By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
PELLA — As deacon candidate Dan Freeman pledged “I do” to continuing his formation for ordained ministry, he was reminded of another time when he stood before the altar and made a promise to God — his wedding day.
“It reminded me of my marriage vows,” he said. Freeman and his wife, Judy, have always done parish ministry as a team at St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass. With Judy at his side, he is confident he can continue the diaconate program and hopefully be ordained in three years — just in time for their 40th wedding anniversary.
Wives, children, parents and friends flooded into a packed St. Mary Church in Pella on July 13 to witness 12 men from the diocesan Deacon Formation Program and two seminarians participate in the Rite of Admission to Candidacy. At the Mass, Bishop Amos said he received the men’s pledge to prepare themselves “in mind and spirit to give faithful service to Christ the Lord and his body.”
The 12 permanent deacon candidates are about halfway through their journey to the diaconate. They have been through a one-year inquiry stage and two years of aspirancy. The first year of aspirancy is focused on prayer and discernment; the men begin academic courses in the second year. Receiving Admission to Candidacy does not automatically mean that the candidate will become a deacon — it is the first in a series of rites he must participate in before ordination. God willing, the deacon candidates will continue their studies and become ordained deacons three years from now.
Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of deacon formation, said the Rite of Admission to Candidacy is a formal declaration that both the men and the Church “are committing themselves to the rest of this journey.”
For all of the deacon candidates, the support of family is important. The 12 candidates to the permanent diaconate are married, and their wives must freely consent to each step of the formation process. Deacon Agnoli said wives are encouraged to attend classes and retreats with their husbands.
For some wives, being married to a deacon candidate means taking on extra responsibilities at home as their husbands commit themselves to classes and homework. Children make sacrifices, and many of the candidates expressed additional gratitude toward them.
“It’s a family commitment,” said John Jacobsen of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, who credits wife, Tracey, and his two teenage children for being his “biggest supporters.”
Chris Kabat of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City has three sons — two teenagers and a 3-year-old — and considers his obligation to family and studies a “balancing act.” He credits his wife, Julie, for her support, and is grateful for their sons’ acceptance of his busy schedule. “I’m not in it by myself. All of us are doing the journey together,” he said after the Mass while playing with his youngest son.
Joe Rohret of St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove said, “Family has to be on board or it wouldn’t work.”
Support of family and friends was also important for seminarians John Lamansky of Iowa City and Scott Foley of Williamsburg. They received Rite of Admission to Candidacy in preparation for their studies at the North American College in Rome, which begin in August. If all goes according to plan, they will become transitional deacons in three years, and ordained as priests in four years.
For Lamansky’s mother, Anne, the Rite of Admission to Candidacy is one of the few times she will be able to witness her son, 23, take an important step in his path to priesthood. Most of his remaining rites will take place in Europe. “It’s beautiful that we get to be here for this one,” she said while holding back “bittersweet” tears. “I’m proud of him. I will miss him, but I’m thrilled he is responding to his calling.”
Foley, 30, was supported by a group of former classmates from St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn. He described his classmates as “war buddies” due to their shared experience in the journey to priesthood, and the encouragement they provide to each other. He said receiving the Rite of Admission to Candidacy in their presence was reinvigorating, and gave him an emotional boost before leaving for four years of overseas seminary.
Said deacon candidate Kabat, “Today was a great day. It’s one step at a time.”
Deacon candidates and two seminarians who participated in the Rite of Admission to Candidacy: Jim Barber, Holy Family, Davenport; Steve Barton, St. Paul the Apostle, Davenport; Scott Foley, seminarian from St. Mary, Williamsburg; Dan Freeman, St. Andrew, Blue Grass; Rob Garber, Sacred Heart, Newton; Tom Hardie, St. Anthony, Knoxville; John Jacobsen, St. Paul the Apostle, Davenport; Chris Kabat, St. Wenceslaus, Iowa City; John Lamansky, seminarian from St. James, Washington; Karl Lantzky, St. Paul the Apostle, Davenport; Joe Rohret, St. Peter, Cosgrove; Mike Snyder, Our Lady of Loudres, Bettendorf; Lowell Van Wyk, St. Mary, Pella; and Joseph Welter, Newman Catholic Student Center/St. Mary, Iowa City.