The Difference 40 Years Can Make: From One Permanent Deacon in 1970, There Are Now Some 16,350 in a Wide Range of Ministries, Study Reveals

By Coday, Dennis | National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Difference 40 Years Can Make: From One Permanent Deacon in 1970, There Are Now Some 16,350 in a Wide Range of Ministries, Study Reveals


Coday, Dennis, National Catholic Reporter


In 1970, there was one permanent deacon serving the U.S. Catholic church. That year Paul McArdle was ordained a deacon at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich. Until he died in June at age 76, McArdle served in a number of ministries, notably running a school in Belize and as a full-time pastoral assistant in the Brownsville, Texas, diocese.

Much has changed in 40 years.

Today if one types "deacon" into a database of stories from Catholic News Service and NCR, the results from just the last 12 months bring up these hits:

* Deacon Leroy Behnke is director of communications for the Lubbock, Texas, diocese.

* Deacon Bill Toller and the Sandwich Ministry of Holy Cross Parish, Springfield, Mass., hit a milestone in May after making their 100,000th sandwich in the parish's ongoing efforts to feed the homeless.

* Deacon Oscar Chavez of Yuma, Ariz., plays guitar and leads singing in the Southern Arizona Correctional Release Center.

* Deacon Rodrigue Mortel is director of the Missions Office for the Baltimore archdiocese.

* Deacon Patrick Moynihan of the Rockford, Ill., diocese, last year moved with his wife and family to Haiti.

* Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is an iconographer at the Catholic Cathedral of the Nativity in Juneau, Alaska.

* Deacon Tom Lambert of Chicago has been in ministry to people with mental illness since the 1980s.

Dioceses with the greatest number of permanent deacons

        Diocese         Number of deacons  Catholics per deacon

Chicago                        646                 3,619
Trenton, N.J.                  442                 1,772
Galveston-Houston              383                 2,945
Hartford, Conn.                355                 1,816
New York                       316                 8,154
San Antonio                    301                 2,309
Phoenix                        298                 2,371
St. Louis                      270                 1,994
Los Angeles                    261                16,001
Cleveland                      256                 2,942
Rockville Centre, N.Y.         252                 5,927
Boston                         245                 6,060
Atlanta                        242                 3,099
Joliet, III.                   228                 2,863
Philadelphia                   225                 6,482
St. Paul/Minneapolis           224                 2,790
Santa Fe, N.M.                 215                 1,444
Toledo, Ohio                   211                 1,465
Newark, N.J.                   210                 6,279
Orlando, Fla.                  202                 1,972
Cincinnati                     201                 2,369

Note: Figures are for the most recent year available as of March 2010.

Source: CARA

Today, some 16,350 permanent deacons are serving the U.S. Catholic church in just about every conceivable ministry, according to the most recent data compiled by the Washington-based Georgetown University research institute, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA.

All U.S. dioceses now have permanent deacons, and 21 dioceses have more than 200, according to the report "A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2009-2010." Chicago with 646, Trenton, N.J., with 442 and Galveston-Houston with 383 have the greatest number of permanent deacons. Hartford, Conn., New York, and San Antonio, each have more than 300 permanent deacons.

Active deacons who are financially compensated for their ministry

                                 Compensated  Compensated   Among all
                                  full-time     part-time  compensated

Hospital ministry                    8%            31%          22%

Entrusted with the pastoral          32            10           19
care of one or more parishes
(Canon 517. … 

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