Psychologist's survey to study deacons' lives

by Dennis Coday

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Hoping to fill a gap in scholarly research about permanent deacons, Joseph Ferrari, a permanent deacon in the Joliet, Ill., diocese and a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, has designed a survey to collect data that when complete will provide a better understanding of the personal and spiritual lives of Catholic deacons.

The survey is open to deacons, deacon candidates and applicants to a diaconate formation program in a U.S. or Canadian diocese.

"As permanent deacons and candidates, we minister with our personal characteristics and lifestyles. However, no scholarly published survey information exists about our personal and spiritual lives, our opinions, attitudes, joys and challenges about formation and transformation process," Ferrari explains in an invitation to deacons, candidates and deacon applicants to complete the survey.

The survey is online at It includes questions about the men's experiences in the Catholic church, their spiritual activities and parish communities. Some information -- such as age, education, employment and service in the church -- will flesh out the demographic profile of deacons.

"We hope to learn who these men are," Ferrari told NCR. "What calls them? How do they lead? Do certain leadership styles fit with certain parish structures and vice versa?"

"All information [gathered in the survey] is confidential and no personal identifying information will be shared with your diocese or director of the diaconate," Ferrari says. The survey takes about 20-25 minutes to complete.

Deadline for completion of the survey is Feb. 15. The study is supported by the National Association of Diaconate Directors and DePaul University.

As the data come in and Ferrari and his students begin to analyze it, he will share results at diocesan convocations, deacon conventions, and other similar venues. He has already scheduled presentations using preliminary results at a number of psychological conferences, such as the Mid-Year Research Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Los Angeles in April.

Some of Ferrari's students at DePaul are already working with the data: A doctorate student's thesis is looking at deacons and their parishes and a master's student is studying the impact families have on deacons. Ferrari is looking for grants to aid the further exploration of the deacon data.

He says that anyone with questions or concerns about the survey or who desires additional information can contact him at

A version of this story appeared in the Jan 31-Feb 13, 2014 print issue under the headline: Psychologist's survey to study deacons' lives.

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