Behind the Scenes: Deaneries and Deans

If you’ve ever been to a play or musical, whether a high school, summer community theatre, or even a national production, you know well that in addition to the actors or performers on stage, there are countless other persons “behind the scenes” who are responsible for providing for the good order, cast support and smooth transitions. Folks “behind the scenes” include the stage crew, the set designers, the orchestra, the costume and makeup staff, the directors, assistants and prompters, the lighting and sound crew. In any production, countless people who remain hidden behind the scenes fill invaluable roles, and in the end, the production would be impossible without them.

While no analogy is perfect, I believe the play or musical production comparison is a valid one when trying to explain and highlight some of the less evident roles played by members of our local Church, clergy, consecrated religious and laity alike, who serve in the often hidden behind the scenes roles, who assist the diocesan bishop in providing for the good order, the ecclesial support and the fruitful functioning of diocesan life! Of course, principal among these are the close collaborators of the priest College of Consultors, of the mostly lay Diocesan Finance Council and of our Pastoral Center staff, all of whom play very significant, but often hidden support roles.

But, as we are all aware, the place where so much is accomplished pastorally in a diocese is for sure not on a stage, but in parishes in the geographic regions throughout our diocese called Deaneries. And the persons who fulfill important roles in the Deaneries include the parish priests who serve as Deans and as members of the Presbyteral Council, the parish lay faithful who serve as Deanery representatives on the Diocesan Pastoral Council, together with representatives of the consecrated religious, clergy and various diocesan groups, including young adults.

Now truth be told, if you asked “Mary and John in the pew” of any of our parishes, they would likely be hard pressed to identify the Dean of their local Deanery or the Deanery representative! In fact, it would not be at all surprising if many of our faithful, indeed the vast majority, would not even be able to define what a Deanery or Dean is! Thus, the purpose of this column: simply to highlight the purpose of our Deaneries, to announce the re-configuration and renewal of our Deaneries, and to offer a glimpse into just what happens “behind the scenes” with our Deaneries, Deans and Deanery representatives. This is in line with our Diocesan Intentional Planning Process and flows from our Diocesan Strategic Plan. Visit:

A Deanery is a geographic area comprising Catholic parishes and institutions, overseen by a diocesan priest with the title Dean. Deans, who are elected by their brother priests and who constitute in large part the Presbyteral Council, play a crucial role in coordinating common pastoral activities (for example religious education, parish missions, youth ministry, penance services, and faith formation), fostering collaboration among parishes, and supporting fellow priests. Each Deanery has a lay representative on the Diocesan Pastoral Council, a body composed in large part of lay faithful from our parishes that advises me on pastoral concerns and provides feedback on ministerial initiatives. Through the Diocesan Presbyteral Council (priests) and the Diocesan Pastoral Council (laity), the consultative bodies with whom I meet regularly, I receive insights and feedback from Deanery parishes as I consult with representatives from around the diocese, engaging in fruitful conversations about the pastoral care of our people.

The Deanery is intended to foster unity, cooperation, and solidarity among the faithful, strengthening the bonds of communion in the Catholic Church. It is a testament to the Church's commitment to local outreach and pastoral care, ensuring that every community receives the spiritual guidance and support it needs to thrive. The Deanery also reminds the local communities that they are part of a wider church, both the local church and the Universal Church. As you can surmise, in fact, the work of Deaneries, Deans and the Diocesan Pastoral Council are, in essence, and very practically, an exercise of subsidiarity and synodality, already provided for in Church law!

We need look no further than the Church’s own Code of Canon Law to see spelled out the definition and meaning of Deaneries, Deans, and the Diocesan Pastoral Council! As I often say: “go to the sources!” For those who enjoy the research, since there is not enough room here for a fuller explanation, you need only go to Cann. 553-555 (Deans or Vicars Forane), Can. 374 (Deaneries or Vicariates Forane), and Cann. 511-514 (Diocesan Pastoral Council).

Having considered the history of the number of Deaneries over the last 40 years, our current decision has reduced the total number of Deaneries in the diocese from fifteen to twelve. The decision to reduce Deaneries takes into account demographic changes within the diocese, as well as the decrease in the number of active priests and parishes. This restructuring aims to streamline operations, enhance collaboration, and ensure that each Deanery has a sustainable number of participants to be pastorally effective. This change will assist Deans, priests, and parish staffs in revitalizing Deanery functions and improving the quality of meetings. We have also published a Deanery Guidance Document to assist in the renewal process of our Deaneries. Broad consultation was conducted at Deanery meetings, at Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Pastoral Council meetings, where input and recommendations were received and reviewed regarding the plan for our Deaneries.

Diocesan Pastoral Council

So, Deaneries and Deans may often be “behind the scenes,” along with the Diocesan Pastoral Council, but they play a genuine and valuable consultative role, representing the geographic regions where the members reside, and the parochial life of that area is lived out. They serve to assist in informing the bishop on the pastoral realities pertaining to their locale, in coordinating common pastoral activities, and in addressing pastoral needs in a collaborative and intentional manner. With you, I am most grateful to all our priests who are Deans and our other priests who serve on our Presbyteral Council, as well as to all the lay representatives of our Deaneries and others, including clergy and consecrated religious, who serve on our Diocesan Pastoral Council. Please pray with me that the new configuration of our Deaneries may serve to increase how effective, efficient and evangelical our pastoral work together will be going forward, in providing for the good order, the ecclesial support and the fruitful functioning of diocesan life!

Most Rev. Daniel E. Thomas
Bishop of Toledo
May 30, 2024

Posted May 31, 2024 at 3:26 pm