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Both of them see it as a sacrifice they’re happy to make, because it has brought them and their entire family closer to god.

Both of them see it as a sacrifice they’re happy to make, because it has brought them and their entire family closer to god.

A Family Affair

School of Diaconal Formation and Theological Studies

Both of them see it as a sacrifice they’re happy to make, because it has brought them and their entire family closer to god.

Dr. Tom Verna, a dentist from St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Media, and his wife, Nicky, can both be found six evenings and one weekend a month taking courses in the Graduate School of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Tom is in the middle of the rigorous seven-year program to become an ordained deacon. Nicky is there to share in her husband’s spiritual journey, enrich her own faith and earn a graduate degree in the process. For Tom and Nicky, the evenings they have class have become sort of date nights away from their four teenage children. They say their experience has brought their entire family closer together, not to mention closer to Jesus Christ.

Many wives of Diaconate candidates take courses alongside their husbands. Some for further enlightenment; others go for full credit and a degree, sweating exams along with their other half. The graduate courses are very demanding, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia encourages spouses to take part.

Going to class and studying together is one way to minimize the disruption such a major time commitment could cause, and at the same time, brings couples closer together as they deepen their understanding of the Faith.

One would think that having been recognized as one of the top dentists both nationally and locally in Philadelphia and Delaware County, a devoted husband and the dedicated father of four would be enough vocations for most people. But Tom is not most people. He is a product of St. Andrew’s School in Drexel Hill and Monsignor Bonner High School. He is also a graduate of Temple University and Temple Dental School. He is in the Diaconate program because he feels called to be of service.

But one doesn’t just sign up for this. The Diaconate process is as demanding as the graduate courses he and Nicky are taking. Tom underwent a rigorous screening process that included conversations with his pastor, Monsignor Ralph Chieffo, and meetings with deacons at his parish. He needed letters of recommendation from several priests, as well as extensive psychological and physical examinations. Only then did he become eligible to undertake a two-year course of discernment and aspirancy before being fully admitted into the Diaconate formation process. It’s a major commitment just to apply. It requires feeling called, and a call to serve the Lord and our Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Nicky, unlike her husband Tom, is not a cradle Catholic. She found her faith at Albright College through friends. After attending RCIA classes, she converted in 1991. A natural evangelist, her example helped several other members of her family find the Faith. Most rewarding of all, she helped her father find his way back to the Church after 50 years away.

She considers her graduate studies a search for truth, for the truth will take you back to Christ. She acknowledges that she and Tom pursuing these studies is a sacrifice. She sacrifices “Mom time” with her children, and Tom has less time to play golf and to ride his beloved Harley Davidson. But both of them see it as a sacrifice they’re happy to make, because it has brought them and their entire family closer to God.

A Deacon is much more than an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who also gives homilies. In addition to serving in parishes, Permanent Deacons assist in hospitals, prisons, halfway houses, and wherever the Archbishop feels they are needed. They are vital to the health of the Church. That’s why it is so important to have a place like St. Charles Borromeo Seminary where Dr. Tom Verna can answer his call and become fully formed and educated in his vocation, and where his wife Nicky can deepen her faith in a way that touches everyone in her life.

Did You Know...?

  • Permanent deacons perform a vital ministry in parishes, schools, hospitals, prisons, and many other areas of service to the region.
  • After the Aspirancy Year, or year of intense discernment, applicants go through five years of Candidacy.- During their candidacy, students study theology as well as the four areas of formation related to the diaconate lifestyle: apostolic, spiritual, intellectual, and human.
  • Since its beginning in 1969, the School of Theological Studies has awarded 1,085 Master of Arts in Theology degrees to lay men and women, priests, and religious, as well as hundreds of undergraduate certificates.
  • STS offers two degree programs, Master of Arts in Theology and Master of Arts in Philosophical Studies, as well as a oneof- a-kind Certificate in Pastoral Ministry to Black Catholics (MBC). STS also offers online Catechetical Institute courses for school teachers, catechists, and adults seeking to learn the Catholic faith.