The diaconate class of 1987 was one of the largest in diocesan history with 23 members. The ordinations by then-Bishop Robert Mulvee took place in two different places; 15 men were ordained in Wilmington, and eight in Ocean City, Md.
Twenty five years later, 11 members of that class, along with the widow of one of their members, celebrated their silver anniversary at a March 3 Mass at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church. Bishop Malooly was the main celebrant and homilist.
Speaking to the deacons, their wives and family members of the class of 1987 at the Mass, Bishop Malooly praised the deacons for being men of service to the church, who celebrate the sacrament of baptism and preside at weddings; men of the Word in their preaching; and men, “who in most cases are examples for us with their wives in the beauty of marriage.”
Although many of original 23 deacons have retired or are deceased, seven members of that class still remain active in the diocese.
Deacon John Falkowski of Resurrection Parish in Wilmington, remembered why he decided to follow the path to the diaconate. “I always felt like I had a call to be of service.” When he heard about the class forming he thought, “that might be something I’d like to consider.”
His first assignment was at St. Catherine of Siena Parish. In those days, “There were some concerns: ‘What do deacons do? How do we use them? Should we let them preach?’ Eventually, these concerns were put aside. Not all pastors were necessarily open; that has changed,” he said.
Deacon Joseph Romans said he suspected he wouldn’t become a deacon because he didn’t think he’d be comfortable giving homilies. But “I knew the Lord wanted me in the class; it was just a stop along the way to where I should go.”
After joining the program, Romans said, “It became clear to me that (God) did want me to become a deacon. Romans was also encouraged by friends whom he had asked to pray for him in his decision.
“They said, ‘you can’t make your decision now, but you need to get into the program.’”
His concern about giving homilies was overcome, he says, because he and his classmates were “very well prepared in the program” through practice sessions and critiques, assuring they were ready to preach.
One reward of the diaconate has been personal spiritual growth.
“I certainly feel that I’ve grown in terms of my own spirituality,” Falkowski said. He has a master’s degree from La Salle University, and a certification in spiritual studies from Neumann College.
“Further studies have given me a fuller understanding of my faith, to combine matters of head and heart together. I think I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of faith and how it works,” he said.
Romans, director of the diocesan Mission Office, agreed. “It’s been quite a journey. It’s always evolving, never the same.”
Falkowski and Romans both say the role of deacon has grown in the 25 years they have served, and it can always be different. “A deacon, when he is in a parish, tries to help fulfill the needs of the parish. No parish is identical. There is no template for every deacon. It’s more the template of the parish,” said Romans.
Falkowski said the primary role of the deacon was to serve the bishop, so they understood they “could be called to serve in other ministries.” Theses ministries can go beyond the parishes, such as hospital or nursing home chaplain, working as advocates for the Diocesan Tribunal, Hispanic ministry, and prison ministry.
Among his duties as deacon, Falkowski works in prison ministry, assists with a grief support group at Resurrection Parish and, along with fellow Deacon Ed Lynch, works for the diocesan Remarriage Program. In addition to his roles at St. Mary Magdalen Parish and the Missions Office, Romans also serves as a chaplain for Christiana Care.
Romans said that through the baptism program at the parish “we find a lot of couples that need to have their marriage blessed.” He enjoys being able to guide the couples through that process.
As married men, the support of their wives has been critical. Romans says his wife, Gerry, has had a role in the journey. “She’s been very active; she is a Eucharistic minister, we work the Easter program (at St. Mary Magdalen) and we had a summer school program for years together.”
Falkowski said his wife, Patricia, “has always supported me and encouraged me and in many respects has been a companion with me on the journey.”
However, Romans said, “There are some places where the wife can join in, other places where you are separated quite a bit,” such as when he is participating in Mass.