By Jerry Duggan
St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis quietly experienced a milestone this spring when Katie Jansen was installed as parish life coordinator, assuming most of the administrative responsibilities normally handled by a pastor. In Jesuit parlance, Ms. Jansen is the “director of the work” – the highest-ranking administrator for this Jesuit apostolate.
Ms. Jansen has served College Church as parish administrator since 2015, working closely with the pastor, Fr. Dan White, SJ. Functionally, Ms. Jansen says her day-to-day work has not changed significantly.
“In both positions, I worked in tandem with our pastor to oversee all aspects of our parish, namely that our parish vision was being carried out,” she said.
The main difference between the two roles is accountability. Under the previous leadership structure, the pastor was accountable to the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province as well as the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Now, this responsibility lies with Jansen.
The fact that Ms. Jansen, as a lay woman, is in this position at a Catholic Church, is notable and worth celebrating.
“I’ve always had a desire to be engaged in parish ministry, but I used to feel that, as a lay woman, there was something of a glass ceiling that would always limit how deeply I could get involved, especially in a leadership role,” she said. “So, to be able to serve in this capacity is a great honor.”
The conversation surrounding this change in leadership structure began several years ago when then-provincial Fr. Ronald Mercier, SJ, reached out to then-Archbishop Robert Carlson. Later, current UCS provincial Fr. Thomas Greene, SJ, and current Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski revisited the topic.
The idea, which Archbishop Rozanski approved, allows for a more inclusive, progressive, forward-looking leadership model. While it may seem radical to some, Ms. Jansen believes there is a real desire for women to hold similar roles throughout the Church.
“Having worked with and gotten to know many women in parish ministry over the years, I sense that there is real hunger among them to do more within the Church,” she said.
The arrangement is beneficial for priests, as well.
“Having someone else on board to take care of a lot of the day-to-day tasks that come with running a parish can free up priests to spend more time doing what they actually became priests for – direct pastoral and sacramental ministry,” Ms. Jansen said. “I think it’s a win-win.”
Ms. Jansen is the third lay woman to lead a parish in the Jesuits UCS Province, and the second in St. Louis. Cheryl Archibald is the parish life coordinator at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in the Ville Neighborhood of St. Louis. Ann Sheridan serves as parish administrator for St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, Mo.
Ms. Jansen acknowledges that one change is that her new role comes with greater visibility in the community.
“Before, I had a lot of the same responsibilities, but they skewed more administrative and behind the scenes,” she recalled. “Now, I am making it even more of a priority to be a public presence at our parish – getting to know parishioners on a more personal level and making myself visible at Mass and other parish events.”
Father Dan White, SJ, will depart as pastor in August and will be replaced by Fr. Tim McMahon, SJ.
Ms. Jansen places her focus squarely on College Church’s vision and the province mission she and the pastor work to advance.
“Ultimately, we are a team – and that includes the rest of our dedicated parish staff, too,” she said.