Deacon John Ebel was an industrial microbiologist when he felt the calling to the diaconate.
Ebel, who was ordained in 1996 and is the director of diaconate formation for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, considers his position working with future deacons a blessing.
“It’s a wonderful life,” Ebel said. “It’s truly been a blessing to my family, to my marriage. I’ve been so blessed to have this position. To a man, they will tell you coming through formation is one of the best times and experiences of their life. Any man who thinks the Lord’s calling them into service should consider the ministry of the diaconate.”
Right now, about 20 prospective deacons are mulling over a 38-page application that is due at the end of May as part of the current biennial selection process for candidates.
While there is no set number of deacon candidates chosen at the end of the summer to begin the four-year training process, Ebel estimates about a dozen to 16 candidates may emerge.
That’s from a group of about 60-80 men in the archdiocese who have made inquiries over the past two years. About 30 of those went through the discernment process.
“In a crude way, every time we go through the process, we lose 50 percent,” Ebel said.
But just getting their hands on the application has required a long journey for the prospective deacons, who have gone through the discernment process sometime in the past two years and then asked their pastor for an endorsement. That endorsement includes a promise of financial help, support, evaluation and involving the candidate in the parish.
From there, the candidates receive a shorter application that is screened before the 38-pager is sent out.
While they are working on the long application, they come in for interviews and there are certain inventories Ebel and his staff will assess the potential deacons on.
In June, Ebel will start to look at all of the information that come in and meet with a committee on admissions and scrutiny. Each candidate goes before a board of about 12 people to be interviewed. The board either votes yes, no or defer on each of the candidates.
Everything is then given to Archbishop Jerome Listecki by late July or early August, and then he makes his decision on who will enter the four-year formation process.
Usually the votes by the board are close to unanimous either in favor or against the candidate; Ebel said it can get sticky if there is a prevailing thought the candidate may need to be deferred.
While it is too late for candidates to enter this year’s class, the next class will form in 2020.
Ebel said now is a good time for those believe they may be called to serving as a deacon to begin the process.
The first step would be to talk to your spouse and adult kids and then to contact Ebel’s office (414-758-2212; firstname.lastname@example.org).
He also suggests attending an informational session held throughout the archdiocese, contacting your pastor and/or deacon at your parish, and taking stock of the ministries you have been involved with in the Church.
“Have you been with people who find themselves in trouble because that’s where the deacon finds himself,” Ebel said.
He said class sizes are staying steady, which he considers a victory.
After candidates are chosen, they start their four-year program in September, spending every Tuesday and every other Saturday in classes for three 12-week sessions every year.
Their first year is spent in aspirancy, and then they’re evaluated again before moving into the three-year formation process.
While you have to be 35 years old to become a deacon, Ebel said usually the candidates are much older.
“It’s hard to get young people because of the commitment,” Ebel said. “They’re still trying to become who God created them to be. Most men will say ‘I’m so blessed, and I’ve been so fortunate, that I want to give back to God, and I feel this calling coming and I want to respond to it,’ so that comes a little later in life.”
However, he thinks there may be an advantage to entering the diaconate at a younger age.
“We encourage the younger men because, quite frankly, sometimes it’s easier to do when you have little kids because they don’t know dad’s not around,” Ebel said.