A Life-Changing Choice for Two: When Husbands Enter the Diaconate, Wives' Roles Can Be as Varied as the Women Who Take Them On

Article excerpt

Deacons' wives are not cut from the same cookie cutter.

There is not a typical wife, many said. Like every marriage is unique, every diaconate marriage is unique, one said.

Some wives may share ministries with their husband; some may not. Some may have their life dramatically change; others, not so much. Others said they do not know what life would be like not being a deacon's wife.

"There is a set role for the deacon; it's in the norms ... for wives, there is no role," said Susan Del Gaudio, whose husband has served as a deacon in the Sacramento, Calif., diocese for almost 17 years. "There is nothing that we look for other than someone who is going to be supportive of her husband in his role as a deacon. It is going to be varied and different, which is kinda fun."

As with any life change, the first reaction often is hesitation. (A deacon candidate needs his wife's consent and needs her to send a letter of support to the bishop.) When Regina Moreno's husband first told her he wanted to join the diaconate, she was hesitant.

As a pastoral associate in New York City and longtime worker in the church, Moreno knew how much commitment would be involved for her husband.

"It wasn't just you go to the church for a few hours more every week than you've been doing it," she said. (Also, deacons typically are not paid.)

She supported him, worked around her schedule to participate in classes with him and even helped him study. "It's been a great joy," she said, a sentiment commonly expressed.

Mary Hengen was a bit hesitant some 25 years ago when her husband was discerning.

"I thought in order to have everything be right in your marriage that you had to agree 100 percent on everything that was happening," said Hengen, who is a hospice social worker and whose husband is deacon at the Catholic Student Center at Washington University in St. Louis. But through lots of conversation for many months, "it finally dawned on me that I can support Phil in doing something that I myself wouldn't choose to do. ... Even if it were open to women, I wouldn't choose to be a deacon."

Hengen, who considers her and her husband "the luckiest diaconate couple in the U.S.," did not come from a family with a firm Catholic base, she said. By attending classes with couples who were older than she and her husband, she found "spiritual parents."

When Diane Goeke's husband raised the subject, at first there was silence in the house, she said. But she told him if he wanted to do it, to "go for it" but not expect her "to change who I am."

After he was ordained for the Sacramento diocese, she felt a calling to be a spiritual director and entered a program. "I don't think I would've done that if I hadn't gone through this experience," she said.

"There's a blessing whenever ... I see husbands and wives ministering together, but given our individual talents and gifts, that's not always the case where you can minister together," said Lisa Amore, who works in the Brooklyn, N.Y., diocese's vocation office.

"We're all called to serve God in our own respective vocations and ministries," she said.

The Brooklyn diocese's deacon formation program requested the wives attend the first 18 months of classes to realize how life-changing it is, Moreno said. For some wives, it is more life-changing than for others.

Some help their husbands with ministries and/or have their own, and many also participate in formation classes with their husbands, doing the same work except the test at the end of the five years. Some wives and husbands feel a tinge of disappointment at the end of formation that women--not necessarily themselves--who feel capable and feel a call to the diaconate cannot be deacons.

Because becoming a deacon affects both lives of the couple, some dioceses encourage wives to attend the classes, such as the Los Angeles archdiocese, which requires them to participate in the aspiring year (and certain other classes) with their husbands. …