By Jerry Duggan
There is so much more to running a parish than presiding over Mass. Managing parish finances, maintaining the physical plant, overseeing committees and instilling a sense of community are just a few of the many other tasks that have traditionally been the responsibility of pastors. But priestly ordination is not required to be a skilled administrator. So, several parishes in the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province have transitioned to a more progressive, representational leadership model.
At St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church and St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, Mo., lay women are in positions of leadership.
Cheryl Archibald (parish life coordinator at St. Matthew), Katie Jansen Larson (parish administrator at St. Francis Xavier in St. Louis) and Ann Sheridan (pastoral administrator at St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City) are all anchors of their parish communities.
Cheryl Archibald: Balancing Pastoral Care and Administrative Support
This structure was necessary at St. Matthew’s because there was no priest to serve as pastor. The parish has just over 100 households, and therefore had a single priest in residence, with no associate pastors or deacons to share the workload.
All these tasks, particularly caring for the 114-year-old church’s physical plant and managing the finances, were too much for one person to handle. As a solution, in 2018, Fr. Ron Mercier, provincial at the time, devised a new, forward-looking leadership model.
Under this arrangement, the priest focuses on the spiritual and liturgical aspects of the parish while all else is done by the parish life coordinator. Father Mercier tapped Ms. Archibald, who served as pastoral associate for five years before her appointment. Father Mercier then turned to St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson for approval; it was he who formally appointed her to the parish.
In her current role, Ms. Archibald’s responsibilities are many and varied, so she finds the key to a productive day is starting it in a consistent manner: with daily Mass.
“When I listen to the Scripture at daily Mass, I process what God is giving me for the day and use that as my guide,” she said.
What comes next varies depending on the day, but there is usually a combination of administrative and pastoral work. Ms. Archibald will spend some days paying bills and attending meetings, while other days are devoted to providing pastoral care for parishioners.
“This role involves a little bit of everything,” she said. “I could easily fill my whole day with paperwork and business items, but where I find the most meaning is through my relationships with parishioners. It’s easy to get bogged down with administrative tasks and forget the bigger picture. Ultimately, I’m here to serve God and this parish community.”
While Ms. Archibald could never have anticipated serving in this role, she is amazed how it fell into place.
“I found that if I put the spiritual legwork in, God opens doors for me in a way that seems almost too good to be true. That’s how I feel in this role.”
Ms. Archibald believes having a lay person, particularly a married lay woman, in this role, is great for the St. Matthew parish community.
“More than half of our parishioners are women, so for them to feel represented in parish leadership is important,” she said. “I think people like me are relatable to women in our parish and help them feel that their voices are being heard.”
Katie Jansen Larson: Helping College Church Run Smoothly
Katie Jansen Larson is not director of the work at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis – not yet. The parish is transitioning to a new leadership structure. In the meantime, Ms. Jansen Larson has a hand in just about everything the parish does.
Much of her job as parish administrator entails administrative tasks such as human resources, facilities management, financial reporting and accounting, but she derives her greatest satisfaction from other areas of the job: more “big picture” work related to the parish vision, which she played a major role in crafting.
Ms. Jansen Larson and Pastor Dan White, SJ, and other parish leaders have a clear vision of what they want College Church to be and do: promote anti-racism, invest in youth and care for God’s creation.
Ms. Jansen Larson also ensures the parish embraces its Jesuit identity and distinct location on an urban college campus along the way.
“We are an urban parish, but we are also a predominately white parish in a predominately non-white deanery,” she said. “We draw from more than 100 ZIP codes across the St. Louis metro area, but we also are situated on a college campus and have a large student population. We have nearly 200 children in our faith formation programs. My job is making sure all those perspectives are heard.”
To accomplish this, Ms. Jansen Larson oversees the rest of the parish’s large staff, ensuring that not only are all ministries successful but that they work together.
“With such a large, diverse parish, it would be easy to just do a lot of different things well and say that that’s good enough,” she explained. “To take our efforts to another level, I make sure that everything is not just done well but works toward a set of common goals.”
Ms. Jansen Larson’s work allows Fr. White to focus on what he is best trained for: leadership and the spiritual health of the parish. The rest of the staff, led by Ms. Jansen Larson, can help the parish live out its faith, and in essence, practice what Fr. White preaches.
“For me, a big part of a Jesuit parish’s identity, that is, what makes a Jesuit parish ‘Jesuit,’ is living out the faith through community outreach, vibrant ministries and engagement as a force for good in the world,” she said.
She believes one way to alleviate the burden on pastors who are stretched too thin, or the priest shortage in general, is to elevate lay people, particularly women who are dedicated servants of the Lord, into roles like her own.
“There are many women who feel called to ministry in parishes who have incredible talents and ideas, and strong relationships with God,” she said. “If we give them opportunities to lead, the Church will be better for it.”
Ann Sheridan: Overseeing a Large, Urban Parish
As pastoral administrator and director of the work at St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City, Ann Sheridan is responsible for “just about everything that goes on at the parish.”
Although she has served in this role for less than a year, it did not take long for Ms. Sheridan to get a feel for the breadth and depth of this position.
“There’s so much going on at our parish,” she said. “We have a number of very active groups, committees and organizations; there’s maintenance, finance, buildings and grounds too. Sometimes it feels like I’m the traffic cop at a very busy intersection, making sure that we are all working together toward our common goals.”
St. Francis Xavier, a large, urban parish, had a traditional leadership structure until 2020, when Fr. Mercier chose Ms. Sheridan, the business manager at the parish, for this role. At that same time, a new pastor, Fr. Jim Caime, SJ, was also installed with the chief responsibility of overseeing the spiritual needs of the parish.
“Fr. Caime ultimately reports to me, but we are partners in everything that we do,” she said. “We collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, with the goal of advancing the parish mission.”
While Ms. Sheridan has many responsibilities, she tries to employ a people-first approach.
“I like to think of myself as a connector and a communicator more than an administrator,” she said.
She tries to prioritize people over administrative tasks. Often this means phone calls, responding to emails, or, in a post-pandemic world, face-to-face meetings with parishioners and groups.
Ms. Sheridan uses the Society of Jesus’ four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) as a guide in her work and remains cognizant of the fact that everything at the parish must work together. For example, the parish’s justice and life objectives must work in concert with those of the parish’s adult faith formation program.
Part of the reason Ms. Sheridan’s work is so vital is because managing a parish can simply be too much for a pastor to handle.
“Being a pastor comes with many responsibilities, even under our current arrangement,” she said. “Before, a pastor was in charge of everything for the whole parish. It’s unreasonable to expect any one person to handle all that. That’s where I can help: I’m here to support and here to serve.”
Ms. Sheridan believes her appointment as director of St. Francis Xavier says less about her own credentials than it does about the Jesuits as a whole.
“Having a married, lay woman in this role sends a signal to everyone that women’s voices are welcome, lay people’s voices, the voices of people of color, LGBTQ are all welcome,” she said. “God’s Church is for all, not the few, and to be truly committed to social justice, to service, to equality, we have to have a seat at the table for everybody.”