By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published September 11, 2008
Deacon Steve Swope has been named the new associate director of formation for permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He succeeds Deacon Loris Sinanian, who has retired after overseeing men preparing to become deacons for the last 10 years.
The transition is part of a larger one for the permanent diaconate office, headed by Deacon Dennis Dorner, who is chancellor of the archdiocese and director of the office of the diaconate and deacon personnel.
In 2004 a National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States was created by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference and various areas of the Atlanta diaconate will be impacted over a period of time to benefit from the formation model and other guidance in the directory.
Deacon Swope said the document touches upon every aspect of the diaconate, including making the most of the gifts and talents of deacons’ wives, how best to continue the formation of deacons in their years of ministry after ordination, and how to ensure the ministry of deacons serves the community within, but also beyond, the Catholic community.
Permanent deacons are ordained to a ministry of service to the archbishop, the local church and the whole community. The majority are married men with families, some retired, others still in the work force.
The directory outlines a formation program that the bishops hope will become the common backbone for the Catholic diaconate across the country.
“We are in the 40th year of restoration of the diaconate in the United States,” Deacon Swope explained.
Over the four decades each individual bishop determined how formation of deacons was carried out in his own diocese. In Atlanta formation takes five years, with the first year a period of aspirancy followed by four years of formal preparation and study.
“In 2004 the USCCB determined it was in the best interest of the church for men to be formed in a common way so when men moved from one diocese to another (as is common for men who are deacons) they were formed along common lines. … It ensures that consistency of formation that is already present in formation of men to priestly ordination,” Deacon Swope said.
Deacon Swope, 51, whose full name is Paul S. Swope Jr., has been married for 30 years to his wife, Marie, and has two grown children. A graduate of Georgia State University in business administration, he is president and chief executive officer of The Rubicon Group, Inc., of Atlanta, the leading provider of market demand analysis to the global travel industry. The corporation integrates competitive price and demand information into the business planning and revenue management practices of customers in the hotel, airline and rental car industries.
Ordained in February, he serves as a deacon at St. George Church in Newnan.
The national directory provides an option for dioceses to ask for an outside review of their permanent diaconate program. After an internal review of the program, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory became the first U.S. bishop to ask for an external review, Deacon Swope said.
The archbishop also appointed a diaconate advisory board made up of priests, deacons, religious and lay people to provide him and Deacon Dorner with counsel on the diaconate.
Committees on the board include an admissions committee to evaluate candidates, a scrutinies and evaluation committee, headed by Mercy Sister Valentina Sheridan, and a faculty and curriculum committee, headed by Father Theodore Book, to bring the curriculum into conformity with the national directory.
One of the first tasks of the advisory board was to search for a new associate director of formation, which is a reconfiguration of the position. Deacon Swope started work Aug. 11 and reports to Deacon Dorner. The position is part time and he will scale back his work at The Rubicon Group to part time, he said. Much of the diaconate program work occurs on Saturdays and in the evenings, he added.
“My role is the day-to-day operation of the formation program, ensuring it is operating in conformance with the national directory and the direction set by the archbishop,” said Deacon Swope.
Although he has been an ordained deacon less than a year, his experience in administration and leadership in his professional life made Deacon Swope the unanimous choice of the search committee chaired by Sister Valentina, Deacon Dorner said.
“He has just got a wonderful depth of experience in leadership and that is really what we are looking for,” he said.
“Steve and I are both high-energy guys,” he continued. “We seem to play off of each other’s strengths.”
“The bishop asked me to be director of deacon personnel when I had only been ordained two years. Sometimes it is good to have someone who does not have a lot of ingrained ideas. He has become extremely well versed on the directory. I think it is going to be a fun team working together.”
There are currently 76 men in formation to become permanent deacons in the archdiocese. One of the recommendations of the outside review team was that no new class be formed in 2009 while the program adapts and implements recommendations. However, there will be information sessions for those interested in the diaconate class that will begin forming in 2010.
The changes that are being implemented will come into place at a pastoral pace, Deacon Swope said, so they do not disrupt what has gone on already for men in formation, some scheduled to be ordained in six months and some with four and a half years of formation still to come.
Deacon Swope looks forward to serving in this role.
“I am really honored and humbled that I have an opportunity to serve.”