2023-2027 Permanent Deacon Formation Program

Answering the Call to the Permanent Diaconate within the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.
(click to read)

2023-2024 Aspirancy Manual
(click to read)

Inquiry Weekend

August 25-27 2023, at the Ursuline Centre, Great Falls

There will be a Permanent Deacon Inquiry Weekend August 25-27, 2023 in Great Falls.  This weekend is intended for interested men and their wives and will give them an idea of what a Permanent Deacon is and what they do. The weekend will describe the formation process and its requirements as well as introducing the concept of prayerful discernment.  Those interested in the Permanent Diaconate and their wives are invited to this free Inquiry Weekend (meals included).

Applying for the diaconate requires prayerful consideration of a number of factors as a means of deciding whether to complete an application for the Permanent Diaconate. The Office of the Permanent Diaconate will offer an Inquiry Weekend August 25-27, 2023. 

A new group of candidates selected from those who formally apply will begin formation classes in November 2023
Those interested should try and attend the Inquiry Weekend. 

If interested, please fill out the “Interest” form online here or print and submit the form via mail.

For more information about the Permanent Diaconate, contact:
Deacon Pete Woelkers
Director of Deacon Formation
Diocese of Great Falls-Billings
Office (406) 604-1852 Cell (406) 899-7383

Program Overview

The first year, the Aspirancy Year, is a time of exploration with the deacon formation program to expand information on “what is a Permanent Deacon and to support discernment and spiritual growth to begin the first stages of formation. It is also when the four years of academics with the Notre Dame McGrath Institute will begin. The three years of Candidate formation following the Aspirancy Year are more rigorous and demanding.

Deacon formation occurs through academic courses, supervised experiences and workshops, organized around four areas:

  • Intellectual (academic) formation
  • Pastoral/Liturgical formation (to include Supervised ministry formation)
  • Spiritual formation
  • Human formation

Intellectual/Academic formation occurs through online course with the University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute.  A set curriculum for Deacon Formation, one class at a time over the four years of formation.  Supervised ministry formation is achieved through field experience. Pastoral/liturgical, spiritual, and human formation receive special attention through our weekend workshops that occur seven times a year.

The time commitment for the four years of formal formation full participation in online academic classes, seven weekends (5 pm Friday evening through noon on Sunday) and an annual three-day retreat. Of course, these refer only to times when physical presence is required. Study, reading and prayer time is over and above this minimum.

In each of the years, a number of assessments occur:

  • An annual academic evaluation provided by the McGrath Institute faculty will be provided to the formation team.
  • A yearly interview with a panel of deacons and wives.
  • An end of year interview with the formation director to decide about continuing in the formation program.

Overview Of The Application Process

As an ordained minister of the Church, the deacon is a public sign of Jesus the Servant. How and why Jesus chooses any of us for service as ordained ministers in the Church is a mystery. Discerning that call takes time, and it involves many people in conversation and prayer: the candidate, his spouse and family, the Church as represented by the bishop and program directors, and people who know the candidate, especially his pastor, teachers and mentors along the way.


Deacon Candidates in the 2020-2024 Diaconate Cohort pose with Deacon Pete Woelkers and Bishop Michael Warfel

There are standards of admission to help the Church provide the people of God with the best possible ordained ministers. You are encouraged to carefully and prayerfully read through the following list of considerations, which represent the basics needed to enter the program. If you cannot answer these considerations positively, then the diaconate is likely not for you – at least, not at this time. If there are one or two considerations about which you are unsure, please talk with us about them. We will do our best to help you decide whether to apply at this time. If you can affirm these considerations, then return to prayer and ask the Lord to bless your next step of completing and mailing the application forms.

