The National Catholic Review
Mary M. Foley
Women in parish leadership
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I am one of the few people I know who have been able to do what they most wanted to do in life. For the last four years, I have had the rare, joyful and privileged opportunity to pastor a Catholic parish as a laywoman. This ministry is rare; fewer than 500 men and women currently serve as pastoral leaders of parishes that do not have a resident priest pastor, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Those who serve have titles like parish/pastoral life coordinator, parish director or pastoral administrator. My service in this ministry ended when a new bishop decided to appoint only resident priest pastors in parishes. I am not sure how he will be able to maintain this practice over time, but the action is certainly within his rights as bishop. I look back on recent events with sadness and great disappointment, but with no animosity and with my bishop’s letter of recommendation in hand.

With all my heart I hope to serve once again in this ministry for our church. Looking for a new placement has given me some time to write and reflect. A couple of midwestern dioceses invited me to begin the application process, but it is lengthy and there are no concrete opportunities on the horizon yet. I interviewed in two dioceses in California. Neither diocese currently appoints anyone but priests to pastor parishes, but both dioceses talked with me about possibilities for ministry. I had a great time. We talked about the “parish life coordinator” model of ministry, as well as different configurations for parish pastoral teams. We discussed the church’s challenges today in terms of parish leadership, especially given the shortage of priests. Reflecting on these meetings, I realize that not only do I love parish ministry; I love talking about it. It is valuable to converse with different people around the country because our ideas and our imaginations can grow as a result.

I decided to put some thoughts to paper while I remain temporarily free of responsibilities and episcopal oversight. In saying the latter, I intend no slight toward any bishop I have ever worked with, for they have all been good men and I have loved them all. I wish only to acknowledge that I now feel freer than usual to speak publicly. As a woman serving in a very unusual ministry in the church, I am accustomed to being watched as though under a microscope, especially by people who would write to the bishop (or even the apostolic nuncio to the United States) if they thought anything I did was suspicious. At least for now, I do not have to worry about anyone sending letters of complaint to my supervising bishop.

My last assignment in ministry was especially challenging, because I was the only person serving in such a role within four dioceses in the state, and people were generally unprepared for such a change. In spite of the challenges, this was a ministry full of joy and one in which I felt most fully alive. In a word, it is a ministry for which I was made. Pastoring is my vocation. I deeply love my church, and I am thankful for every ministry opportunity I have had; but I am especially grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the church as a pastoral life coordinator.

What Is a Parish Life Coordinator?

For now, talking about the ministry may be a form of service to the church. What does it mean for the church to have women (or deacons or laymen) pastoring parishes? Note that I use “pastor” and “pastoring” as a verb. According to canon law, the title “pastor” always belongs to a priest. Yet canon law includes a special provision that allows a diocesan bishop to appoint a qualified person other than a priest to share in the pastoral care of a parish when there is a shortage of priests (Canon 517.2). In this case, a priest is named canonical pastor. This canonical pastor, or priest moderator, as the position is often called, is responsible for general oversight of the parish, but he is most often not involved in the daily pastoral care of parishioners or in parish administration. These responsibilities are entrusted to the one who is appointed parish life coordinator. The bishop also assigns a sacramental minister (a second priest), who comes into the parish for Sunday Mass and other sacramental celebrations.

The parish life coordinator is appointed to be the pastoral leader of the parish and the one responsible for its administration. While pastoring is ordinarily associated only with priesthood, it is good that this provision exists in canon law, because at this time in U.S. history, we do not have enough priests who can become pastors, and we will have more parishes in need of pastoring. I also know that God has entrusted gifts for pastoring to others like myself.

I do not know what the future holds for ecclesial structures and roles in ministry. I believe that the power of death cannot prevail against the church (Mt 16:18), and I trust that God will always make a way for people to receive the sacraments. The richness of the tradition of the Catholic Church is beyond comparison, yet I fear that fear itself will prevent us from adequately passing on this tradition from generation to generation. This is not something sentimental; it concerns the salvation of people and our mission as church.

