By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

WYNNEWOOD – The permanent diaconate department of the Philadelphia Archdiocese has been incorporated into St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, creating a fourth spanision of the seminary, the Permanent Diaconate spanision, Cardinal Justin Rigali recently announced.

Although the permanent diaconate previously operated under the auspices of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Clergy, its headquarters prior to the incorporation were and will continue to be at St. Charles.

The change was official July 1. On the same date, Cardinal Rigali appointed Deacon James T. Owens, 66, the first dean of the permanent diaconate. Ordained a permanent deacon in 1999, Deacon Owens has served as the director of the permanent diaconate department since 2009. He was the assistant director in 2008-09 and associate to the director from 2001 to 2008. {{more}}

He and wife Cathy are members of SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester, Chester County.

“The permanent diaconate spanision of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary will be a great blessing to our future permanent deacons,” said Deacon Owens.

In June 2008, the Cardinal appointed a committee for the review of the permanent diaconate. Incorporating the formation of the permanent deacons into the structure of St. Charles Seminary was an outcome of the committee’s work.

The committee was chaired by Msgr. Gregory J. Parlante, pastor of St. Cornelius Parish in Chadds Ford, Chester County, who since 2009 has served as an associate to the Vicar for Clergy in the permanent diaconate.

A permanent deacon, as the name suggests, is called to permanent diaconal service to assist the bishop and the priest, while the transitional deacon is on a path to the priesthood and serves in the diaconate for generally one year in preparation for the priesthood.

A permanent deacon may be married before he enters the diaconate program. Upon the death of the deacon’s wife, he embraces celibacy. Deacons who enter the diaconate as unmarried men embrace celibacy upon their ordination.

Both permanent and transitional deacons have a three-fold ministry of service: Word, altar and charity. The deacon preaches and teaches; assists at Mass as an ordinary minister of the Eucharist; can baptize solemnly; offers benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and in limited cases – his immediate family – witnesses marriages.

As a sacramental sign of the charity of Christ the Servant, a deacon is dedicated to the sick, the poor, the forgotten, the imprisoned and the dying.

After the Second Vatican Council formally restored the diaconate as a permanent order within the Church, then-Archbishop John Cardinal Krol initiated a program of formation for a restored permanent diaconate in response to the particular needs of two minority communities within the Church of Philadelphia.

After the ordination of the original group of 16 men from the Hispanic community in 1981 and six men from the African-American community in 1982, classes of permanent deacons in the universal program have been ordained in the Archdiocese each year since 1986.

The three other spanisions of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary are the Theology and College spanisions for seminarians studying to become priests and a Religious Studies spanision for non-seminarians, which include clergy, men and women religious and lay persons.

For more information about the permanent diaconate, call the 610-664-2213.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or