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Welcome to Deacon Formation

The mission of the Institute for Diaconal Studies is to prepare men to be deacons — icons of Christ the Servant, emissaries of the bishop and servant-leaders—through a distinctive formation process for ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. It does so by offering a comprehensive program that addresses specifically the mission and identity of diaconal ministry through the four pillars of formation; the Human, Intellectual, Spiritual and Pastoral while educating men for the three-fold ministry of service to the Word, Liturgy and Charity.

The Call To The Diaconate,
Like All Christian Vocations, Comes From God.

A Catholic deacon is one who is ordained to diakonia, that is, a service to God’s People in communion with the bishop and his body of priests.  “The principal function of the deacon is to collaborate with the bishop and the priests in the exercise of a ministry which is not of their own wisdom but of the Word of God, calling all to conversion and holiness” (National Directory, USCCB, 2022, p. 23).  Deacons are official teachers and preachers of the Word, they also officiate in baptism, matrimony and funerals. They visit the sick, the home-bound and those in prison.  Their ministry also involved an outreach to the marginalized, those most in need of care, education and justice.

It is a call that may be beckoning you.  To find out more about responding to this possible call, please contact your pastor or the Institute for Diaconal Studies.  DFP is available to assist you with your questions and concerns about the requirements and procedures.  Review each of the buttons below to learn about the path to becoming a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Deacons: Missionaries in the Parish and the World

Deacons faithfully serve at the altar, in parishes, and in the community for the past 50 years.  The Council proclaimed the Sacred Order of Deacons to be “a driving force for the Church’s services or diakonia” through:

  • Celebrating sacraments, assisting at liturgies, and preaching
  • Evangelizing and catechizing
  • Works of charity
  • Animating the faithful

Deacon Formation Overview

Formation Overview

Formation is a four-year program.  It includes the one-year Aspirancy Stage, which concentrates on prayer and  discernment, and the three-year Candidate Stage, which also contains most of the academic courses in addition to all other formation elements which may lead to Holy Orders.

The program is mandated by both the Vatican (1998) and National (USCCB, 2022) Directories.  It includes the four “pillars” or dimensions of formation: human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral.  All academic coursework is taught at a university standard.

Aspirancy Stage

The Aspirancy Stage is a one year formal vocation discernment process.  It begins with an opening retreat and Welcome Mass; and concludes with a closing retreat, followed by an Admission and Scrutinies Board review.  Wives who accompany their husbands through the program are required to undertake monthly spiritual direction and participate in Theological Reflection Groups.  Wives are also required to attend some formation sessions and classes that are regarded as Key Events.  The second semester includes a comprehensive Catechism of the Catholic Church course and a Service to Charity field education component.

Candidate Stage

The Candidacy Stage is a three-year journey of formation and academic studies.  The candidates are also required to undertake monthly spiritual direction and participate in Theological Reflection Groups all three years.


The Deacon Formation Program is a constitutive part of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.  DFP liturgies throughout the year take place at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at USML, Retreats are usually held at the USML Campus Conference Center, while most academic/formation sessions take place at our satellite site, Our Lady of Ransom in Niles.

Application Process

There are two stages in the application process, Pre-Application and Inquiry and the Formal Application.


With approval from his pastor, a prospective applicant calls DFP requesting a Pre-application and Inquiry form.  This form is an important document which can uncover canonical and extra-canonical issues, as well as other information crucial to the application process.  Upon receipt, DFP may contact the prospective applicant for any needed clarification.  A successful inquirer is then encouraged to inform his pastor to contact DFP office for a formal approval of his candidate.

Formal Application

The DFP application is completed online by going to https://my.usml.edu/studapp.cfm

DFP reviews all application materials and issue an acknowledgement letter.  The applicant and wife (if applicable) are then requested to participate in Marriage Inventory (Catholic Couple Checkup) as well as the Myers Briggs Personality inventories.  Web links to these inventories are provided to the couples.

When the results of these inventories are received, DFP schedules an interview with the applicant and his wife (if married).  Upon review, DFP may issue a conditional acceptance  letter to the program.


The Inquiry Process

Do you believe the Lord may be calling you to consider this ministry?

An Exciting Time of Inquiry

The first steps of inquiry are an exciting time of learning about the role of a deacon as well as the path to becoming one.  First and foremost, it is crucial to gain an understanding of vocation discernment.  Discernment is an ongoing process where we truly understand what our God desires of us in fulfilling our baptismal commitment.  To aid your discernment, you may wish to undertake the self-directed retreat, Five Days with the Lord.


  • Have a heart-to-heart conversation with your family and your pastor
  • Attend an upcoming Exploring the Diaconate informational evening at 7:30pm

Each year, DFP provides Exploring the Diaconate sessions to raise vocation awareness and provide information about the formation program and application process.  We are here to answer any questions you may have.  Sessions are scheduled both in-person and remote. 

Wives of married inquirers are strongly encouraged to attend.  

Please note that the application deadline for the 2023-2024 Aspirancy Stage is  Aug 1, 2023.   Regretfully, DFP cannot accept late applications for the upcoming formation year.

For more information, contact Ana Aguilar, Admissions Coordinator, aaguilar@usml.edu or (847) 970-4924.

We look forward to meeting you!

There are many other preliminary questions in your mind including the role of your wife and what the four-year process of formation entails.  These will be answered at the Exploring the Diaconate Information Session.


Church Documents

Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem: General Norms for Restoring the Permanent Diaconate in the Latin Churchmotu proprio of Pope Paul VI promulgating the restoration of the diaconate by the Second Vatican Council

Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons & Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, published jointly in 1998 by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy

National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, published in 2022 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

Apostolic Letter Containing Norms  for the Order of Diaconate, Paul VI Ad Pascendum, August 15, 1972