Anne-Marie Welsh

ERIE — There are currently 66 men serving as permanent deacons in the Diocese of Erie, but that will likely change in the coming years. After a hiatus during which the needs within the diocese were assessed and the training curriculum for permanent deacons was refreshed, the program is now open to new candidates interested in discerning if they are being called to the diaconate.

          “I had a sense of being called to either the priesthood or the diaconate for decades,” said Deacon Tom McAraw, director of the Permanent Diaconate Program for the diocese. "There are many ways to serve the Catholic Church. One of our goals is to help candidates determine what God is asking of them."

Deacon Tom McAraw, director of the
Permanent Diaconate Program for the
Diocese of Erie.

          The five-year program of study is open to men between the ages of 30 and 62, and candidates will simultaneously earn a master’s degree in pastoral administration from Gannon University as part of the process.  A team of leaders will accompany the candidates throughout their journey, from the initial gatherings set to begin in March this year through their ordination.

          The first step for those interested in learning more is to participate in a Zoom meeting, open to all, set for Saturday, Jan. 20 at 3 pm. (The link and password is provided at the end of this article.)The general information and Q & A session will be hosted by Deacon McAraw as well as Deacon Richard Shewman and Deacon Ray Sobina, who direct the Deacon Formation Program. Additional sessions and in-person meetings will be offered depending on interest.

          As with every aspect of the program of study, the wives of participants who are married are asked to attend the Zoom as well.

          “Bishop Persico has always been very clear about the fact that marriage is my primary vocation,” said Deacon Tom. “Studying to become a deacon is very demanding, as is serving as a deacon. My wife, Pam, has been wonderful throughout everything. I would not have continued on this path if that weren’t the case.”

          “Once we’ve answered the initial questions, those who meet the basic requirements and want to explore the vocation more fully will need to attend two day-long inquiry sessions at St. Mark Catholic Center in Erie,” said Deacon Tom. The sessions are scheduled for Saturday, March 9, and Saturday, March 16, 2024, from 9 am to 3 pm. At that point, formal applications can be submitted and interviews will be held by a selection team, after which a deacon formation class will be proposed to the bishop for his approval.
          Deacon Tom said the hope is to welcome up to ten candidates from a range of areas within the 13-county Diocese of Erie.
          “Becoming a deacon has been a greater blessing than I could have hoped for,” he said. “I am a better person from the grace I receive from everybody else because the gift is in the giving.”

 Interested in learning more? Visit and/or plan to attend the Zoom meeting about the program on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 3 pm.

Click here for the Zoom link

Meeting ID: 868 3359 7833

Passcode: 083575