On a quiet Saturday in March, a group of people from all walks of life gathered at Chaminade’s Mystical Rose Oratory to begin a five-year journey of academic, spiritual and pastoral formation aimed at preparing them for life as a deacon—or a deacon’s wife—in the Catholic Church.
Nearly 40 people attended the diaconate candidate orientation, including 22 program participants.
Dr. Dustyn Ragasa, director of the Master of Pastoral Theology program at Chaminade and an assistant professor of Religious Studies, said the newest diaconate cohort includes 10 couples and two single men. They are members of the military and law enforcement, teachers and professors, health care professionals, and business owners. “Each one brings along with them a wealth of practical experience that enables them to do theology in their own unique ways,” Ragasa said.
“Some candidates come to us with previous theological training and others are learning the fundamentals of disciplined theological inquiry. Some are lifelong Catholics and others are recent converts to the faith. This mosaic of perspectives enriches the learning experience as a whole.”
The March 12 orientation was the first held at the Mystical Rose Oratory—what Ragasa said underscores the strong partnership between the Diocese of Honolulu and Chaminade. Participants in the Diocese of Honolulu’s permanent diaconate formation program can opt to also pursue a graduate certificate, Master of Pastoral Theology or Religious Studies bachelor’s degree at Chaminade. Three women and six diaconate candidates across cohorts are currently pursuing a Master of Pastoral Theology at the University. Ragasa stressed that the degree also welcomes laymen and laywomen.
The role of deacon is an “ancient” one in Catholicism, Ragasa said, and described in the Bible.
Both married and single men can serve as deacons, and married men participate in the diaconate formation program with their wives. After being ordained, deacons serve their communities and the Church in many ways, Ragasa said. “Theirs is the responsibility to proclaim the gospel and to preach,” he said. “They also have the capacity to baptize, to distribute holy communion, to perform marriages, to officiate over funerals, to lead prayer and to take on leadership roles in their communities.”
But unlike priests and bishops, deacons hold “day jobs” in a long list of fields—from education to healthcare to engineering to social service. What unites them, Ragasa said, is simple: “It is expected that deacons will uplift and care for those around them regardless of the work they undertake.”
Participants complete the diaconate formation program in cohorts, dedicating three years to intellectual and academic growth and two years to intense spiritual reflection and pastoral work. Along the way, they’re mentored by those who completed the program and are now ministering in parishes.
Deacon Michael Weaver, MPT ‘14, a lecturer of Historical and Political Studies at Chaminade, attended the orientation with his wife to speak to participants and said a central element of the formation program is to help a candidate determine if becoming a deacon is their calling.
“Through both personal prayer and competent spiritual direction, together with academic and professional formation, each person discerns if such a vocation is truly present for him,” he said. “The core effect, I think, is to discover who you really are as a person and a believer. You develop confidence that manifests itself in a willingness to preach the Gospel and represent the Church in the world.”
The seeds for the strong partnership between Chaminade and the diaconate program were planted more than a decade ago, Ragasa said, and the Diocese of Honolulu has since garnered national attention for its commitment to a high quality of theological and academic preparation for its candidates.
“Honolulu is one of the very few dioceses that boasts this level of partnership with its local university,” Ragasa added. “Having local professors who understand our cultures, who sit in the pews enables them to address the specific educational needs of men and women ministering in our unique island context.”
The group of candidates that met on campus in March is part of cohort 11, and their academic preparation program officially began in April. Ragasa said the orientation was designed to both help candidates feel comfortable at Chaminade and familiarize them with resources at the University.
Bro. Edward Brink, vice president for mission and rector at the University, welcomed candidates and their wives to campus with an opening prayer and explained the rich history of Marianists in Hawaii. His talk touched on key hallmarks of Marianist education—including a mission to serve others—and encouraged cohort members to take an active part in campus life and the Chaminade family.
Participants also got a tour of the Sullivan Family Library and its vast collection.
Dr. Cheryl Edelson, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Design, also welcomed the program candidates at the orientation and spoke about the importance of the humanities in the Catholic intellectual tradition. She also invited cohort members to participate in school programming.
Fr. Martin Solma, Chaminade chaplain, closed the day with a touching closing rite for candidates and their wives. Ragasa said the commissioning liturgy—meant to prepare program candidates for the significant journey ahead—was the highlight of the day and a “fitting way to recognize the beginning of formation, with prayer and reflection.”