Deacons of the Diocese of Albany
Deacons: About Us

"Life is so unnerving
for a servant who's not serving,
he's not whole
without a soul to wait upon." 

                                                  Lumiere, The Beauty and the Beast

A History About Us

About Us in the Albany Diocese

What John Paul II Said About Us

What the USCCB Said About Us

A History About Us:
Genesis of the Renewal of the Diaconate

It is only recently that the question is being raised as to how the proposition to restore the diaconate as a lifetime service, opened to both married and single men, reached the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.In researching for an answer to this question, I have come to believe that the genesis and inspiration for this proposition took place in cellblock 26 in the concentration camp in Dachau. During the closing years of World War II, a number of priests were incarcerated in Dachau. They had many conversations about the rebuilding of Church and country following the end of the war. Fr. Wilhelm Schamoni kept notes of these conversations. One of the notions that were discussed was the possibility of restoring the diaconate, not as a steppingstone to priesthood but as a lifetime ministry, and opening the diaconate to married men.

When the war ended, Fr. Schamoni expanded these records of conversation into a monograph, which was entitled Familienvater als geweihte Diakone and published in 1953. Two years later this work was translated into English under the title, “Married Men as Ordained Deacons,” and published in London.

Post-World War II Heightened interest in the Diaconate

In the two decades, which preceded the Second Vatican Council, there was considerable writing about the diaconate on the Continent, mostly in German and French. One of themes, which characterized these writings, was the conclusion that the Church had not succeeded in maintaining its hold on the intellectual and working classes. It was concluded that deacons recruited from these classes would be able to reach and minister to those people whom the Church had been failing to reach. It is interesting to note that the possibility of a diaconate as a permanent, lifetime ministry in the Church was discussed at the First German Liturgical Congress in Frankfurt in 1950.

In 1951, a young social worker, Hannes Kramer, convinced that he had been called by God to the diaconate, formed a diaconate circle (diakonatskreis) with fellow students at the Social Workers Seminar at Freiburg in Breisgau. They met frequently for prayer and to think out basic concepts for the renewal of the diaconate in their own circumstances. They began publishing a newsletter for circulation among the diaconate circles, which were beginning to appear in other centers of German Catholic Life. The young men who made up these circles encouraged their wives and fiancées to join in serious prayer life and striving for holiness in exactly those places where they studied and worked. In this fashion, the proposal to renew the diaconate as a lifetime ministry, opened to both married and single men, given a rebirth in the horror of a wartime concentration camp, began to mature.

During the 1950s, numerous articles appeared in Germany authored by both clergy and laypersons. Those who were working in German Caritas (much like our Catholic Charities in the United States) were very interested in proposals for the renewal of the diaconate, especially in the relationship of a ministerial diaconate with that to which all the baptized are called, one complementing the other. The German theologian Karl Rahner emphasized the necessity for a balanced diaconate, which would be reflected in a multitude of services, depending upon the abilities as well as the preferences of each deacon. By 1956, Rahner had formulated a theological foundation for efforts to restore the diaconate.

Pius XII Stimulates Wider Interest in the Diaconate

In 1957, at the Second World Congress for the Lay Apostolate in Rome, Pope Pius XII spoke about the proposal to restore the diaconate but indicated that he did not believe that the time was ripe for such an undertaking. However, the manner in which the Pope addressed the subject gave encouragement to continued study and even promotion of such a possibility.

In 1959, the International Diaconate Circle was organized with its headquarters in Freiburg. It was there that much work was done in preparing a petition to the Council Fathers for consideration of the proposal to restore the diaconate as a lifetime ministry, opened to both married and single men. In final form the petition was sent to Rome in 1962.It was there that much work was done in the preparation of Diakonia in Christo, a volume of thirty-nine essays on varying aspects of the permanent diaconate, published in German in 1962 and circulated among the Council Fathers.

Vatican Council II Restores Diaconate

By a majority vote of the Council Fathers on October 30, 1963, the restoration of the diaconate as a distinct and permanent order was favored. On November 21, 1964, the restoration of the diaconate, as part of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, was promulgated.

Three years later, Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, established the general norms for restoring the permanent diaconate. The following year, the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops petitioned the Holy See to restore the permanent diaconate in this country. Within four months Paul VI acceded to this request. Two months after that, four deacon formation programs had been approved by the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate.

In the twenty years, which followed, there was a phenomenal development.In that time frame, which saw a continuing decline in the number of active priests and religious, there was a steady increase in the number of deacons.From a zero base in 1968, twenty years later the number of deacons is nearing nine thousand, formed in over 155 diocesan programs.

It would be difficult to find a single category of human needs that are not being met by deacons, often with the collaboration of wife and even family. 

The above is an excerpt from “The Permanent Deacon in the Church Today,” written by Deacon Samuel Michael Taub, Executive Director of the secretariat of the Bishops’ Committee for the Permanent Diaconate of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1984-1988) Copyright 1989 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc.

The first class of deacons was ordained on June 18, 1976 by Bishop Edwin Broderick, Bishop of Albany.It consisted of 27 deacons. Since then over 100 deacons have been ordained for our diocese. Presently we have 105 deacons assigned to various ministries in our diocese that include, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, diocesan agencies and parishes.

“…You represent a great and visible sign of the working of the Holy Spirit in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, which provided for the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate in the Church.The wisdom of that provision is evident in your presence in such numbers today and in the fruitfulness of your ministries.With the whole Church I give thanks to God for the call you have received and for your generous response.For the majority of you are married, this response has been made possible by the love and support and collaboration of your wives.It is a great encouragement to know that in the United States over the past two decades almost eight thousand permanent deacons have been ordained for the service of the Gospel."

By Pope John Paul II from extracts of address to three thousand deacons and wives assembled in Ford Auditorium, Detroit, Michigan on September 19, 1987.

In 2005, there were about fifteen thousand deacons in the United States and over thirty thousand deacons in the world.

In their “Conclusion” to the recently published National Directory, for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote:


Paragraph 292. It is the desire of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that, as implemented in accord with local or regional resources, this Directory will provide a sure directive for promoting harmony and unity in diaconal formation and ministry throughout the United States and its territorial sees.In so doing, this Directory will ensure a certain uniformity in the identity, selection, and formation of deacons, as well as provide for more clearly defined pastoral objectives in diaconal ministries. 

Paragraph 293.This Directory is presented to the diaconal communities in the United States as a tangible expression of the Conference’s gratitude to them for their dedicated ministry to God’s People.It is also intended to challenge and encourage them to be, with greater dedication and clarity, the Sacrament of Jesus - - the Servant Christ to a Servant Church.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  web site contains invaluable information about the Catholic Church in the U.S.The Committee on the Diaconate has a home page that contains additional information about deacons.Some interesting pages on their site include:

Frequently Asked Questions about Deacons