College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Winter 3-19-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joseph R. Ferrari, PhD

Second Advisor

Suzanne Bell, PhD


Abstract Permanent deacons are a population within the Catholic Church whose numbers have been growing significantly in the last 50 years, with an estimated 18,000 men serving as deacons in the U.S. alone (Gautier, 2013). Deacons are ministers of charity and social justice, ordained to serve their local community for its religious, economic, and social needs through a commitment to their faith. In their growing importance and influence in the Catholic Church, little research examined permanent deacons as individuals or in relationship to the communities they serve.

For this thesis, data was taken from a larger nationwide study of 1,997 American deacons in 2013-2014 (Ferrari, 2015). The current study explored the influence of community level factors on the primary ministry assignments of 549 permanent deacons. The thesis tested the ability of socio-economic status (SES), parish size (number of families registered at the parish) and individual deacon demographics to predict ministry target population (ministry assignment at a parish vs. in the community) and ministry theme (spiritual vs. secular). Hypotheses were rooted in Ecological System theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Results suggested that parish SES and parish size were not significant predictors of ministry target populations. Parish SES also did not act as a significant predictor of ministry target population, but was a significant predictor of ministry theme (though not in relationship to parish SES as hypothesized). Secondary analyses suggested that the deacon demographic variables of education and age were significant predictors of ministry target population, but not of ministry theme.

Based on the findings of the present study, three possible explanations are discussed. One explanation is that the modified ecological model does not accurately represent the reality of the deacon ministry. A second explanation is that the variables of influence do reside at a micro-level and/or meso-level of the model, but were not accurately represented in this study. A third explanation is that the variables that influence deacon ministry were found at a different level of the model, such as the exo-system or the individual level. More research is needed to determine which if any of these three rationales explain the data. The implications of specific results, limitations of the current study, and future directions are discussed.

SLP Collection