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For the past three years, 25 men from across central and southern Indiana have dedicated themselves to a formation process that will culminate in their ordination next June 28 as the first group of permanent deacons in the history of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
On Sept. 15, these men and their families gathered at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for a key step in their journey.
On that day, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein formally instituted the deacon candidates as acolytes.
Instituted acolytes, along with instituted lectors, are formal steps along the path for those preparing to receive the sacrament of holy orders.
“It marks the beginning of their genuine public role in the liturgy of the Church,” said Benedictine Father Bede Cisco, archdiocesan director of deacon formation.
Father Bede said that two of the deacon candidates’ liturgical duties as instituted acolytes point symbolically to the charitable work that will be at the heart of their ministry as deacons: the offering of the general intercessions and reception of the offertory gifts.
“Some of those gifts would be things the deacon would use in the ministry of charity in distributing some financial resources to those in need,” Father Bede said. “It’s also there in the deacon voicing the general intercessions out of his experience of ministering to those in need in different situations.”
For deacon candidate Steve Gretencord, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute, it is Christ himself who connects the Eucharist with the Church’s ministry of charity.
“[The Eucharist] is the source,” Gretenchord said. “You cannot focus on working with the poor and the marginalized without seeing Christ in them.”
Deacon candidate Bill Jones, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, hopes the deacon candidates’ greater visibility at Mass will help others make this connection.
“When they see us at the altar, they’ll think, ‘Well, there’s more to the diaconate than just outside charitable works. It’s service here at the altar also,’ ” Jones said.
Beyond the symbolic significance of their institution as acolytes, Sept. 15 was a day of joy for the deacon candidates and their loved ones.
The day was especially significant for Sandra Heller, the wife of deacon candidate Tim Heller. She is suffering from ovarian cancer.
“It’s very important for me because I believe that this is his call,” she said. She and her husband are members of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright.
“I’m having to deal with life-ending issues, but there’s also a lot of celebration in my life right now. And I’m going from one to the next one.”
For deacon candidate Donald Dearman, a member of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis, the day was a way of looking forward to his ordination next June.
“The anticipation is building,” he said. “You’re really reaffirming yourself that you have been called. [We’ve] been called by God. You can’t have an encounter with God without being changed.” †