The Diaconal Community of the Diocese of Saint Cloud is one of the oldest in the nation and dates back to 1968 when the bishops of the United States received permission from Pope Paul VI to implement the renewal of the Permanent Diaconate in this country. Four pilot training programs were established in the United States including one at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. From this program, John Scott, the first deacon for the Diocese was ordained by Bishop George Speltz in 1971.
The Diocese of Saint Cloud then established its own formation program. That program was approved by the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate in 1978 and the next four deacons were ordained that year; Mike Keable, Ken Kruchten, Fred Reker and John Salchert. The Diaconal Community, having grown to eight deacons by 1982, established itself as a formal group for the sake of offering one another support and further strengthening their bond as a servant community within the diocese.
In those early years, deacons nationwide experienced some difficult moments. In part this was due to the fact that their role was not clearly understood by the priests and lay people. Many priests supported the renewal of the diaconate but were unsure of the distinctiveness of the deacon and his role in the contemporary Church. It became apparent the formation programs in place at the time did not offer adequate preparation for the complexities of pastoral care and that a clearer vision of how to utilize the gifts of the deacon was needed. A 1985 report indicated that approximately fourteen permanent deacon formation programs were put on hold, including the program in the Diocese of St. Cloud.
In response, an Ad Hoc Committee was established in August 1988 by Bishop Jerome Hanus with the assigned task of clarifying a Mission Statement regarding the role of deacons in the Diocese of Saint Cloud. Upon completing the statement in 1989, the Ad Hoc Committee presented it to the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Diocesan Presbyteral Council. They endorsed the Mission Statement, which became an endorsement for the Diaconate in the diocese to reorganize. Part of this reorganization was the establishment by Bishop Hanus of a Deacon Advisory Board. Under the leadership of Deacon Mike Keable, new screening and application procedures were also introduced. In addition, a revamped formation program was implemented with the cooperation and assistance of St. John’s University and College of St. Benedict’s. In 1996, the first deacons to be ordained under this new formation program were Jerry Schwarzbauer, Don Tzinski, and John Woods.
In the Fall of 1997, after receiving recommendations of a curriculum study committee, Bishop John Kinney established that as of 2001, all deacons would be required to complete a master’s degree in pastoral ministry, as well as one additional year of supervised internship before they were ordained. That revision of the formation program became fully operational in the Fall of 1998 and remains in effect to this day. Currently the Diocese of St. Cloud is only one of five in the nation that maintains such high standards for it’s permanent deacons. In a letter to the Diocese regarding these new requirements, Bishop Kinney stated, “ The renewal of diaconal ministry has been a great grace for the church and our diocese. I pray the new formation program here will benefit the People of God for many years to come.” As of June, 2013, thirty-one permanent deacons have been ordained under these latest formation guidelines.