PROVIDENCE – From their first retreat at Enders Island in Mystic, Conn., four years ago, the 21 members of permanent diaconate class developed a fraternal bond forged by prayer, mutual support, encouragement and fidelity to the church as they prepared to serve God’s people.
Deacon Cyrille “Cy” Cote, a lifelong parishioner of Christ the King Parish, West Warwick, where he has served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, lector and member of the parish council and youth ministry, said the retreat served to ease the aspirants onto a prayerful and peaceful path as they continued their discernment.
In preparation for their ministry, the candidates began a challenging formation program that included nine graduate level courses at Providence College and five additional courses taught by diocesan priests. Their coursework included classes in the Old Testament, Scripture, church history, homiletics, canon law and moral theology. The candidates also participated in several weekend retreats and many hours of practical training in preparation for their new ministries.
Deacons seeking master’s degrees in theology are required to complete an additional graduate course. Those without a bachelor’s degree will be granted a certificate of completion in theology.
According to Deacon Paul J. Sullivan, diocesan coordinator of permanent deacons, the new deacons are “exceptionally well trained” for their new roles in the church. Deacon Sullivan and Deacon James T. Walsh, assistant coordinator, developed the formation program with the assistance of diocesan priests and deacons along with the graduate faculty in the Department of Theology at Providence College.
Father Timothy D. Reilly, diocesan chancellor, presented an introductory course in canon law during a weekend retreat for the then-candidates in 2009.
“They made it a pleasure,” he said. “I felt like I was on retreat with them.”
Father Reilly said the class members displayed a keen interest in learning the material he presented, and an ensuing question and answer period lasted an additional 45 minutes beyond its scheduled time.
“These men were hungry for the church’s teachings and the essentials of canon law,” he added.
Deacon Cote said that while the courses that the aspirants completed were at times very challenging, the instruction provided necessary knowledge and information to help better prepare the candidates for their various ministries.
“The objective was to give us the tools we needed for our vocation,” Deacon Cote said, adding that the professors, priests and deacons “all did an outstanding job” preparing the candidates for a life of service.
He said that during the past four years he at times questioned the Lord’s call, sometimes asking himself if he was worthy of the office of deacon or if God was really calling him to serve the church. The new deacon added that during periods of doubt, he resolved his uncertainty by praying to Jesus and praying for his guidance.
“It’s as if Christ has your hand, and he’s pulling you along,” he said. “It helps you to continue.”
Deacon Cote said that he wouldn’t have been able to complete the program without the support of his wife Pauline, who he described as “his best friend and supporter.”
“That’s what a good marriage is all about,” he added.
A former chief of police in West Warwick and chief of campus police at Rhode Island College, Deacon Cote also served in the National Guard, where he achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major.
During a 2003 National Guard deployment in Iraq, he was invited to distribute Communion to soldiers serving in combat in the desert.
“It was an enriching, spiritual experience,” Deacon Cote recalled, noting that ministering to the troops helped him to realize that God was calling him to a life of ministry.
For another new deacon, it was his fellow parishioners who encouraged him to discern God’s calling.
Deacon Paul St. Laurent, a parishioner of St. Anthony Parish, Portsmouth, said that friends, noting his daily Mass attendance and steadfast dedication to the parish, often encouraged him to apply for the diaconate program. He also received the enthusiastic support of his pastor, Father Daniel Gray, who encouraged him throughout the formation program.
The retired engineer, who now works part-time for the North Tiverton Fire District, said that previous graduate studies prepared him for the academic challenges the formation program presented, and allowed him to become familiar with his professors’ expectations.
“It was rigorous, demanding and thorough,” he said. “It’s building a solid foundation for our service to the church.”
He added that one unexpected benefit of the formation program was that its members became a large extended family, praying for members who faced challenges and celebrating successes. Deacon St. Laurent noted that he underwent seven eye surgeries during the four-year program, and was constantly affirmed by the prayerful support he received from the aspirants and their families.
“You put your vocation in the hands of the Lord and the Blessed Mother,” Deacon St. Laurent said, adding that God and Mary’s constant protection helped many of the candidates to overcome obstacles such as personal and family illnesses that they encountered during the formation process.
“You learn to support each other,” he emphasized.
Deacon St. Laurent said that like everyone discerning a religious vocation, he also initially questioned his worthiness to serve the Lord.
“As you go through the formation program, your faith grows,” he said.