"Together in God's Service"
By Robert Delaney
DETROIT -- Mary Jo Tully didn't realize she was being considered for an even higher position when she became vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon 11 years ago.
A year later she was named the first layperson to serve as the archdiocese's chancellor.
Chancellors used to have to be priests, but since 1984 a number of bishops have appointed non-clerics. Many of these new lay chancellors have been women religious, but "ordinary" lay people have also been named.
The job varies from diocese to diocese. Canon law makes the chancellor keeper of the seal, a sort of ecclesial notary with responsibility for authenticating documents, maintaining archives, and preparing a five-year report to Rome.
But these duties don't typically add up to a full-time job, so bishops add responsibilities that give the chancellor a key diocesan management role.
Ms. Tully, for example, sits on the archbishop's cabinet and serves as its secretary. She has responsibility for the archdiocesan resource center, communications office and justice and peace office. She supervises chancery support staff and services, and is coordinator for religious communities, ecumenical officer, director of the Missions Office, and liaison with Catholic hospitals.
George Noonan, chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, also has a long list of extra-canonical portfolios, including responsibility for the diocesan offices for religious education, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, worship, youth, family life, young adults, the diaconate, vocations, lay leadership training and priests' continuing education.
In the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., Linda Bearie had been director of personnel six years when she was named chancellor in 1996 -- and she still has that role in addition to new duties.
Other responsibilities include producing a daily bulletin that is faxed or e-mailed to every parish. Greater plans are in the works.
"We're developing a wide-area network, so we'll be able to hold on-line meetings with all the parishes and schools," Ms. Bearie said.
Sister Barbara Thiella, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, is also director of parish services and chancellor of the Diocese of Stockton, California.
She has a coordinating role when it comes to Catholic schools, movements such as Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, and Cursillo, plus the Hispanic apostolate and ministries to other ethnic communities.
Christine Taylor used to report to the chancellor as archivist for the Archdiocese of Seattle; since late January she has been the chancellor.
Ms. Taylor was given a project manager role with regard to "the process that creates and implements the official policies and procedures of the diocese." She makes "sure everyone who needs to be consulted is consulted," and that there is some standardization as to how the policies and procedures are written.
In the Detroit Archdiocese, Servants of Jesus Sister Barbara Celeskey serves as the archbishop's liaison to consultative bodies, and oversees Parish Support Services, which helps parishes in the area of management -- whether of facilities, resources or personnel.
"There's never a dull moment, that's for sure, and never a clean desk," Sister Celeskey said.
Almost every chancellor interviewed cited special assignments, and echoed Ms. Tully, who said that "in general, I do whatever it is the archbishop needs me to do."
Even those who were the first lay persons to hold the position reported negligible resistance, if any, from priests unused to dealing with a non-cleric -- and typically a female one, at that.
"We're way beyond that here," Sister Celeskey said, citing an emphasis on lay involvement that began under the late Cardinal John Dearden. She and other women named to leadership roles when Cardinal Adam Maida became Detroit's archbishop 10 years ago "never had to 'prove' ourselves," she said.
Portland's Ms. Tully said, "The priests of this archdiocese have been absolutely wonderful with me."
Not only is Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle a great "proponent of collaboration and collegiality," but the archdiocese has a tradition of lay involvement that began out of necessity, according to Ms. Taylor.
"One hundred and fifty years ago there were two priests to cover thousands of square miles, so they would train lay catechists," she said.
Ms. Bearie has not only seen numerical growth in lay ministry, but also increased professionalism.
"Among our greatest challenges is giving the formation to the people who have the professional skills, and giving the professional skills to those who have the formation," she said.
Noonan said he is thankful that the Church is now more open to people such as himself, who feel a vocation to full-time lay ministry.
"I think there have probably been other people who have felt a similar call, but have gone in some other direction because they thought the only way was the priesthood," he said.
Robert Delaney is a reporter for The Michigan Catholic, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.