Overcoming Fears

I have served in a ministry that is feared by some, who see it as devaluing priesthood. The only need we have, they would say, is to promote vocations to priesthood and religious life. Some fear that by encouraging lay ecclesial ministry, especially when it comes to leadership of parishes, we discourage these other vocations. This I do not believe. Religious vocations are God-given, and it is the task of anyone pastoring within the church (bishop, priest or parish life coordinator) to recognize, affirm, encourage, nurture and support all the gifts God has given to the community of faith. To me, this is an essential part of what it means to pastor. In the last four years, in a parish of 935 families, I encouraged two young men who may have vocations to priesthood, and I helped another man enter formation for the permanent diaconate. I gave vocation talks in our religious education classes and spoke about bishops, priests, deacons, brothers and monks, sisters and nuns and lay ecclesial ministers. I encouraged each child who thought that God may be calling him or her to one of these ministries and wrote letters to their parents, asking them to give encouragement as well. I also invited four laypeople to begin formation in a diocesan lay ministry program.

We are not the givers of religious vocations, nor can we choose what gifts will be given. Our proper task is to recognize all the gifts God has given to the church, especially in these challenging times. If we need vocations to the priesthood, and we do, then we must have pastors in parishes who will encourage them, whoever is doing the pastoring.

In the ministry of pastoring, I have also discovered that another concern compounds the fears of some: female leadership of parishes. When I was originally appointed, the bishop let me know that he expected me to attend cluster meetings with the priests. When the priests found out, some staged a minor revolt and protest to the presbyteral council. I avoided meetings until the matter was finally resolved. Then, over time, collegial relationships developed with some of the same priests who had originally objected to my presence.

At the parish level, I was informed by someone when I arrived that my coming was disruptive to the psyche of some of the people: “You have to understand that we have had this tradition for 2,000 years. Now, not only do we not have a priest pastor, but we have a woman on top of it!” Should such challenges prevent the consideration of women as leaders of parishes? In truth, I was never fully accepted by some people. Most, however, came around in their thinking. Our parish grew from 750 to 935 families, and our religious education enrollment of 535 students reflected a 25 percent increase over a few years. Many people said that I was able to minister with them in ways that some priests never could. Does this comment devalue priesthood? On the contrary, effective ministry does not diminish anyone. Rather, it helps our entire church.

The important task at hand for all pastors is to recognize the gifts that God has freely given for the benefit of the church. Then we must also educate the lay faithful about the state of the priest shortage in our country. Denial is another form of fear. Alternate models of ministry may be needed in particular times and places. We should help people understand the situation by providing them thorough orientation on new forms of ministry. Laypeople love the church, and they can learn, adapt and flourish under various models of pastoral leadership. God will provide priests for the church in the future, and God will provide what we need so that viable parishes can remain active communities of faith and local centers for evangelization. Consider starting a conversation about these things in your parish or diocese. Be not afraid.

Mary M. Foley has served in a variety of parish ministries for more than 20 years, most recently as pastoral life coordinator for a suburban parish of 935 families. She lives in the Midwest.

