An Interview with Deacon Larry Hiner, PsyD

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: At what parish do you serve as a deacon and what are your primary responsibilities?

Deacon Larry: I was ordained in June 2014 by Bishop Jaime Soto in Sacramento, California. He assigned me to our rather sizable parish in Elk Grove, CA – St. Joseph. There had been no active deacon there for 24 years prior to my ordination, which had its upsides as well as downsides – I did not have anyone at our own parish after whom to pattern my behavior and role as a deacon, and I was able to carve that out for myself in terms of parish service. Of course, our training was comprehensive, spanning 5 years of weekend and intermittent seminary sessions.


My primary responsibilities were sacramental (Baptism, Weddings, weekly Mass, Funeral Vigils, preparing couples for Marriage, presiding at Marriage Convalidations, etc.), catechetical (adult faith enrichment, presenting at our local Catholic school, and such), and pastoral as I continued my counseling services through no-cost intake and referral engagements with parishioners from the immediate area. I also served as an “Expert” for the Diocesan Tribunal, helping the Assessors and Judges further understand the testimonies that involved (what Canon Law defines as) Psychic Anomalies.


Gordon: When and why did you decide to be a deacon?


Deacon Larry: When my wife and I moved our family to California from the Mid-Atlantic in 1990, we started becoming more active at our parish (St. Joseph), progressively from singing in the choir to reading at Mass, to serving as Eucharistic Ministers within Mass and to the homebound, to teaching, to helping the Pastor redefine and restart the Parish Council by chairing that group for 3 years. Not having had a deacon at our parish, that role was not top-of-mind for me until a series of pastors suggested that I consider the diaconate. So, we investigated that Order within our Church, and over years of discernment through study and Spiritual Direction and prayer (of course), my wife and I decided that we would pursue the necessary coursework and practica and step through those processes. I must confess that even processing down the aisle with my 19 fellow candidates for our Ordination, I was still questioning God’s Wisdom in calling me to the diaconate (“Are you sure you got the right guy here, God?”). The reason for this is that I questioned everything. Perhaps it was my science and psychology background; I had to know the reason why something was – a teaching, a precept, a dogma. My well-educated and highly-respected Pastor at the time told me that my questioning may very well be the reason God called me – not to rebel, but to understand more deeply the tenets of our faith to help me help others grow in relationship with God.


Gordon: Do you anticipate that there will soon be female Deacons? If so, why?


Deacon Larry: Having grown into adolescence in the 1960’s USA, I firmly believed that the desire of the many would be heard and reflected by our government and impact any serious situation in which we found ourselves at that moment. The Second Vatican Council seemed to affirm my perception by addressing our Church’s role in the modern world. Changes were afoot!


I have since matured (I hope) and have gained wisdom (I pray) and – as a Doctor of Organizational Psychology – I appreciate the complexities of change in large institutions, especially when layering in “faith” and “direction of the Holy Spirit” as a dynamic. So, I do not predict the wiles of the Church as her leaders contemplate and decide such issues. It will not be public opinion that results in change; that may play a small role and we have to remember that our Church is not a democracy, it is a theocracy – meaning that God’s Will nudges the changes in the Church. In addressing the Women Deacon issue, I defer to God’s Will in God’s own eternal Time. Do I personally favor the idea? Yes, if and as women feel God’s call to enter that order.


Gordon: What interested you in studying psychology and when and where did you earn your degrees?


Deacon Larry: My undergraduate degree was 7 years in the making; it was interspersed with Marriage, family, work, and lack of definitive direction. Then, I blasted through 21 credit hours a semester for a year (with an 8-credit Winter intercession course) at Towson University (Maryland) to focus on my major in Psychology. I thought that I was a Psych major for altruistic reasons – to help others. That may have been true to a degree; my Advisor and instructor for several of my courses cleared up that misconception at the beginning of my Abnormal Psychology class. She asked us “why” we wanted to enter the field of psychology. After running through answers like, “I want to help others,” and “My <insert favorite person here> is a Therapist and I respect what they do,” and, “I can’t afford med school, so this is a close second,” she blatantly declared – “You are all wrong! The biggest reason you are a Psych major is that you are trying to figure out yourselves.” There proceeded a hushed, respectfully knowing pall over the class for a few moments, while we each came to our own “Aha’s.” I finished in 1978.


