May 9 is the feast of Saint George Preca – Dun Gorg – a Maltese priest who died on July 26, 1962.
Devoted to the life of all the faithful, he is the founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine which was to include lay celibate members devoted to teaching the faith to the young, beginning with a small group of young people in 1907.
But, even before he was ordained, he also had the idea of establishing in every parish groups of seven permanent deacons who, with lay helpers, would be responsible for the formation of the parish. Even though he wrote a rule for them, the idea never came to fruition. He died before the Second Vatican Council opened the opportunity of the permanent diaconate.
In “The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church,” paragraph 16, , the bishops at the Second Vatican Council wrote:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.
Saint George Preca was truly a visionary priest who can help us recover the role of deacons and all the people in faith formation. I do not know of any community of deacons as he envisioned, but it might be a new direction for the permanent diaconate, especially for those of us who are celibate permanent deacons.
Image from The Times of Malta.