Comments

Coleen H. | 3/28/2009 - 4:50pm
As one of the few female members enrolled in a Catholic school of Theology and Ministry, I can truly identify with the author of this article. I have had the privilege of knowing many lay and ordained people in various states. It is interesting how the Catholic church started out with apostles, not priests, and ministers that were both male and female. I think that at the present time, we may need to remember all of us are children of God who have a message to bring to others.
Elizabeth | 3/21/2009 - 1:23pm
It has always seemed to me that the God-given talents to be an administrator and the God-given talents to be a sacramental minister are not necessarily given to the same person no matter whether male or female. And, very often, a good administrator is not a good sacramental minister and vice versa. For instance, why are all too many parish priests such poor homilists? Probably, because they are excellent Parish administrators. Surely God calls us to vocations that use our God-given talents. Unfortunately, vocations are not seen as the way individuals can best use their God-given talents to serve the Church, but as pre-determined positions in the Church with irrelevant criteria such as sex and celibacy being the determining factors. There might be more sacramental ministers if they didn't have to administer their parish. Like the 'worker priests,' they would work at ordinary jobs and just celebrate the sacraments for their parish. Parishes might grow and be vibrant with women who have administrative talents as leaders instead of a priest with gifts for homilies and sacramental ministry. It would challenge the hierarchy as it now stands, but what the Church needs is strong spiritual leadership which, of course, would be a special vocation unrelated to the administration of the Church or strictly sacramental ministry, but one which both would need to listen to. Unfortunately, also we are all sinners and no matter what model we use, there will be abuses by people who are not called by God, but who want the position. I still think that if vocations were defined as what one does with one's talents, we would have less abuse and more fruits.
RICHARD WEEKS | 3/20/2009 - 1:10am
WHILE I ENJOYED M. FOLEY'S ARTICLE, I AM MYSTIFIED AT HOW OPAQUE THE INFORMATION ABOUT HER IS. SHE LIVES IN THE "MIDWEST". WHERE? SHE WORKED AT A "SUBURBAN" PARISH. THE CHURCH IS WHERE? THE NAME IS? THE NAME OF THE DIOCESE IS? WHAT BISHOP ORIGINALLY HIRED HER? WHO WAS THE BISHOP WHO REPLACED HER (THIS IS NOT A NEGATIVE AS MOVING SOMEONE AFTER HIS/HER TOUR IS QUITE COMMON)? WHY THE SECRECY? TRANSPARENCY MUST BE THE MOTTO IN PARISHES AND (ARCH)DIOCESES. WE APPEAR TO BE NO WHERE NEAR THIS YET. AS SHE SAYS AT THE END, "BE NOT AFRAID". DICK WEEKS
JOHN GIVENS | 3/16/2009 - 10:03pm
The March 9th article on lay parish leadership struck a chord. As someone whose parish is currently being run by a lay person and whose diocese has made this a wide practice, I can see the benefits and drawbacks of such a leadership model. On the one hand, parishes that otherwise might have to close for lack of a pastor can remain open while the priests that serve them can get much needed help and relief from the day-to-day business of running a parish. On the other hand, I can’t help but be concerned that lay pastoral leadership invites its own variety of possible abuses. My lay pastoral administrator, for instance, wears an alb, actively participates in the liturgy and regularly speaks during the time reserved for the homily. Our bishop justifies the practice by citing a paragraph from Ecclesiae de Mysterio that allows “dialogue” with the laity during the homily (using the example of the Mass for children). In reality, when our pastoral administrator “preaches,” we do not get a dialogue so much as two homilies: a brief one from the presiding priest and a longer one from our lay pastoral administrator. My concern is obvious: in inviting lay people to serve as pastoral administrators, are we opening the door to liturgical abuse? In particular, I wonder whether we are “clericalizing” the laity and “secularizing” the clergy. Perhaps America could devote a future issue to both sides of this question.
Brenda Flemming | 3/16/2009 - 10:22am
I had the distinct privilege of being a member of a parish that was pastored by a very dynamic and spirit-filled woman. Our parish community thrived under her leadership as a people who welcomed all to be part of the Church. As a "cradle" Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, I believed the Church was the People. As part of this parish, that statement was true for the first time. I mourn the loss of what we had as a community and pray for those leaders who fear strong women called to this ministry.
Valerie Fox | 3/16/2009 - 9:30am
