In the spring of 1978, the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese of Charlotte appointed a committee to study the Permanent Diaconate Program. The first meeting was held April 11, 1978 at St. Patrick’s Rectory in Charlotte. The Most Rev. Michael J. Begley appointed the following persons as members of the committee: Rev. Richard Burton, Rev. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Frank O’Rourke, Rev. Mr. Ted Krizman, Mrs. Crystal Krizman and Rev. Joseph Kerin, chairperson. Following the initial meeting, Bishop Begley expressed the desire to institute the Permanent Diaconate Program in the Charlotte Diocese.
A continuing education session on September 18, 1978, explained the program to the priests of the diocese. The Director of the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, Frank Muscolino, was the featured speaker.
Bishop Begley appointed Msgr. William Wellein the first Director of the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Charlotte. Msgr. Wellein attended the National Meeting of the Directors of the Permanent Diaconate and was able to provide further information to the diocese. In the fall of 1979, Bishop Begley appointed Father Anthony Kovacic as Director of the Permanent Diaconate with the directive to institute the program as soon as possible. Bishop Begley formally inaugurated the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Diocese of Charlotte in January 1980.
In January 1980, the diocese mailed pamphlets describing the Permanent Diaconate Program to all pastors for distribution on the first Sunday in February. A letter from Bishop Begley was read at all Masses the same day. Interested individuals who completed an application were evaluated by their pastors and a screening committee. An Admission Committee then reviewed each application and evaluation report and made their recommendations to the Bishop.
Twenty-two men began classes at Sacred Heart College in Belmont, NC, September 12, 1980 with Fr. Richard Burton as Director of Academics. When Fr. Burton left the Diocese at the end of the first year, Fr. David Brown, O.S.B., assumed the position. On May 29, 1983, Bishop Donoghue ordained 19 men to the permanent diaconate.
A second class of twenty-three men began formation in August 1985. Bishop Donoghue appointed Msgr. Thomas Burke as first Spiritual Director of the program and Sister Mary Thomas Burke Directress for the Wives. In the fall of 1987, Fr. Kenneth Steinhauser, O.S.B., became Director of Academics, a position he held until his move to the Catholic University in St. Louis in the summer of 1990. In 1988, Bishop John Donoghue ordained twenty men from the class. A third group of seven candidates began formation in 1986 in joint classes with the second group. Bishop Donoghue ordained five deacons on July 2, 1989. Bishop Wiliam G. Curlin ordained formation classes to the diaconate in 1995 and 2001.
During Msgr. Burke’s assignment to a mission in the Virgin Islands from 198990, Abbot Walter Cognizes, O.S.B. served as Spiritual Director. On his return from the Virgin Islands, Msgr. Burke resumed his position as Spiritual Director.
In early 1989, Bishop Donoghue appointed Msgr. Joseph Showfety as chairperson of a committee to evaluate the permanent diaconate program. The evaluation indicated the permanent diaconate was well accepted in the diocese by the laity, religious and most priests. However, the committee recommended improvements in selecting applicants into the program, additional study, especially homiletics, and more intensive formation. Bishop Donoghue recommended two years of lay ministry study as a prerequisite for any applicant. The revised program consisted of three years study with two of these years in pastoral training prior to ordination.
The curriculum currently consists of six months of spiritual formation prior to final acceptance into a four year course of study prior to ordination. Just as the program has changed in length and content since its establishment in 1980, it will undoubtedly continue to evolve to meet the needs of those in formation and those they will be ordained to serve.