The Emergence of the DOS Ministry in the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese

by Justin Dittrick

May 15, 2012

The Diocesan Order of Service (DOS), formerly known as the Diocesan Order of Women (DOW), was inaugurated in 1975.  The Order is unique to the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese.  Initially, it was a title bestowed on the wife of a deacon.  Today, it is granted to any layperson, man or woman, who wishes to make a lasting commitment to service in the Church.  With fewer deacons being ordained in the Sault Ste. Marie diocese, the role of the Diocesan Order of Service has undergone a transformation.  Formerly, the DOS served as a reader and acolyte.  Now, DOS perform some of the activities that the priests would have carried out in the past.  A DOS can preside at Communion services, and distribute the Eucharist.  A DOS can also lead wake services  and minister to the sick.  DOS often perform purification rites which involve the Native practice of smudging.  This assumption of a greater number of responsibilities has made the DOS important spiritual leaders in the Sault Ste. Marie faith community.  

The goal of the DOS ministry has been twofold: to assist priests and deacons in ministry,  and especially within the First Nations parishes, to encourage First Nations peoples to become leaders in their Catholic faith communities. Since Vatican II, there has been a growing recognition that Christian lay people are called to ministry.  Lay Ministries, including the positions of Eucharistic minister, lector, and acolyte, were created in response.  

For formation, DOS complete a four-year program under the supervision of a spiritual director.  This director can be a priest, deacon, religious brother or sister, or a layperson with training in spiritual direction.  The formation process concludes once the DOS has been mandated.  The mandating is not a sacrament, but a commissioning.  Once the DOS is mandated, she (or he) begins her (or his) work in the Church and community.

In the Native Sector of  the  Sault Ste. Marie diocese, there are presently nineteen DOS, all women.  A DOS has been called by God, and feels inspired to contribute to her community.  Motivations are as diverse as those who serve.  Beatrice Lake views the DOS as an opportunity to inspire others to participate in the Church.  In seeing her ministry, others will be encouraged to give some of their time to God and their community.  Rose Peltier, the very first DOS to be mandated, wanted to be a nun.  She wanted to learn about God and to help in the Church, but raising a family kept her from joining the sisterhood.  The position of DOS helped to satisfy her spiritual needs and at the same time her pastoral ministry needs.  Rosella Kinoshameg and Margaret Toulouse were already fulfilling a number of responsibilities in the Church, so they were offered the role of  DOS in recognition of work they had already been doing.  

The position of DOS requires a close connection with the community.  This closeness creates a situation in which there are both grace-filled moments–times in which God’s love is strongly felt and recognized–and moments marked by despair, frustration, or a feeling of vulnerability.  Contributing to the sense of challenge that DOS face is the dwindling number of deacons and priests in the Church.  This can place on today’s DOS an overwhelming set of responsibilities.  Yet, even though the DOS may perform many of the duties of a priest, some members of the faith community are reluctant to accept the DOS as their minister, preferring that a priest perform the services.  This can cause the DOS to feel overworked and under appreciated.  The lack of available priests, and the readiness of the DOS to perform needed services, can cause conflict among families, as well, especially on occasions such as weddings or funerals, when expectations are greater and stress levels are higher.  

Also, many DOS have observed the erosion of faith among the youth.  Apathy and boredom have led some younger members of the community to drugs and criminal behaviour.  One DOS remarked that, while members of her community strive to maintain an appearance of well-being, underneath the surface the community has been ravaged by drugs, crime, and suicide.  

Yet the youth are also the greatest source of hope and inspiration for today’s DOS.  Seeing the young people at Mass has an inspirational effect on the faith community.  Just the presence of the younger generation makes the Church healthier and brighter, more fully alive in Christ.  Another source of hope is found in those who return to church following a period of absence.  In the return of the absent the Holy Spirit works quite visibly; it is a grace-filled moment inspiring the recognition of restoration, renewing the spirit of togetherness and belonging.  Distributing the Eucharist has been a special joy and privilege for the DOS.  In a faith centered around the Eucharist, the presence of the DOS ensures that all members of the faith have the opportunity to receive communion, that no member of the faith hunger for the Eucharist.  It remains the wish of the DOS that the Bread of  Life remain in the church throughout the week, so that communion can be given at whatever time there is a need.

It has been thirty-five years since the DOS program was created, and its future looks strong and bright, a promising vocation for men and women who feel called to minister in, and to, their faith communities.  With fewer deacons and priests being ordained in the Sault Ste. Marie diocese, it is likely that DOS and laypeople will assume greater responsibilities in the years ahead.   It is alsopossible that the Sault Ste. Marie Diocesan Order of Service program will provide a model for other dioceses to imitate as they face their own shortages of priests and deacons.  Finally, it is expected that as the years go by there will be greater acceptance of DOS as ministers. The integration of First Nations traditions and practices, such as the medicine wheel teachings and the practice of smudging, will continue making the First Nation churches of the Sault Ste. Marie diocese more rooted in their culture.  

With the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ontario providing a formation program for those interested in lay ministry, and with a close knit group of priests, deacons, and DOS continuing to meet monthly, a warm and knowledgeable community is present  to share the faith and the ministry. 

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