History of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Charleston

The Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity called for the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate. Pope Paul VI, in July, 1967, issued a decree, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, restoring this sacred order of the Permanent Diaconate to the Church in countries which requested it. In recent centuries only men preparing for ordination to the priesthood were ordained to the diaconate. While this practice still continues, the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate provides for persons to be ordained to the office of Deacon permanently without any intention of Catholic Bishops petitioned Rome for Permanent Deacons in order "to complete the hierarchy of sacred orders and to enrich and strengthen the various diaconal ministries at work in the United States with the sacramental grace of the Diaconate". This request of the NCCB was approved in Rome in August, 1968.

In 1971, the Bishop's Committee on the Permanent Diaconate, under the chairmanship of Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler, then Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, published guidelines for the formation and ministry of permanent deacons in the United States. These guidelines drew upon the experience and knowledge gained in the initial programs and upon a report of the Catholic Theological Society of America on the theology of the diaconate. The guidelines were written in a creative and open manner and served the American Church well as it began to assimilate the new ministry of the deacons.

In February of 1978, the committee was authorized to commission a comprehensive study of the permanent diaconate in the United States. A work ensued, entitled A National Study of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States, and it explained the strengths and weaknesses of the diaconate in the United States.

The leadership of Bishop John J. Snyder, bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and later of Bishop John F. Kinney, brought a revision in these guidelines in November of 1984. The new guidelines were published in July of 1985.

The diaconate program in the Diocese of Charleston was initiated by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler and supervised by Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, V.G., who was named the Director of Deacons. During the many years that Msgr. Duffy directed the diaconate program, deacons were sent to serve throughout the diocese in parochial and diocesan assignments. He led the program from its days of infancy to its time of growth. Many different types of formational programs were initiated and implemented. Constant updating was seen in the academic training program. The priests of the diocese assisted in this effort by the gratuitous and generous gift of their time to educate the deacons.

In 1990, under the leadership of Bishop David B. Thompson, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Msgr. Joseph R. Roth was appointed Chairman of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the diocese. In 1999 Bishop Robert J. Baker appointed Msgr. Roth as the Director of Deacons. Msgr. Roth is assisted in this work by Fr. Edward W. Fitzgerald.
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