In the Archdiocese of Hartford, the formation program leading to ordination to the Diaconate is a five-year program consisting of an initial year of intense discernment and study outside of a formal academic setting, followed by four years of formation which encompasses the human, spiritual, academic and pastoral levels.
A deacon is a man taken from among men and women, and as such, brings with him to formation a history of interrelationships with others. One goal of the formation program aims to recognize, affirm, foster and deepen human qualities in the candidate, not only for purposes of self-development, but also for future ministerial service in the Church.
Among the qualities desirable in candidates for the diaconate, three areas occupy a special place of concern: an ability to relate well to others, affective maturity (inclusive of psycho-sexual maturity and health), and training in freedom (inclusive of a well-formed moral conscience). Diaconal formation on the human level seeks to enhance the personality of the potential deacon so that he becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their encounter with Jesus Christ (cf. The National Directory, n. 109).
Spiritual formation sits at the heart of preparation for official ministry in the Church. Spiritual formation seeks to develop the new life received in Baptism (cf. The National Directory, n. 110). Spiritual direction is essentially the work of the Holy Spirit and, as such, those involved in formation are called to be attentive to the workings of the Spirit. Since the spiritual life is of its essence dynamic and never static, spiritual formation has as a principal goal the establishment and nourishment of an ongoing spiritual discipline. No one can be admitted to diaconal formation who cannot demonstrate that he already is living in some measure a life of mature Christian spirituality (cf. The National Directory, n. 111).
The spirituality of a deacon by its very essence must conform to and be grounded in the attitude of Christ the Servant. Furthermore, it is nourished and sustained by the Eucharist. Desirable spiritual qualities for those in formation for the diaconate include simplicity of heart, a willingness to give totally and disinterestedly of the self, humility, love of others, and, mindful of the deacon's special relationship with the poor and needy, a choice of lifestyle of sharing and simplicity.
In brief, the goals of spiritual formation for those in preparation for diaconal ordination include: the discernment of one's vocation; a deepening of one's prayer life; a deepened commitment to the Lord and the Church; the development of the virtue of penance, including mortification, sacrifice, and generosity toward others; openness to conversion of heart; a more mature understanding of one's relationship with authority in the Church, especially centered on authentic obedience, and a deeper knowledge and appreciation for the richness of the Catholic Spiritual tradition.
In the formation program, every candidate will be assigned a priest as a spiritual director, with whom he is expected to meet a minimum of six times annually. Each candidate is expected to commit himself to daily prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, and regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The candidates gather in common before class each week to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. An annual retreat, given over a weekend each September, and two days of recollection, one in the fall, the other in the spring, are part of the annual formation calendar. The academic study of prayer, spirituality, and the Catholic spiritual tradition is included in the program.
The intellectual or academic dimension of diaconal formation serves to nourish in a substantial way the pastoral, human, and spiritual dimensions of a candidate's life. Deacons, as ordained mininsters, must be knowledgeable of the doctrine of the Church to be able to be faithful and reliable witnesses and spokesmen for the Church and her teaching. The intellectual formation of deacons in the Archdiocese of Hartford is undertaken in a serious and thorough manner. Over the course of four years of formal study, diaconal candidates are introduced to a deepened understanding of Sacred Scripture, dogmatic theology, spiritual theology, moral theology (including sexual morality and the social teaching of the Church), and pastoral practice. Most of the actual intellectual formation takes place within the context of formal clases that meet once weekly from September to June. Workshops offered periodically serve to supplement classroom work. Additional information on the academic portion of the formation can be found below.
The entirety of the formation program aims at preparing candidates for their pastoral ministry, but in the course of the four years, there are two solid courses in homiletics, which aim to prepare the candidates to be effective and sound preachers. Toward the end of the program workshops are scheduled to introduce candidates to the fundamentals of canon law as well as the role of the deacon in the liturgy. In addition, over the course of the formation program, candidates participate in workshops on, among other topics, hospital ministry, prison ministry, the RCIA process, campus ministry, ecumenism and interreligious issues, and the process of theological reflection. During the third and fourth years, candidates are assigned to pastoral placements in various fields to introduce them to practical aspects of the pastoral ministry and to assess their skills and readiness to undertake the ministry.
Of critical importance throughout the process of diaconal formation is the regular evaluation of each candidate. Such evaluations are not meant to be negative and confrontational, but rather, are aimed at the affirmation of progress made and strengths noted. Evaluations also include areas where the candidate needs to make additional progress. Faculty evaluations at the end of each course are reviewed. The Director of Formation meets periodically with each candidate to assess his progress. All evaluative instruments are kept in each candidate's formation file.