Nearly 60 years ago, Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council restored the ancient office of the permanent diaconate, allowing the ordination of married men as permanent deacons in the Catholic Church. All these years later, deacons are now an integral part of contemporary parish life, serving as lifelines for many busy priests who often struggle to meet the diverse needs of their parishes.
Deacons can be married or single. Approximately 98 percent have spouses; their wives play a special and necessary role in this rapidly growing ministry.
Permanent deacons perform weddings, baptisms, house visits and funerals; they teach RCIA, hold bible studies and assist with marriage preparation. They go where needed and assist priests in comporting the often overwhelming role of ministry to the body of Christ, while also serving their unique purpose and role in the life of the Church.
The intimacy derived from the marriage covenant between man and wife is so important the Church requires a wife’s consent before her husband can be formed and ultimately ordained a permanent deacon.
Three women who are wives of deacons share their perspectives here.
Julie Van Zeeland, whose husband Dcn. John Van Zeeland was ordained in 2022 and serves as a deacon at the sister parishes of St. James, Mukwonago; St. Theresa, Eagle; and St. Peter, East Troy; recalled discussions with her husband before they began dating about his interest in the diaconate.
“I honestly don’t remember having any reservations. He talked about how Dcn. Greg Price had encouraged him to be a deacon and that it was always at the back of his mind,” Julie said. “I saw that he would be very good in this ministry, so in a way, I felt that when we became engaged, I was also signing up to journey down the road of possibilities of the diaconate.”
Julie explained that she and her husband had the unique perspective of watching her brother and sister-in-law go through the formation process, so they had an idea of what to expect.
“During the last couple sessions of formation for the wives, they focused quite a bit on our role in keeping our husbands balanced,” Julie said. “There were many mentor sessions with deacon wives who spoke of this repeatedly, and I believe this is my primary role. I need to help the Church by being sure John is not overwhelmed so he can do his diaconate work to the best of his ability.”
The formation was so helpful that Julie said she misses seeing the other deacon wives from her classes. They have gathered a few times and hope to do so again this summer.
“The wives are truly my sisters and my prayer warriors, and I love every one of them dearly,” she said. “We have a Facebook page that we use to keep updated with each other.”
The diaconate formation brought both Julie and Dcn. John closer to God, which brought them closer to their marriage vows and each other.
“We still have disagreements, but we also know that our bond is a true sacrament that cannot be broken by human hands,” Julie said. “They instruct us that John’s ordination as a deacon is his second sacrament to our Marriage sacrament and should never jeopardize this first sacrament. One of my predecessor’s wives even instructed our whole class that the men are ‘our deacons first,’ so knowing that we need to keep our marriage healthy for John to be more effective as a deacon keeps us more aware of our relationship and when it needs some TLC.”
One of the greatest blessings of her husband being a deacon are the actual blessings, Julie said.
“When something important or difficult is happening for me at work, I can ask John for a blessing before heading out. When I purchase or make some religious item that I am giving away as a gift, I can ask John to bless it,” she said. “The blessing I cherish the most is watching John when he is talking with someone and then he raises his hands as they bow their head and I see John give them a blessing, knowing that through the apostolic succession, John has just brought the Holy Spirit down to this person, helping them with whatever struggle they are currently going through. It touches my heart deeply every time I see it.”
Through the Sacrament of Marriage, Maria Kucharski explained that God called her to be part of a diaconal couple. Maria’s husband, Dcn. Jeffrey Kucharski, was ordained in 2022 and serves St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield.
“Throughout our formation, wives are reminded that ordination is a call for the husband, and our role after ordination is whatever we want it to be,” she said. “For Jeff and I, we support our parish and the greater Catholic community in different ways. For married deacons and their wives, we are also disciples in the evangelization of the Sacrament of Marriage, and of a family striving to be a model of the Holy Family.”
As deacon wives, Maria said they uniquely bring a Marian spirit to the Church, as do all women.
“I recall one of the Schoenstatt sisters reminding us that specifically, as deacon wives, we are the permanent companion to someone who serves the Lord and needs Mary by his side,” she said, adding that there have been gifts and challenges being the wife of a deacon. “A few of the notable gifts are developing a stronger marital prayer life, growing in spiritual formation and developing a deeper relationship with Christ together.”
Some may have concerns that having a husband who is a permanent deacon may take away from the domestic church, but Maria said it is just the opposite.
“Married deacons’ role as deacons, husbands and parents provides an entry point for their ministry. At our most recent post-ordination day of reflection in June, we were given an article about this exact subject. It stated that the deacon, his wife and his children support one another in their faith and grow together through the love they share,” she said. “Like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the deacon and his wife take the lead in their family to love God and one another, serve the needy and respond to God’s call.”
Maria and Dcn. Jeff have experienced many blessings since his ordination, including the support and graciousness of their St. Dominic Parish family.
Mary Petrie, whose husband Dcn. Dennis Petrie was ordained in 2012, remembers Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki asking her if she was nervous at the Ordination Mass.
“It didn’t give me pause, as we had been through a lot,” she said. “I think what made a bigger impact on me was at our deacon retreat at the start of our formation year, I had to pledge to always uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. At the time, that made an impression on me, and still does, and I was nervous.”
Dcn. Petrie serves St. Anthony on the Lake Parish in Pewaukee and helps at Catholic Memorial High School, where Mary teaches.
The most difficult aspect of going through the formation and the only reservations Mary had were due to the ages of their four children.
“Leaving your children alone, all day, every other Saturday was rough. Our kids were in activities, and sometimes we missed their events because of Saturday class,” she said. “And there were a few times when the formation program conflicted with major family events that we ended up missing due to class requirements.”
However, watching her husband serve as a deacon provides an opportunity to serve as a visible witness to marriage and family as a part of the Church.
“Members of our community often remark that it is so neat to see us sit together at church or be involved together at Mass,” she said. “I think anytime we can live our marriage commitment publicly so others can witness it, is one of our most important roles.”
While the role of deacon can be demanding and time-consuming, Mary said the Sacrament of Matrimony is their first vocation.
“Sometimes the demands of the diaconate have affected our family plans, but overall, it has strengthened our family and marriage,” she said. “I think sometimes before Dennis retired, parishioners didn’t realize he had a full-time job. And sometimes I think they forget he has a family and there are family obligations. Sometimes he just has to say no, which bothers him.”
One of the most unexpected blessings for Mary and Dcn. Dennis was in ministering to family and other relatives.
“Dennis has witnessed the marriage vows of our two youngest children, and he has baptized seven of our eight grandchildren. The joy he has gotten from these things is a wonderful gift from God,” she said. “A few times, he has given homilies at funerals or funeral services of our relatives. And while these are not happy occasions, he feels blessed to be a part of them.”
As a couple, Mary and Dcn. Dennis enjoy traveling north to their family cottage when they have some free time.
“Often Dennis will work on ‘deacon’ stuff, and I will be doing school work, but we are together without the usual ‘business’ being at home can generate,” she said. “Again, we highly value and guard our time together as a couple.”
Diaconate Informational Meetings Set
Do you know a man — or are you married to one — who may be interested in becoming a deacon? One-hour informational sessions are set for 7 p.m. July 13 at St. John Paul II Parish – St. Alexander Site Hall, 1568 W. Holt Ave., Milwaukee; and 11:15 a.m. Sunday, July 16, at Holy Apostles Church, 16000 W. National Ave., New Berlin.
A series of next-step discernment sessions will be held in the fall. Visit https://www.archmil.org/offices/Diaconate.htm for more information.