Diaconate Congress marks 50 years of restoration of deacons in the US

by Deacon Rick Lagasse

Opening Mass the 2018 Diaconate Congress held in New Orleans in July. (submitted photo)

Fifty years ago, with the help of Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, the diaconate was restored as a permanent order. In celebration of this great occasion, the National Association of Diaconate Directors (NADD) held the 2018 Diaconate Congress in New Orleans July 22–26. The Diocese of Fargo had four representatives that attended the Congress: Deacon Ken Severinson and his wife Vicki from St. Joseph’s Church in Devils Lake, along with myself and my wife Denise from St. Therese the Little Flower Church in Rugby.

Among the speakers and Mass celebrants were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States; Joseph Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark; and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston- Houston.

When the NADD first started organizing the Diaconate Congress, they were anticipating an attendance of 800 to 1,000 attendees. Instead, over 2,700 deacons and their wives attended the event. There were deacons from Europe, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and other places around the world. Each day was filled with Laud’s (Morning Prayer), Mass, and outstanding keynote speakers, and breakout sessions. The theme “Yesterday, Today, Forever,” guided the theme of the talks, moving from where the Diaconate has been, to where we are today, and then to where could it go from here.

When asked about her experience of the conference, Denise Lagasse responded, “We were surrounded by incredible people we were surrounded by for the week of the conference. Being together with so many servants’ hearts was edifying and quite humbling.”

There are over 44,000 Catholic deacons in the world, up from only 309 in 1970. In the United States, there are over 18,000 deacons, up from only 111 in 1970. As the diaconate has grown around the world, so have the opportunities for ministries in which the deacon serves. Christ continues to serve his people through his deacons. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, we hear Jesus say, “the son of man came not to be served but to serve.” This is the essence of the deacon, for the word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word diaconos, meaning “servant” or “to serve.”

As the Catholic community and culture become more diverse and challenged by secular culture, deacons are called to meet the challenge. The deacon is called upon to observe and listen to the concerns of the community, to analyze the various situations, and then to act according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The deacon, therefore, makes a practical response to Jesus’s command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”