Providing inspired care and support to families in need.

Dealing with issues related to death, dying, loss and bereavement is something that touches everyone. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate his or her life to supporting and assisting those confronting end-of-life and loss issues. It takes compassion and empathy. And it takes an in-depth knowledge of the many processes, psychological and social issues involved with death and grieving. Marian’s Master of Science degree in Thanatology is designed to deliver that in-depth knowledge and comprehensive training so that you’ll be ready to positively impact lives. Marian University has educational partnerships with a national organization: National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) and National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) an international organization: Association for Death Education Counseling (ADEC).

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The Program

The Convenience
The thanatology program is designed for working professionals who are looking to earn their degree without sacrificing their current position or other obligations. You’ll complete the program entirely online, and can take advantage of three different program start times throughout the year. We offer a flexible course sequence, and the program can be completed in two years or less.

The Marian Reputation
A hallmark of the thanatology program is an accomplished faculty of nationally recognized experts. Our faculty are leaders in the field, regularly publish in significant journals and trade books, are invited to speak at national conferences and bring years of experience working in professional settings. You’ll benefit from their personalized instruction and guidance, and be positioned to form connections with hospitals, hospices, nonprofit organizations and other employers.

Degree requirements

To receive the Master of Science in Thanatology, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Completion of coursework with a minimum GPA of 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale)
  • Submission and approval of the final capstone project


For more details regarding this program, view Marian’s Academic Bulletin.

Sample Course Plan:
Download Sample Course Plan

18 credits:

Introduction to death, dying, grief and bereavement. Topics include the dying process; end-of-life decision making; disposition of remains/use of corpses; grief & mourning; death competence; family/individual interpretations; spiritual/religious perspectives; suicide; ethical and legal aspects; cross-cultural considerations.

Examination of bereavement theory and techniques in individual and group facilitation skills. Topics include assessment of complicated grief; techniques for helping the bereaved after special losses; attending to individual spiritual needs; cross-cultural considerations; lifespan issues; setting appropriate boundaries; self-care for the caregiver; confidentiality.

Examines concepts of immortality related to death, dying, grief and bereavement including Western philosophical and religious beliefs. Topics include an examination of contemporary perspectives towards death, dying, and bereavement practices within Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American communities. Emphasis on practical/effective spiritual care techniques for assisting individuals, families, and health care providers in their quest for meaning, growth and transition through the dying and grieving process.

Exploration of how research contributes to the identification of best practices in thanatology. Topics include scientific methods & techniques used specifically in contemporary thanatology research, emphasis on qualitative & mixed methods; critical reading & use of thanatology research studies; theories and methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation; IRB issues; research ethics; & study design.

Examination of applied ethics related to end-of-life care and bereavement services. Topics include the definition of death and brain death, do-not-resuscitate orders, advance directives, patient privacy, confidentiality, end-of-life decision-making, moral and ethical frameworks, theory versus praxis.

Applied capstone project integrates coursework, knowledge, skills and experiential learning to enable demonstration of a broad mastery of learning across the thanatology curriculum. Individual projects incorporate critical and creative thinking, problem solving, effective writing and oral communication, and qualitative analysis.

18 credits from the following:

Examination of the attitudes & responses of children and teens to death, loss, and grief, in context of human developmental stages. Topics include strategies for working with families and caregivers of terminally ill children/teens; facilitating communication between healthcare providers & families; strategies for helping children/teens in the midst of family illness; & models of bereavement programs.

Introductory examination of current theories of the causes of suicide, and contemporary approaches to prevention, intervention and post-intervention. Topics include nomenclature, current and emerging theoretical models, suicide across the life span, cultural contexts, suicide in the military and among combat veterans.

Examines the impact of sudden, unexpected death including implications for bereavement, first-responder effectiveness, and impact on communities. Topics include military death, accidents, disasters, homicide, suicide, crisis intervention, critical incident stress management, community response activities, & grief support.


Examination of suicide among children & teens. Topics include prevalence of suicide among children, youth & older adolescents; screening; prevention; intervention; post-intervention; stressors including AODA, LGBTQ and cultural issues, evidence-based programs, current research & best practices.

Examination of the practical elements of program design, development, implementation and assessment. Topics include examination of existing and emerging program models; volunteer recruitment and training, funding, working with other agencies and organizations, board recruitment, governance, and utilization.


In-depth examination of suicide prevention & postvention program design, implementation and assessment. Topics include evidence-based programs, current research and best practices.

Examination of the history, theory and practice of hospice and palliative care. Topics include the palliative approach to medicine; the medical aspects of dying; terminal disease trajectories; “active” dying and the dying process; and multidimensional aspects of pain control. Also includes practical strategies for assisting families in communicating with healthcare providers; the impact of end-stage terminal illness on caretakers and family members; and self-care for caregivers.

