere, a candidate who attends Mass at St. Pius V and St. Gregory the Great Churches, had also contemplated his vocation for a long time before entering the diaconate class. A member of the Lay Fraternity of St. Dominic, he told Rhode Island Catholic that the charism of the diaconate vocation complements the Dominican charism he already strives to live by.
“It’s a lot of work. But it’s all fruitful,” he said about the formation program.
As a deacon, Valliere looks forward to working with the young people of the diocese, an area he considers an important part of the ministry of the Catholic Church.
“We need to try to get some of these youth back to the church. People need role models,” he said.
The 12 candidates for the permanent diaconate are: