In 1971, the US bishops issued Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry, situating the Permanent Diaconate within the larger body of the Church and affirming its three-fold ministry of the word, of the altar and on charity. Since that time the Permanent Diaconate has developed extensively in response to the varied pastoral need of the Church all over the country.
In the Diocese of Savannah, then Bishop Raymond Lessard, in the mid 1970s, assigned to Msg. Marvin LeFrois the responsibility to inquire the need for deacons by dialoging with the priest in the diocese. After reviewing their comments both positive and negative, Bishop Lessard established a formation committee to proceed with forming both an academic and spiritual formation program. After the review of these documents recruiting began and the first diaconate class was formed with 17 men in 1977. This two year program was the catalyst for what is now the current formation program. That class was ordained on June 3, 1979. Since that time there have been 5 additional classes with the sixth class now in formation.
In 1981, Bishop Lessard appointed Deacon George H. Foster and his wife Georgia to assume the directorship from retiring Msgr. Marvin LeFrois. Mrs. Foster was to develop a support system for the wives of the applicants during formation and after ordination.
Since that time, in concert with the new Formation Norms and Directory approved by the Vatican and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops in June 2000, a new five-year formation program was established for our Diocese. A Committee was formed to meet the immediate and future needs of the diocese, while at the same time remaining faithful to the new Norms and Directory. This study looked at the five-year program and how it could be used to award a graduate degree to those men who qualify for advanced studies, while at the same time looking for an avenue to also award degree credits to those who do not qualify for graduate studies. The Committee reviewed proposals from three universities and selected Saint Leo University in Florida. The selection was based on several criteria:
The first year is a year of discernment, spiritual growth, and instruction of the entire program for the applicants. The second, third, and fourth years are academic years leading to a graduate degree in theology or Pastoral Studies. The fifth year consists of Canon Law, Homiletics, and Pastoral Formation.
Due to the support of Bishops Lessard, Boland and our current Bishop Hartmeyer, and the general support of the priests of the diocese, the diaconate grew rapidly. To address this rapid growth, two assistant directors were appointed to aid the director in the administrative, academic, and spiritual formation of those called to this ministry. Deacons Kelley Culver and Robert Larcher were appointed as assistance directors. Their function was to assist in recruiting, monitoring educational programs, and evaluating all applicants during the training period.
On June 30, 2015, after 34 years in the position, Deacon Foster retired as Director. Bishop Hartmayer appointed Deacon Kelley G. Culver to be the new Director, effective July 1, 2015.