As a parishioner at a church where in the last year our Parish Life Coordinator was dismissed from her duties and replaced by a very part-time priest, I will say that many of us have felt orphaned and neglected. There is no way a priest responsible for two or more parishes can tend to all of the people who may need spiritual intervention. Our Parish Coordinator was like an Angel watching over her flock. She knew and remembered the name of every parishioner and all turned to her for their spiritual needs. Jesus had no qualms regarding appointing his mother Mary as mother to his disciples. He seemed to recognize the value in the maternal capacity for loving and caring. Women tend to be intuitive, compassionate, and have the ability of multi-tasking. All of these qualities make the female Parish Life Coordinator perfect for responding to the needs of parishioners. Using the family as a model, with the male as the head of the household we had, for our parish, a priest in the role of canonical pastor or more intimately in the role of the sacramental minister who led us in prayer and dispensed the sacraments. As in most families, however, it tends to be the Mother who is the heart of the home. With our Parish Life Coordinator, it was she to whom members would go to help with their healing, to gain support, and to share their fears and concerns, their excitement and their joys. She comforted, she encouraged, she guided, and she celebrated. Priests are respected and revered for their leadership, their wisdom, their guidance. Women are valued for these qualities but in their femininity they also bring an added demension to what will probably always be a male dominent hierarchy. Bishops, please let women do what they do best so as parishioners we can enjoy the best of both types of leadership in our church.
Ellen Williams | 3/15/2009 - 1:53pm
Mary Foley's article continues to show the face of clericalism and sexism within our faith community. I was blessed to have had three female pastoral coordinators lead my communities of worship. These woman's committment, spirituality and leadership far surpassed most priests that I have know over my 54 years as a Catholic. It appears that Pastoring a parish is more contingent upon correct "body parts" than the Holy Spirit and professional training. I will never give up hope for their return to pastoring ministry, nor an opportunity to support these woman in their calling and gifts. May we continue to have the courage to raise these issues to our Bishops, church leadership, local priests and the Pope. Change usually happens from the ground up.
Peg Conway | 3/14/2009 - 11:58am
We're kidding ourselves if we think that stories such as Mary Foley's are good news. How is it good when her position is terminated on a whim? How does this help women or the church? US Catholic recently published a rosy article about the positives of pastoring multiple parishes also, but reality showed through even so. We need to recognize that the emperor has no clothes: there are untold numbers of women called to serve who are not welcome. That's the "vocation crisis." Rather than propping up the old system with absurd organizational maneuvering, we need to embrace the women who are eager to pastor God's people right now.
Nancy Hammack | 3/13/2009 - 5:47pm
I was a member of an active vibrant Catholic parish that had a female pastoral coordinator in leadership of the faith community. She was selfless and tireless in her service and her love for us. It broke my heart when her position was abruptly dissolved and she was removed from her leadership role. It is a tragedy that the Catholic Church cannot embrace gifts of leadership service selflessly given by talented and gifted women. What are we Catholics afraid of? Are we so narrow minded that we think Christ, Son of God, parcels out His gifts of ministry and leadership only to a few men? If we do, then we are limiting God's Earthly Kingdom among us.
Nancy Hammack | 3/13/2009 - 5:43pm
I was a member of an active vibrant Catholic parish that had a female pastoral coordinator in leadership of the faith community. She was selfless and tireless in her service and her love for us. It broke my heart when her position was abruptly dissolved and she was removed from her leadership role. It is a tragedy that the Catholic Church cannot embrace gifts of leadership service selflessly given by talented and gifted women. What are we Catholics afraid of? Are we so narrow minded that we think Christ, Son of God, parcels out His gifts of ministry and leadership only to a few men? If we do, then we are limiting God's Earthly Kingdom among us.
Diane McNamara | 3/12/2009 - 3:30pm
As a convert to Catholicism I have always been aware of clericalism and elite-ism in the Church. By our baptism we are all called to be priest, prophet, and king to one another every day. Jesus came to teach us the Way and as his followers we want leaders to guide us and struggle with us on this journey. The Church needs all people who are called by God to move her forward in today's world. Thank you lay leaders for your courage and your example!
Judith Bennett | 3/11/2009 - 6:12pm
