Deacon Steve: A Threefold Ministry
Deacon Stephen Hodges
SS. Peter & Paul Cathedral Indianapolis, IN
For the past 15 years, Steve Hodges of Greenwood, IN, had been looking for ways to be more involved in his parish and in his faith. So when the Archdiocese of Indianapolis established a permanent deacon program in 2003, Steve and his wife, Mary, attended the first information session.
"From the moment we walked into that room, it just seemed like that was what I was supposed to do," recalls Steve. Eventually, he and 24 other men were selected for the first class of candidates to begin a formation program to prepare them for ordination.
The program is designed and delivered by Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, which began its Permanent Deacon Formation Program in 1999. A diocese selects its candidates for the program, and Saint Meinrad provides the formation on location in the diocese.
Steve's class was typical. They began once-a-month weekend classes in September 2004 and continued for four years, taking summers off. In addition, Steve continued his fulltime work of representing firms that make commercial kitchen equipment and furniture for the hospitality industry.
The program was rigorous, Steve says. Classes began on Friday night and continued all day Saturday and until mid-afternoon Sunday. "In between, we'd have books to read and different assignments."
He adds, "The first weekend of class was probably the biggest shock for most of us. Most of us hadn't been in college for 20-some years."
He found the courses on Scripture to be particularly meaningful. "They really prepared us for what we, as deacons, need to do with the Word. Deacons have a threefold ministry. We have a ministry of charity, which is really our primary thing, but we also have the ministry of Word and the ministry of liturgy."
A better understanding of Scripture also was valuable in learning to preach. Although the formation program is held in the diocese, an intensive homiletics component takes place on the Saint Meinrad campus, where the men take advantage of a state-of-the-art homiletics facility.
With a laugh, Steve recalls the unease he felt about preaching. "I think preaching can be very intimidating. And that's one thing that when I got into the program, I thought, 'You know, God, you're calling me to do this and I'm a pretty competent guy, but when it comes to preaching….'"
"Having four years of studies helped. Having a major emphasis on Scripture helped and then we also went through the homiletics week at Saint Meinrad." During that time, each man wrote and delivered homilies, which were videotaped and critiqued by their peers and the homiletics faculty.
In addition to academics, the program takes a holistic view of formation, focusing on spiritual development, ministry experiences and even human factors such as nutrition and exercise. The candidates are encouraged to attend Mass often, meet regularly with a spiritual director and pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours.
To gain practical experience, Steve participated in jail ministry. "About twice a month, I would go to the local county jail and do communion services for some of the offenders. We would read Scripture. We would read the readings for the following Sunday and reflect upon those.
"We would always have some opportunity for sharing. I found it to be very useful, especially when we were taking our Scripture studies. It was amazing to me how many times I'd read the readings and say, 'We studied about this.' You could talk about some of those things you learned about Scripture and how God speaks to us through His words."
He also took part in hospital visits and was the spiritual director for his parish's Christ Renews His Parish team. "It would give you a different flavor, different experiences. As we're going through formation, we could work on some things and experience some things that we would probably do once we're ordained," he explains.
Steve and his classmates were ordained in June 2008. His first assignment was at nearby St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin. Besides assisting at Mass, he preached about once a month and continued his jail ministry, an outreach of the parish in recent years. He is now assigned to Saints Francis and Clare Parish in Greenwood.
Deacon Steve is also the chaplain for the Indianapolis chapter of Courage, a Church-sanctioned support group for men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction. He's led the group since its inception in 2008.
"Saint Meinrad's program was well done," says Steve. "We had some excellent instructors. We were fortunate. We were really blessed."