The social context of pastoral ministry: The work of the Office of Pastoral Research and Planning of the Archdiocese of New York

Ruth Narita Doyle, Fordham University


In the U.S. Catholic Church in the late sixties, the opening of diocesan offices of pastoral research and planning brought an additional avenue and a different dimension to religious research. This study will look at this development through research projects of one of the earliest offices, the Office of Pastoral Research and Planning of the Archdiocese of New York. It is an investigation of how one diocesan office developed an approach to applied research through an examination of its different kinds of research projects. Chapter II looks at Catholic research prior to the development of diocesan offices; Chapter III is a history of their establishment across the United States. The next three chapters examine different kinds of research projects which have contributed to the development of a methodology for effective research in the Catholic Church. The three studies examined are (1) parish profiles and studies which are basic for any research about church life, (2) an ethnic study of the Hispanic community, and (3) a diocesan-wide survey for a synod. A distinctive characteristic of diocesan research is that it is participative research and seeks to involve the community being studied in all aspects of the research process. This kind of research process develops ownership, tests the reality of concepts against the day-to-day experience of the community, and assists the implementation process for a study. The component of cultural diversity needs always to be considered; not only linguistic diversity but also the defining of concepts and expressions of religious experience and practice. Some further methodological components for research suggested that the research drew on the church experience of people especially as it takes place in the parishes since the main experience of religious life for catholics takes place through the parish. Also, communication and implementation are part of the design of the whole research process. Unlike earlier studies when publication of results was forbidden, now, dissemination of results is as wide as possible. Professional competence in research, support from diocesan authority, acknowledgement of theological and ecclesiological parameters are other components which contribute to effective research. Thus the interrelationship of theology and sociology has moved from separation as seen in the earliest research literature, toward integration in the fifties and sixties to a sociological diffusion at the present time with the growth of diocesan offices and other centers of research. The present period is one in which applied and academic researchers in religious research hopefully will find many avenues of collaboration for better research.

Subject Area

Social research|Religion|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Doyle, Ruth Narita, "The social context of pastoral ministry: The work of the Office of Pastoral Research and Planning of the Archdiocese of New York" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9520606.