I don't know if the cover photograph (not Foley's) of a mousy lady in pink with piously-folded hands and a sappy smile, captioned by "The Changing Face of Parish Leadership" was intended to arouse anger. If so, it worked for me! I have known too many compassionate, capable, intelligent, gifted women accomplishing complex and often gritty parish work to quietly endure this caricature. Foley's article and related podcast contradict the implications of this demeaning cover. Dr. Foley had been allowed to serve in her pastoral role because of a special provision in canon law "that allows a diocesan bishop to appoint a qualified person other than a priest to share in the pastoral care of a parish when there is a shortage of priests." It is notable that the word "qualified" is applied only for a person but not for a priest, even though some of us have encountered priests who were not especially well qualified or gifted in pastoral activities. In most of contemporary civilization people have ceased using gender as a primary indicator of "qualification," but not yet in the Catholic Church. Yet even Catholics today would think it preposterous to eliminate the most qualified doctor, teacher, or lawyer because of anatomy. Do we really think that it is a penis that best qualifies one to most excellently perform the many and varied duties of a pastor or parish life coordinator? Apparently, to a large extent in the Catholic Church we still do. Although Dr. Foley's story demonstrates the need to recognize women as complete and capable human beings, the magazine cover presents (ironically, I hope) women as marginal, and changing parish leadership as increasingly at risk. Judith Bennett Rociada, NM 87742
Michael Bindner | 3/11/2009 - 12:13pm
Thank you for publishing Mrs. Foley's story. In time there will be many more like it. We must remember that the Holy Spirit is smarter than we are and that nothing happens by mistake. Her experience also provides a model of what to do in the even that the drive toward Ecumenicalism succeeds and Evangelicals without a tradition of priesthood enter the fold. This modeling of pastoring will provide much needed guidance on how to deal with the multitude of pastors who do not necessarily wish to take on Holy Orders.
Billy Gargaro | 3/11/2009 - 9:06am
Thank you to Ms. Foley for sharing your experience and to America Magazine for publishing it. Having worked with and for Pastoral Coordinators in my many years of parish work - I applaud them for all their hard work and didication to the mission of the church. Thank you to all the Pastoral Coordinators throughout the church for their untiring dedication. God bless you all!
Kristeen Bruun | 3/10/2009 - 9:02pm
We've been talking about alternative forms of parish leadership for over twenty years. In this case, the numbers say it all: 500 parishes don't make a trend or even a drop in the bucket. Bishops, priests, and laity are still sailing down that river in Egypt. I once had a conversation with a group of churchwomen gathered to facilitate some parish task. "If this were really important," one sniffed, "Father would be here." "Father's not here," I responded, "because he trusts that we can get the job done." "Oh," she responded, "I never thought of it that way." It comes as an equally novel idea to most bishops, priests, and parishioners, including the bishop who terminated Mary Foley's successful parish leadership role. So let's stop wasting trees on articles about things that aren't happening. Maybe in twenty more years, the Catholic community will be desperate enough to consider changing.
Kristeen Bruun | 3/10/2009 - 8:18pm
We've been talking about alternative forms of parish leadership for over twenty years. In this case, the numbers say it all: 500 parishes don't make a trend or even a drop in the bucket. Bishops, priests, and laity are still sailing down that river in Egypt. I once had a conversation with a group of churchwomen gathered to facilitate some parish task. "If this were really important," one sniffed, "Father would be here." "Father's not here," I responded, "because he trusts that we can get the job done." "Oh," she responded, "I never thought of it that way." It comes as an equally novel idea to most bishops, priests, and parishioners, including the bishop who terminated Mary Foley's successful parish leadership role. So let's stop wasting trees on articles about things that aren't happening. Maybe in twenty more years, the Catholic community will be desperate enough to consider changing.
Joanne Gordon | 3/9/2009 - 7:34pm
Thank you, Mary Foley, for sharing your pastoral leadership ministry experience in a well-written article! Thank you, America, for publishing this article and headlining it on your cover! In 2000, I was appointed pastoral coordinator at a parish where I had served the previous eight years as coordinator of religious education. At first I had sacramental ministers who were appointed by the bishop. The last three years I arranged a schedule with two retired priests who willingly traveled nearly an hour to be with us each Sunday. We had one canonical pastor the first four years and another the last four years; both were supportive of my ministry. The parishioners and I worked together to build a 550-seat worship space, expand our ministries within the parish and in the surrounding community, grow the parish from 174 to 300 households, increase lay involvement to 75% of the members, and so much more. Last spring without warning the current bishop appointed a priest pastor from a neighboring parish to be physically present and in charge. That decision effectively eliminated the ministry I had been appointed to under canon 517.2. I left the parish with sadness in my heart and in the hearts of many of my parishioners. The pastoral coordinator ministry had been active in our east coast diocese for over 25 years. We met several times a year and joined with those serving in nearby dioceses for a yearly retreat. I deeply loved my parish and the ministry to which I had been appointed. Like Mary, I know I had the most blessed opportunity to pastor a parish.
