This past November, the diaconate formation class attended a weekend retreat at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri.
The retreat preceded their ultimate entrance into the stage of Candidacy.
There were fourteen couples present for the retreat. They represent parish communities from throughout the diocese, including Marceline, Palmyra, St. Clement, Centralia, Columbia, Boonville, Sedalia, Jefferson City, Wardsville, Taos and Rolla.
In addition to the formation class, six deacons and their wives were present to walk through the weekend retreat with those in formation.
The setting of Conception Abbey offered a unique spiritual opportunity for the group.
“The rhythm of the weekend was established by praying with the Benedictine community,” Deacon John Schwartze, diocesan director of diaconate formation, stated. “We began each day with Morning Prayer and then progressed to Holy Mass and then evening prayer and concluded each day with Night Prayer.”
Saturday afternoon included a breakout session for the wives, who were given a talk on spiritual direction by Karen Ceckowski of the Abbey.
This was followed by the opportunity for spiritual direction for the women. Two priests from the Benedictine community also made themselves available for the Sacrament of Confession.
Father Daniel J. Merz, diocesan director of the Permanent Diaconate, led the retreat. He offered four guided sessions spaced throughout the three days.
The sessions laid the groundwork for the overall theme of the retreat, which was “Surrendering to God’s Will in Life.”
The sessions built on each other:
Deacon Schwartze showed two videos on the diaconate — one from the Diocese of Joliet and the other from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Both of the videos reiterated the important role that the wife plays during formation and after ordination.
They also provided insight into how deacons and wives are to support each other physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In addition, the call to the diaconate was shown to strengthen the marriages of those couples who walked together during the formation period and into ordained ministry.
The videos also pointed to the deacon as the witness to Christ the Servant in the world and offered a bridge between the pastor and laity.
The group was left with the message to trust God in their vocation and to surrender to His divine providence in their lives.
The feedback from the group was very positive. The participants enjoyed the rhythm of the monastic prayer and chant and the realization that they were part of a 150-year tradition of prayer at the Abbey.
The agenda of the retreat allowed for ample time for personal prayer and reflection. And though the weather was cold, many were able to enjoy walks around the beautiful grounds and natural settings of the Abbey.