Kelci Gormley, a graduate Communications student, was awarded for her research on the effective rhetoric of Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church. Her thesis "Secular Audiences/Sacred Values: The Rhetoric of Pope Francis" was named Outstanding Master’s Thesis in the Spiritual Communication Division of the National Communication Association. Gormley expressed her gratitude for the honor, sharing, “To be recognized with such a high honor by the leaders of my research niche feels incredibly fulfilling and special.”
Gormley was inspired to research Pope Francis because of the relationship between religion and culture; each one impacts the other. She was also driven to study this because of the personal connection she has to Catholicism. Having been raised Catholic, she understands the influence the Pope has on her and fellow followers of the faith. However, she wanted to better understand how he persuades and impacts non-Catholic audiences. To do so, Gormley analyzed the rhetorical devices used by the Pope throughout three of his speeches: his 2015 speech to a joint session of United States Congress, his address to the United Nations during the Opening Ceremonies of the General Assembly, and his 2017 TED Talk.
The Catholic Church, which experienced a decline in followers resulting from sexual abuse scandals, has seen an increase in the number of Catholics worldwide since 2013. Gormley believes this is in part because of Pope Francis. After analyzing three of his speeches, she found that the Pope used rhetorical strategies such as identification and repetition to argue for a more compassionate and just society. Through her analysis, Gormley found that these strategies, in conjunction with the Pope’s authentic persona, have proven to persuade audiences of non-Catholic belief and, thus, increase the number of Catholic followers.
The path to being awarded for her thesis was not easy. Gormley encountered many health-related setbacks along the way that impacted her abilities as a student and scholar. Because of this, she often worried that wouldn’t be able to complete the thesis in time. Her passion for the project fueled perseverance. Gormley credits her success to her thesis advisor, Dr. Ed Hinck, sharing, “He sacrificed personal time for my professional success, and I am proud to be part of the Communication Department that is full of faculty just like Dr. Hinck who make learning so engaging and awards like these achievable.”
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Story by ORGS intern Hailey Nelson