Charlotte M. Bruney | 3/9/2009 - 4:31pm
Like Mary Foley, after serving a six year term in a position of parish leadership in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, I too found myself displaced by a new bishop in 1995. After that "dis-appointment", I served two years as a hospital chaplain, earning my certification as such by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. I knew, however, that my true calling was to parish ministry. Luckily, my gifts were welcomed by the Diocese of Rochester, NY, where I am now in my eleventh year as my parish's appointed leader. My parishioners will tell you with great enthusiam that they are well cared for, reaping the benefit of gifts of both female and male leadership. Our sacramental minister and I work together in tandem and feel blessed by our collaboration. Like Mary Foley's parish, St. Vincent de Paul Church in Churchville continues to thrive in a time of diminishment. It has been a privilege to serve this parish community, and a blessing to be able to use my God-given gifts in service to the Church. Mary, come to Rochester!
Terri Simon | 3/8/2009 - 5:21pm
Thank you to Mary Foley for telling her story. Thank you also to America Magazine for printing it. I had a position like Mary's in a different diocese. When a priest was named as pastor I too lost my job/position/ministry. I had been in my parish 9 years and had served as the pastoral coordinator for 5 years. It was the ministry I felt I had prepared myself for, had been called to, and had given my life's blood to (in a manner of speaking). However,I was not given any letter by my bishop so I could pursue similar positions elsewhere. I lost my worshipping community, the people who had been my closest friends and supporters over a 9 years, my spiritual home, and my livelihood all at once. It was and remains a painful experience in my life. Why would I want to share my gifts and talents again in an institutional church that can treat its leaders in such a way?
Carrie Parsi. | 3/5/2009 - 1:11pm
Way to go Woman ! Don't give up. There is (will) be a place for women in our Church.You give us hope. CCP
Boreta | 3/5/2009 - 12:55pm
It is wonderful to read this article! Thank you, Ms. Foley, for responding to the Spirit's call!
Diane | 3/2/2009 - 9:54am
It is heart warming and soul liberating to finally see an intelligent article of women’s involvement with our church. Breaking the silence on women’s ordination & breaking the stained glass ceiling on women's ordination is long overdue. Without the mothers of the church catholicism is doomed to extinction! Quoting Saint Paul from the bible: Romans 16:1 Paul Greets His Friends "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea." Who among us can blaspheme the word of God to deny the ordination of our sisters?
Peter Price | 2/28/2009 - 6:10pm
Mary Foley makes eminent good sense in the continuing tension between charism and office in the Church. Our continuing insistence on recognising only 'Office', usually the prerogative of the Ordained, to the neglect of 'Charism', gift of the Spirit in ordained as well as in those of us called to witness to the love of God in the world, is beyond comprehension. In this year of St. Paul, let us again read the Apostle to the Gentiles with open hearts, especially when he writes of the work of the Spirit in the whole People of God.
OBI OBIEKWE | 2/27/2009 - 10:52pm
"Be not afraid." Indeed. Did Jesus himself not say: "It is useless to fear. All that is needed is trust." With regard to the welfare of the Church, it is useless to be afraid. All we need is to trust the Lord. In my parish in Houston as well as many in the archdiocese, we say the prayer below for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. PRAY FOR VOCATIONS TO THE PRIESTHOOD AND RELIGIOUS LIFE O living and gracious God, Father of all, you bless your people in every time and season and provide for their needs through your providential care. Your Church is continually in need of priests, sisters and brothers to offer themselves in the service of the gospel by lives of dedicated love. Open the hearts of your sons and daughters to listen to your call in their lives. Give them the gift of understanding to discern your invitation to serve you and your Church. Give them the gift of courage to follow your call. May they have the spirit of young Samuel who found fulfillment in his life when he said to you, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen! I like the prayer because it encourages trust and not fear. Mary Foley needs to be humble and trust the Holy Spirit's guidance of the bishops. The Church has weathered many crisis in the past 2000 years standing on the tripd of the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium. Part of the Tradition of the Church is the Lives of Saints. I am yet to read of a canonized saint that challenges the wisdom of the Church. It is useless to fear. The one thing that is necessary is faith.