In terms of my Masters in Counseling & Human Development from Johns Hopkins, I realized that the next step in my career education was a Masters and the program at Hopkins was do-able as an evening student so I could also work to support our family. Plowing through that, I finished in 1980 and went on to help lead the inception of the National Association of Certified Mental Health Counselors and was still trying to figure out myself.


My doctorate with the Professional School of Psychology in California came much later after several tacks in my career (mostly up-wind). I considered the Clinical Psych option, deciding on Organizational Psych based on my circa 20 years with IBM – and more. I completed that degree between 2003 and 2007 when I submitted my dissertation on Innovation Leadership.


Gordon: What interested you in being an Executive Coach and Consultant and what are your current responsibilities?


Deacon Larry: I actually started my doctorate after my certification as an Executive Coach in 2002. The program was conducted over several weeks (plus 3 months of practicum) by the same PSP where I enrolled for my doctorate in the Fall of 2003, so it was a way to “test the waters” there.


I had given up on a career as a PsychoTherapist in the 1980s, given the inability of that profession to support a growing family. To wit, I took a position at the Catholic Charities facility that was trying to transition from orphanage to an inpatient treatment center; they had over 150 applicants (minimum of Masters required) including 2 applicants with their Ph.D. – for a little over $13,000 a year salary.


Desiring to return to part-time school to advance my career with IBM, I enrolled in the Certificate program at PSP. I enjoyed the return to one-on-one relationships that would focus on the person’s career ambitions as well as their personal ones. And so, I practiced as an Executive Coach as a “give back” service to IBMers who were considering transitioning within the company to a new role. I discovered this to be fulfilling through the relationships I established, as well as foundational to my subsequent pursuit of the doctorate in Org Psych.


Gordon: Whatever happened to the person-centered workplace?


Deacon Larry: A brief history lesson: before the Industrial Revolution, work was done largely by “tradesmen” who apprenticed to a Master, to Journey as an itinerant (to avoid setting up a competitive shop in the same town as their Master, and then finally settled in a new town as they needed his (usually) skill. When the industry was able to produce goods on a bulk scale, the tradesperson was displaced; even farmers’ children were flocking to the city where they could earn higher wages than the farm provided. This may have been the crucial point when people started to become simply another “asset” in the production of goods – and later, services. As evidence, just look at our terminology for the departments that managed the coming and going of “employees” (those who are “employed” to achieve an end product): Human Resources; Human Resource Management; Human Capital Management. People became Plug'n'Play assets – as soon as the need for an additional person was identified (or one dropped), another generic worker was simply plugged into that slot. Then, in the late 1900s, automation removed and streamlined repetitive processes, so that workers were not needed to fill those roles. Machines worked without the need for labor unions, overtime, benefits, and the like. Young folks were then encouraged to complete education to become skilled at a job that a machine could not do – especially in the growing services industry (another lesson altogether). And now that AI, machine learning, and quantum computing threaten even those “lower-level” positions, even higher degrees of specialization are in order. Traditional education systems strain under the irrelevancy of teaching to a skillset with a half-life of 2 years. Interestingly, these recent phenomena obviate the need for mass-produced, Plug’n’Play workers and instead cry out for individuals with the hard and soft skills to contribute to a dynamic environment where tasks are completed by teams and “individual excellence” is unimportant. Growth and meaning are the criteria by which contributors choose where and when to work. The Coronavirus Epidemic has amplified that dynamic.


Gordon: Profiles in Catholicism deeply appreciated your offer to serve on the Advisory Committee for our Upcoming New Healing Publication. What interested you in Volunteering?


Deacon Larry: Our world is dysfunctional (sick?) at many levels – work, society, religion, conflict, boundaries, war. I want to employ my 67 years of human experience to effect healing wherever I can.


Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and I look forwards to working with you on our Healing Project.