American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Vatos Sagrados: Exploring Northern Ohio's Religious Borderlands

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Ethnic Studies

First Advisor

Susana Peña

Second Advisor

Madeline Duntley (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Vikki Krane (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Pablo Mitchell (Committee Member)


Latinos are transforming the religious landscape of the United States, especially the Catholic Church, due to their rising numbers and distinct forms of religiosity. However, this browning of the Catholic Church has not translated into an enhanced ecclesial leadership infrastructure. Perhaps one exception to this pattern has been the emergence of Latino permanent deacons, a relatively unfamiliar story in the life of the U.S. Catholic Church today. This dissertation seeks to examine and develop the border narratives of a group of Latino permanent deacons from the Toledo, Ohio and Cleveland, Ohio dioceses who trace their family histories to Texas, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Their stories encompass a complex interweaving of ethnicity, gender, migration, and religion that reveal paradoxical lives across and between structural (socioeconomic/political), discursive (racial, gender/sexual, and religious), and geopolitical boundaries that help advance a Midwestern borderlands framework. The lack of a border narrative in the heartland is consistent with a lack of insufficient research on the Midwestern Latino experience. The participants in this study were examined using qualitative research methods grounded within a feminist borderlands paradigm, and data collection involved semi-structured interviews with and observations of each participating deacon. Additionally, archival materials were examined and utilized to trace the historical development of a Midwestern borderlands Catholicism in the Cleveland Diocese and Toledo Diocese.