Eileen Sagar | 2/27/2009 - 6:11pm
I would like to meet (or email)Mary Foley and discuss her work with her. My parish priest (pastor)is running three parishes spread over two towns, the next door parish priest is running two parishes spread over two towns - and so it goes. In England we have far fewer priests than in the United States (I often visit family in Colorado and am amazed at the number of Sunday Masses and numbers of priests in some parishes)and are coming to the stage of realising we need much more lay involvement - and the majority of involved lay people are women. My own parish priest (aged 52) collapsed while celebrating Mass a few days ago. We have a developing Pastoral Council and some members have been able to take over and keep the community together, the services (including burning the palms and distribution of ashes at a Eucharistic Service)have continued to take place and hopefully will until the pastor returns. But then, are we going to let the same thing happen again - let an overburdened man collapse with the strain of work? I hope not. We do need more training for pastoral leadership and more acceptance of women "up at the front" if we expect the church to not only survive but to grow and flourish.
Fred Hofheinz | 2/27/2009 - 5:12pm
It has been about 20 years since Professor Ruth Wallace published her book "They Call Her Pastor" which described the life and ministry of some of the early women appointed to lead Catholic parishes. I wonder if Ms Foley has read that book. If so, she will see that little has changed over those two decades except for some small increase in numbers.
David Cruz-Uribe | 2/27/2009 - 4:40pm
Mary Foley is correct in saying "We are not the givers of religious vocations, nor can we choose what gifts will be given." However, it is important to remember that the call to a religious vocation is often not a direct "call" (as St. Paul or St. Francis were called) but is rather mediated by the surrounding community and the broader culture. Therefore, it is not only important for a pastor (or anyone in pastoral leadership) to talk about and encourage vocations, but to also recognize how their milieu shapes the understanding of vocation in those being called. Thus, if we want to encourage young men to enter the priesthood, we have to give some thought as to whether the model of lay pastoral leadership might not move young men (and women) in another direction. This is not to be seen as an objection to lay pastoral leadership---done well it is a great gift to the Church. But it is concern which needs to be acknowledged and addressed by those in this role.
Karen Marohn | 2/27/2009 - 3:25pm
I served the Roman Catholic church as a pastoral administrator for 15 yrs. (and 14 yrs before that on parish staff). Like the author of this article, my ministry ended with a new bishop. I too feel called to parish ministry and could not ignore my baptismal call to ministry. I am continuing my ministry in another part of the church catholic where my vocation is recognized. God's will be done! Let us not stand in the way because of our fear or bias.
John | 2/27/2009 - 3:18pm
I personally think the pastoral activities assigned to lay people are well defined in the Vatican Council II. Lay people do participate actively in the life of the Church BUT this should be in respect to the ministry assigned to the lay people. Therefore, if a lay person, like Mary M. Foly, assumes the lay ministry without interfering in the specific ministry of the priest (hearing confession, saying mass, administering sacraments...) I do not find any problem.
Alice Noe | 2/27/2009 - 3:17pm
Thanks to the author for her reflections, and thanks to America for printing them. We don't hear enough from the few people who have held these pastoral positions.
R CHAD EBERHART MR | 2/27/2009 - 2:57pm
I'm not sure "fear" is the issue...at least not how Ms. Foley intends it. Having "pastoral coordinators" heading parishes, although sometimes necessary, is not the ideal and often times has been used in ideological ways that purposefully undermined the priesthood. Although I feel for Ms. Foley, to continue on the path we were going in the American Church, where laity tended toward a confused understanding of their role, giving them a sense of entitlement, is a recipe for disaster. It's been tried for the past 40 years with catastrophic results. I welcome this new crop of bishops who are trying hard to restore the church and its priesthood. I wish Ms. Foley well.
Stephanie Sipe | 2/27/2009 - 2:50pm
Ms. Foley, you are an inspiration.