The following considerations apply to all applicants:

  • You must be a baptized and confirmed Catholic male normally between the ages of 30 and 55. By Canon law, the earliest you can be ordained is age 35.  Men 56 – 60 years of age will be considered if in good health.
  • You must be active in and in good standing with the Church and your parish. At a minimum, this means:
    • You are faithful in attending Mass and regular in Confession.
    • Prayer is integral to your life.
    • You have a relationship with Jesus.
    • You accept and support the Church in her teachings.
    • You are perceived as a man of integrity within the community.
    • You cannot have been Catholic, formally joined another Church and returned to Catholicism.
  • You must be willing to serve the Church under the direction of the Bishop.
  • You must be in good physical health – sufficiently active and energized to endure the rigors of the formation program and later the demands of ministry. Physical stamina is essential.
  • You must be a mature person, in good psychological health and free of addictive behaviors.
  • You must be able to study and pass the courses. Courses are taught at a college course level. Academic achievement is important.
  • You must be able to make a substantial time commitment to formation for a total of four consecutive years.  The time commitment for the four years of formal formation full participation in online academic classes.  The preset curriculum has been designed to meet the diaconal formation requirements outlined by USCCB and will be accomplished one at a time.  These classes are year-round with breaks for Christmas and Easter.  Physical participation by the aspirant/candidate and their wives (if they have one) is seven weekends (5 pm Friday evening through noon on Sunday) and an annual three-day retreat. These weekends are held, no more than one per month, between September and June.  Of course, these refer only to times when physical presence is required. Study, reading and prayer time is over and above this minimum.  Note: Time and availability are a critical key factor in deciding whether to continue the application process.
  • You should have a clear history and record of charitable service and outreach to others, especially those who are marginalized. This service can be within your parish or the Church and/or it can be civic outreach. Within your parish or Church, this is beyond any kind of help with Liturgies (reader, usher, extraordinary minister, etc.).  Note: This also is an important factor in deciding whether to continue the application process.
  • You must be stable in your employment/income.
  • You should have established residency in the Diocese.
  • You must have the recommendation of your pastor.

The following considerations depend on your marital status:

If you are married:

  • You must be in a stable Catholic marriage of five years or longer.  Questions regarding divorce and annulment situations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
  • You must have the active and willing support of your wife.
  • Your wife must be willing to take an active part in those parts of the program required of wives.
  • If your wife is Catholic, she too must be active in and in good standing with the Church and your parish. At a minimum, this means:
    • She is faithful in attending Mass and regular in Confession.
    • Prayer is integral to her life.
    • She has a relationship with Jesus.
    • She accepts and supports the Church in her teachings.
  • If your wife is not Catholic, she must live the witness of a good Christian life.
  • If you have older children at home, they must be supportive of you in pursuing the diaconate.
  • If you have younger children, it is best if they are at least in the latter years of grammar school. Young children at home do not necessarily preclude admission to the program, but they are a very serious consideration since your first vocation is with your family.
  • Your spouse must understand and accept that, should she precede you in death, you ordinarily are not free to re-marry.

If you are single or widowed, you must be willing to embrace celibacy freely as a permanent life.

Application Process

Program Details: The process leading to ordination as a deacon consists of four years of Formal Formation.   During the first year of the program, aspirants will focus primarily on what is a deacon, discernment and spiritual growth.  Formal admission to the four-year formation program follows completion/submission of the Application and an invitation enter into Aspirancy by the Bishop.

Formation. More detailed information about diaconal formation can be found in the Aspirancy and Candidate Manuals at the Deacon page on the Diocese Web Site:  https://diocesegfb.org/home-page/vocations/permanent-deacons/deacon-forms/.  

APPLICATION:  You and your wife will be required to complete an application package.  You will receive the package at the Inquiry Weekend or from the Office of the Permanent Diaconate.   The package includes:

  • Application Instructions
  • Applicant Referral Form
  • Aspirancy Application
  • Wife’s Questionnaire and Consent
  • Pastors Recommendation Form
  • Physician’s Report
  • Authorizations and Release

 A number of assessment components occur within months of application. These include:

  • A background check.
  • A psycho-social interview with a licensed clinical social worker.
  • An evaluation interview with the Admissions Committee.
  • An interview with the formation director to decide about entering the formation program.

Family Involvement

Wives and families of prospective deacons are a most important feature of the formation program. In the early weeks of the Application Year, wives receive special consideration, with a focus on program expectations for spouses. While wives are always welcomed and encouraged to share in the formation process with their husbands, the times of required participation are few. These requirements are addressed early in the fall semester.

Director of Deacon Personnel and Formation

Deacon Pete Woelkers