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By Sean Gallagher
MOUNT SAINT FRANCIS– Twenty-five men and their wives recently came to the retreat center at Mount Saint Francis in Floyd County for a weekend of prayer and reflection.
Such an event is usually a relatively ordinary happening there. But what happened there on the weekend of Aug 21-22 was a historic moment for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
These men were the first class of deacon aspirants for the archdiocese, and their retreat marked the beginning of their four-year formation program.
A deacon aspirant is a man who is aspiring to become a deacon. They can be eligible in approximately a year to be accepted as deacon candidates.
But the start of the formation program with the retreat also marked the ending of a long period of preparation for it.
For nearly two-and-a-half years before the retreat, several people in the archdiocese have been busy preparing for the beginning of the diaconate in the Church in central and southern Indiana.
Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein established the Permanent Diaconate Committee in January 2002 helped formulate the structure of the formation program.
Benedictine Father Bede Cisco began his work as director of deacon formation for the archdiocese in July 2003.
Information sessions on the diaconate for those men interested in the program were held in every deanery and began nearly a year ago and ended last May.
While these sessions were occurring, the application process began. Nearly 100 men had expressed interest in the diaconate by coming to the first informa-tion session. Nearly 180 men attended at least one session, and more than 50 men ended up applying to be accepted as aspirants.
Eventually 25 were chosen. Their final acceptance was contingent upon their passing a series of psychological tests, interviews and criminal background checks.
Whittling down the number of interested men to 25 proved to be challenging to Father Bede.
"We had decided early on in the process that we would do a first class of 25. We were pretty set on that,“ he said. "We did recognize among the ones that are not in the class several people who are good candidates for future classes…"In a way, all of the applicants were very good people involved in their parishes. The fact that they weren‘t selected does not minimize their contribution to the Church.“
After persevering through several months of formal discernment and applying, the accepted aspirants were excited to see the formation program begin.
"It‘s like Christmas,“ said deacon aspirant Tom Ward, a member of St. Simon Parish in Indianapolis. "I‘m so excited. I just can‘t wait for the next thing to happen.“
Others, while excited, also felt the weight of responsibility that they bear as the first deacon aspirants for the archdiocese.
"In some respects, [being in the first class of aspirants] is just a happen-stance,“ said deacon aspirant Wayne Davis, a member of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. "But I do know that there will be special responsibilities with that because we‘ll be among the first faces of the diaconate for people in the archdiocese. That‘s an even more sobering responsibility.“
Deacon John Chlopecki, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Morris, has personally experienced all of the feelings that the current class of aspirants are now having.
Ordained to the diaconate in 1991 for the Archdiocese of Chicago, he and his wife moved to Morris four years later for the slower pace of life that helped them cope with his wife‘s physical disabilities.
Chlopecki has been involved in the implementation of the diaconate in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for over two and a half years. He will continue to serve on the for-mation staff as a mentor for the aspirants.
At the retreat he shared in the excitement of the historic moment.
"I couldn‘t tell you how much it means to me,“ Chlopecki said. "I‘ve cried many nights in thanksgiving to the archbishop for what he has done and to God in answer to my prayers.“
The men that Chlopecki, Father Bede, and Father Larry Voelker, director of spiritual formation for the dea-con formation program as well as pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Indianapolis, will guide in their formation rep-resent the diversity of experiences and ethnicities of the faithful of the archdiocese.
The aspirants reside in all but one of the deaneries. They range in age from 35 to 66. They have all been married for at least 9 years. Four aspirants represent the Hispanic, African-American, and Filipino communities.
The occupational experience among the aspirants is also wide and varied. One is a truck driver. Another is a sales representative. Others are lawyers and doctors. Several are retired.
Most have taken part in a faith-renewing program and many have participated in Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo.
Whatever their background, the wives of the aspirants played a vital role in their discernment. They were also present during the weekend retreat and expressed sup-port for their husbands‘ participation in the deacon for-mation program.
"If it weren‘t for him, I wouldn‘t be on this journey“ said Eva Morales, wife of deacon aspirant Oscar Morales, both members of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. "I‘m privileged and honored to be behind my husband all the way. With God‘s power, we can make it.“
As the retreat concluded, the 25 deacon aspirants looked forward to the start of their academic formation this fall. †