About 8 years ago, Julie went to visit her mother in Idaho over a long weekend. Shortly after she booked her trip I received an email from the Diaconate office inviting all ordained Deacons to join the formation classes on retreat at the Franciscan Retreat House in Prior Lake. Work was stressful at the time and I felt like a nice retreat would be a good thing and signed up.
When I packed for the weekend I went casual, as we had during my formation retreats, and packed jeans and T-shirts along with some spiritual reading. During the retreat weekend, I noticed that any of the ordained Deacons that came to teach or join the retreat were more formally dressed than myself with gray shirts and collars. In an effort to get to know the men in formation, I tried to sit with a different group at each meal and engage them in conversation. I did notice them looking at me oddly and finally one of the candidates asked me when I was going to wear my collar. My reply was that I did not own a collar, which raised all the eyebrows at the table. I did go on to explain why I did not have a Deacon’s collar and obviously did not ever wear one.
I had noticed that I was the most senior ordained Deacon participating in the weekend, with Deacon Stephen Najarian being one year my junior in the length of ordination. When my class (the class of 2002) started our formation the norm and mandate for permanent Deacons in our Archdiocese was to not wear collars. This norm had been set in place by Archbishop Roche. In my last year of formation, there was a change in leadership in the Diaconate office with both a new director and formation director. During this last year, there was talk about permanent Deacons being able to wear collars.
A few years after my ordination, a letter was sent out by Archbishop Flynn saying that permanent Deacons could wear a gray shirt and collar when their ministry required them to be recognized as clergy in settings such as hospitals or prisons. Unfortunately, I believe many took this as a license to wear a collar at all times. At Deacon community gatherings like the Archbishop’s open house for Deacons you will see a divide of Deacons, those from my class and earlier not wearing collars and those from later classes wearing collars. I do think the spirit of Archbishop Flynn’s letter was appropriate as there are times when permanent Deacons would need to be recognized as clergy but also feel the spirit of the letter indicated that should be the exception and not the norm.
More importantly to me, my call to be a Deacon came out of my vocation as a husband and father therefore I do not feel called to wear a collar in what I would consider my sub vocation (that should raise some eyebrows). We were told many times during formation that the priority was God, marriage, family, work, and then Diaconate. I think this was great advice and work hard to incorporate these priorities into my life as a Deacon.
My ministries as a Deacon have mostly been in areas where people can be returning to the Church after leaving or being absent from the Church (RCIA, Baptisms, Weddings). To many of those people, a collar can be a roadblock that can cause them anxiety and an inability to share where they are in their faith journey. Not wearing a collar is seen as less threatening to many and I find they are more willing to open up and discuss their past and their issues with the Church.
Working in a secular job meant that I spent most of my time during the day where I could not wear a collar. The people I worked with knew I was a Deacon and that provided many wonderful conversations and opportunities to unofficially minister to people, Catholic or otherwise.
To sum it up, I was called to the Diaconate during a time when permanent Deacons were mandated to not wear a collar and I have never felt a need or call to wear a collar during my ministry as a Deacon.
Peace, Love, and Blessings