Editor’s note: This monthly series looks at the many programs that are financially supported by the Diocesan Services Appeal in the Diocese of Palm Beach. Donations to the DSA stay local, financing 47 Catholic initiatives within our five counties. The funding protects the most vulnerable among us, from the unborn child to the elderly, provides food for those who are hungry, sustains our Catholic schools, supports seminarians preparing for the priesthood and much more. This installment in the series explores the Permanent Deacon Formation program.
PALM BEACH GARDENS | Deacon Pete Del Valle, who oversees the Permanent Deacon Formation program of the diocese, is looking for a few good men who feel a tug from God to serve the church.
He recently talked about interviewing two men who expressed interest in the diaconate. When Deacon Del Valle asked the first man if he wanted to become a deacon, he said, “I guess so,” because some felt he would make a good deacon.
The other man said he felt the Lord was pulling him by his heart toward the diaconate. “I know that the Lord is calling that (second) individual,” he said. “This individual is involved with different aspects of the church, though not deeply. But he feels this pull. And that is the kind of man I want because they don’t mind washing a disciple’s feet.”
Deacon Del Valle, who has been a permanent deacon for nine years and was appointed head of the formation office in April, is responsible for attracting new men to the program, “which is really quite challenging,” he said.
“Our diocese does things a little bit differently than others, where the parish covers the entire cost of tuition and the retreat for the men,” Deacon Del Valle said. “So, that can be sometimes a stumbling block for certain pastors because the pastor has to be on board 100% for that individual to come into the program. And the pastor can pull support at any point for any reason.”
Currently, there are nine men in formation to become deacons, he said, and he is trying to assemble a new class of at least five more men. They attend classes at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.
“The seminary aspect is tough,” Deacon Del Valle said. “They meet every Wednesday from August until April from 7 to 10 p.m. And then one time a month for those nine months we meet for the weekend.”
Besides the classroom training, there is formation in fellowship with a pastoral component to it, he said. “I oversee that kind of teaching with them. I try to get other deacons that are in different ministries, be it prison ministry or hospital ministry, come in to speak to the men about these different ministries. Pastorally, I rely a lot on my own experience speaking to them.”
Deacon Del Valle, whose full-time job is being pastoral associate at St. Therese de Lisieux Parish in Wellington, said important parts of diaconal ministry are being a good listener and having a vibrant prayer life.
“I teach them to pray because it’s amazing how many people really don’t know how to pray,” he said. “They think that just doing the rote prayers is all we need to do, but we need to create a relationship with the Lord.
“And I teach them how to pray over people because that’s another thing they should know,” Deacon Del Valle said.
He is grateful for the support of donors to the Diocesan Services Appeal, which covers the costs associated with his formation office, continuing education, membership in partner organizations and speakers brought in to talk with deacon candidates.
His goal is impressing on the men their need to be close to God. “Academics are extremely important. I’m not putting that aside at all,” Deacon Del Valle said. “But I believe that the spirituality aspect of it needs to really intensify.”
Thanks to the generosity of Diocesan Services Appeal donors, efforts to boost permanent deacon formation are supported by the Diocese of Palm Beach. The faithful’s participation in the appeal is a vital part of the diocese’s ability to provide these services. For more information about formation programs for permanent deacons, call the office at 561-775-9540 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For details on the DSA and how to donate, go to https://www.diocesepb.org/ministriesoffices/offices/development/diocesan-services-appeal/.