Exploration of the personal and community spiritual resources that undergird effective care of the dying and bereaved. Topics include philosophies of spiritual formation; theories of spiritual formation in the context of hospice; spiritual growth techniques and exercises. Spiritual formation throughout the process of terminal diagnosis, dying process, death, bereavement, and for caregivers will be addressed.

Examination of cultural contexts of death, dying and bereavement through literature. Topics include themes of death & bereavement in novels, short story, drama, poetry, elegy and music, and how literature can be used in work with the dying & bereaved.

The Master of Science and Graduate Certificate in Thanatology programs offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary and scientific study of the dying and grieving process; cultural attitudes towards death and loss; spirituality and ethical standards; suicide prevention education; applied research; and the spiritual, social, psychological and medical aspects of dying, death, loss and grief. Our curriculum is aligned with the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s (ADEC) Body of Knowledge, and prepares students to take the ADEC certification examination. As a graduate, you’ll be prepared to find employment in areas like churches, funeral homes, hospices, hospitals and non-profit organizations, among others


The mission of the Edwin S. Shneidman Program in Thanatology is to educate students from diverse backgrounds in the fundamental concepts, knowledge, research, techniques and skills of thanatology in order to (1) prepare them for employment in a wide variety of thanatology-related positions and (2) prepare them to contribute to the discipline of thanatology academically and professionally.

Learning Outcomes

  • Graduates of this program will recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of contemporary thanatology theory and practice.
  • Graduates of this program will demonstrate competence in applying thanatology evidence-based best practices in needs assessment and support services/program development, delivery and assessment for individuals and families confronting the end of life, death, loss and bereavement including bereavement after natural death, traumatic death, in various cultural contexts, and across the life span
  • Graduates of this program will design and implement educational programs on death, the dying process, end-of-life decision making, and bereavement topics for communities and professional audiences.
  • Graduates of this program will analyze, synthesize and evaluate the relationship between religious and spiritual belief systems and the reaction to and coping with death, and incorporate these elements appropriately into service delivery.
  • Graduates of this program will conduct and evaluate thanatology action research critically and reflectively.
  • Graduates of this program will participate effectively in the academic and professional community.
  • Graduates of this program will identify and discuss common ethical issues with individuals and families.

Our graduates are prepared with the skills and practical experience needed for success, with many students finding employment before graduation.  Our first graduate was hired as a hospice bereavement program coordinator while still a student in the program, and was offered the position over applicants with MSW degrees.

There is no accreditation for thanatology education programs. However, the primary international professional association for thanatology, the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), has identified a Body of Knowledge (BoK) matrix that guides curriculum and practitioner credentialing.

Marian University’s (MU) thanatology curriculum and learning outcomes align closely with the ADEC Body of Knowledge and the Foundations of Thanatology course (THA605) utilizes the ADEC sponsored Meagher D. & Balk D. (2013) Handbook of Thanatology: The Essential Body of Knowledge for the Study of Death, Dying and Bereavement, 2nd Edition (Routledge Press, New York, NY) as a core text. This course introduces the field of thanatology to students, facilitates discussion on the meaning of death, and offers them a glimpse into the breadth and depth of the discipline, starting them on their way to becoming scholar-practitioners.

ADEC’s Certification in Thanatology (CT)© and Fellow in Thanatology (FT)© programs aim to protect the public by creating a standard for thanatology practice, while helping professionals develop and demonstrate their mastery of knowledge of issues related to death, dying and bereavement. Marian University’s thanatology program is pre-approved as educational contact hours for ADEC Certification (CT) candidates, and once they meet the application criteria, they are allowed to take the certification examination.

Individuals with Master’s or Doctoral degrees plus 5 years of experience in the discipline (paid or volunteer) can apply for FT status without earning the CT first, which means that Marian University thanatology graduates can apply for and attain advanced certification right away provided they have relevant experience and take the certification examination.

Information on ADEC can be found at

Marian University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Admission Requirements:

To be considered for admission into the Master of Science in Thanatology, the applicant must submit the following:

  • A completed Marian University application form
  • A $50 non-refundable application fee or apply online for free at APPLY
  • An official transcript from each college or university attended; Applicants must have an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  • Cumulative GPA of 2.75 on a 4.0 scale. Students may be considered for admission on a probationary status with less than a 2.75 GPA
  • Career goal statement

To apply for the Masters of Science in Thanatology, use the Admissions Checklist. This document will guide you through the process and ensure that you have submitted all of the necessary materials.


Stefanie Coomans-Dziedzic serves as Supervisor of Donation Specialists at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network in Itasca, Ill. As one of 58 organ procurement organizations in operation throughout the United States, Gift of Hope coordinates organ and tissue donation and educates the public about donation in its Illinois and northwest Indiana service area. Stefanie began her career with Gift of Hope in April 2010 as a Donation Specialist herself.

