This post is authored by Michal Kramarek, Ph.D., CARA Research Associate. It is the second post in a series of three that explore trends in the enrollment, in Catholic formation programs, in the United States. The first post focused on the priestly formation (it can be found ). This post provides a brief preview on permanent deacon formation. It is based on a larger new study about Catholic deacons’ formation in the United States. The full overview of the findings is available for free . This research was commissioned and funded by the Catholic Communications Committee.
The number of permanent deacons in the United States has grown steadily since the restoration of this ministry in the years following the Second Vatican Council. According to the Official Catholic Directory, there were 58 permanent deacons in the country, in 1972. This number grew to 18,291 by 2019. The last couple of years saw small declines (of 1% in both 2019 and 2020). Based on the trend since 2003, there will be projected 19,478 permanent deacons ±960 (CI=95%) in 2026.
However, the number of active permanent deacons can be expected to decline. According to CARA’s 2017 national survey of 3,166 active and retired deacons ordained between 1970 and 2017 (see chapter 4 in for a more detailed description), in comparison to those ordained more recently, deacons ordained longer ago first considered the diaconate, entered candidacy, and were ordained at younger age. The same deacons ordained longer ago retired or plan to retire at an older age. Consequently, the number of years permanent deacons are active is declining. Specifically, those ordained between 1970 and 1985 will serve/served as deacons for 37 years on average, those ordained between 1986 and 2005 for 25 years, and those ordained between 2006 and 2017 for only 18 years. So, deacons in the oldest cohort served twice as long as those in the youngest cohort are expected to serve. Consequently, even though the number of candidates and aspirants has remained relatively stable (albeit cyclical) in recent years, the number of active permanent deacons can be expected to decline.
Those findings are supported by data collected on candidates to permanent diaconate in the past 20 years. Since the academic year 2002-2003, the share of diaconate candidates under 40 years old declined from 7% to 3%. The share of candidates in their 40’s declined from 37% to 19%. On the other hand, the share of candidates in their 50s increased from 43% to 45%. And, the share of those in their 60’s or older increased from 14% to 33%.
If you would like to see more detailed break downs, how these break downs changed over the past decades, and how they are projected to change in the next five years, you can access the full overview of the findings for free . If you are interested to see a listing of all the Catholic formation programs in the United States, in the academic year 2020-2021 (including priestly formation, permanent diaconate formation and lay ecclesial ministry formation), you can purchase the Catholic Ministry Formation Directory .