What exactly is a deanery? It’s likely you’ve heard the word before and are reasonably certain that some guy named Dean is in charge of it, but still aren’t quite sure what it is.
Under canon law, the bishop has the ability to group parishes into regional areas within a diocese, according to their geographic location. These regions are called deaneries. Deans are priests who act as the overseer of a deanery appointed to them by the bishop. A dean’s main task is to first and foremost provide support to the faithful and priests of his deanery, but also to act as a liaison between the activities of his deanery and the bishop.
“The dean is, in a way, the representative for the bishop on coordinating regional collaboration of priests,” said Father Randy Dollins, Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Denver.
According to canon 555 in the Code of Canon Law, a dean is “a close collaborator with the Bishop in the pastoral care of the faithful and attentive ‘elder brother’ towards the priests of the deanery…It falls to him to coordinate the common pastoral activity of the parishes, to see to it that the priests are living lives in conformity with their state and that parochial discipline is duly observed, particularly with regard to the liturgy.”
Deans, though they don’t possess the same power of governance as the principal Vicars or bishop of a diocese, are able to vicariously exercise pastoral authority on behalf of the bishop over their own deanery. As such, deans are often asked to carry out tasks normally reserved for the bishop or principal Vicars, such as administering the sacrament of Confirmation or performing an installation ceremony of a new pastor.
Deans are required to do a number of things in order to promote the overall welfare of their deanery. They must visit each parish within their deanery at least once per year, and while there, he reviews the parish’s sacramental records and evaluates the overall needs of the parish, which he reports back to the bishop. Additionally, deans are encouraged to convene meetings with the priests of his deanery on at least a quarterly basis, where they engage in prayer and fellowship with one another, and discuss pastoral collaboration and concerns.
The selection process for a dean is relatively straightforward. Priests within a deanery nominate certain priests for the position of dean and put it to a vote. The top three candidates are submitted to the bishop, who makes the final decision as to who is appointed dean. Priests who are appointed dean are required to serve a term of three years, and re-election is possible after their term is up.
Deaneries are ultimately established to promote open communication and collaboration between parishes and priests. A practical example of the effectiveness of deaneries is a penance service, where multiple priests are on hand to offer the sacrament of Reconciliation. Deaneries not only open more effective channels of communication between parishes and the pastoral center, but foster a spirit of collaboration that is essential to the Church’s mission.
“The ideal is for these regional areas to coordinate the way they do ministry so that priests can help each other out,” Father Dollins said.