After receiving a Master of Science degree in thanatology from Marian University of Fond du Lac in May 2015, Stefanie was asked to step into her current role as supervisor of a special group of people charged with working with families to obtain authorization for donation. In her current position, Stefanie oversees the process of approaching bereaved family members of imminently dying and recently deceased patients to offer them the option of donation, securing authorization and counseling family members through the donation process. In addition to overseeing authorization, Stefanie also plays an important role in helping her organization shape and refine its practices and procedures so that it can fulfill its mission of saving and enhancing the lives of as many people possible through organ and tissue donation. In 2015, Gift of Hope and the Donation Specialist team led by Stefanie helped nearly 400 donor families navigate through the donation process and helped make nearly 1,100 organs available to people in need of lifesaving transplants.

Melissa Klebs is our first graduate from the Edwin S. Shneidman Program in Thanatology. She graduated in August of 2011 with her Master of Science in Leadership with a concentration in Grief and Bereavement. While still a student she was hired in her current position. Since August 2010 she has been working as a bereavement coordinator for Affinity Visiting Nurses-Hospice. She tells us that “every day I use what I learned from the Thanatology program to pay it forward to others during a difficult time in their lives.”

Jennifer LaPorte is the Hospice Bereavement Coordinator and Chaplain for Dr. Kate Hospice in Arbor Vitae, WI. She is also one of the staff Chaplain Associates for Howard Young Medical Center/Eagle River Memorial Hospital. She started in the Thanatology program in Fall of 2009 and graduated in 2014 with her Master of Science in Thanatology. In her words, “I found over the years a wonderful group of colleagues and a natural evolution of the program that ideally suits the work I do. I have truly found my life’s calling, and I am honored to work with patients at the end of life – tending to their spiritual and intellectual needs – as well as following their loved ones for a year after their death. I will be continuing my education in Clinical Pastoral Education this spring and look forward to attending my first ADEC conference in April.”

Ana Bendaña works part-time as an Admissions’ RN for Vitas Hospice Care of San Antonio. She is the first person to talk with a terminally ill patient and his/her family about the dying process and goals of care at the end of life. She also facilitates Death Cafés, with the goal of assisting others in joining “the conversation” and help decrease our fear of death. She even took this social-franchise to Managua, Nicaragua! She writes in peer-reviewed journals, as well as, socio-cultural magazines.

Ana has this to say: “Thanatology education is my passion! The degree of Master of Science in Thanatology has given me the confidence to continue my work of striving to provide terminally ill patients and their loved ones, with the knowledge to ensure quality of life and the best care possible at EOL; especially, to the Latino population. The master’s degree also provided the knowledge and understanding to appreciate other cultures and religions thanatological traditions and rituals, and thus, deliver individualized services. At present, I am a member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s Hispanic/Latino Outreach Work Group, and the American Nurses Association’s Advisory Group for the Palliative & Hospice Nursing Professional Issues Panel. I am also an Assistant Editor of the Forum, ADEC’s (Association for Death Education and Counseling) quarterly journal.

“When I began Marian University’s online master’s degree program in Thanatology, I was residing deep in the mountains of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Throughout my two years of studies, I relocated three times. To me, it was a blessing to have the opportunity to study what I love, wherever I was!

“Thank you, Marian U!”

Jeanette M. Potts

In May, 2012, Jeanette earned her Master of Science degree in Leadership with a concentration in Grief and Bereavement from Marian University. Her background includes 27 years of healthcare management, with the last ten years working in hospital and community education with regard to Tissue Donation. At American Tissue Services Foundation (ATSF), she also works with all the grieving donor families, providing them with letters of condolences, grief resources and information about their loved ones tissue donation outcomes.

She is an active member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and achieved a professional ADEC certification and designation of CT – Certified in Thanatology – the study of death, dying, grief and bereavement. Outside of her work with tissue donation, she is the Vice President of Support Services for Prevent Suicide Fox Cities (PSFC) – which focuses on community education, suicide prevention and survivor support. She became a trained facilitator for suicide support group services through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in summer 2012 and facilitates the survivor support groups for PSFC.

Jeanette tells us: “My greatest achievement thus far has been the ability to give back to Marian University by becoming an adjunct instructor for the Thanatology Undergraduate Program. The degree from Marian University has allowed me to excel in my role as Education & Development Manager/Donor Family Advocate at ATSF. It has given me an edge in the donation world, as well as providing the necessary training and education to walk alongside and help grieving families. With my Marian University education, I have been able to facilitate many donor family events and speak at several PFSC sponsored events as a practiced professional in death, dying, grief and bereavement. I have a passion for teaching others, and my Marian degree and experience has allowed me to go from student to teacher and share my experiences, and knowledge, so that others can learn about Thanatology.”

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Full time faculty:

Janet S. McCord, PhD, FT, Professor
Thanatology Department Chair; Edwin S. Shneidman Program in Thanatology Chair

Part time faculty:

Rebecca Morse, PhD

Brad DeFord, PhD

Judith H. Prather, DMin

Thomas Vail, PhD

Christina M. Zampitella, PsyD, FT