Technically, she’s a “Minister of Parish Life.” But last month, Dorothy Carlson was named to lead a parish in the Diocese of San Jose, California. While this move is hardly unprecedented, it is unusual.
The Diocese of San Jose website has the details:
“Minister of Parish Life”…new phrase, new idea, new job description? Yes, and no. Priests have been doing it for years, so, it’s not a new concept. We call them “pastors.”
The fact is, however, that there are some dioceses in the United States where some Ministers of Parish Life are lay people, Religious women and men, or permanent deacons.
At their May 1995 meeting, the Council of Priests of the Diocese of San Jose endorsed a proposal from its ministries committee urging Bishop Pierre DuMaine (retired, 1999) to adopt a strategy of assigning a lay person, Religious or permanent deacon to be the central leader in some parishes in the future.
This person would be responsible for the pastoral care of the parish. Assisting priests would be available for the sacramental needs of the parish. This creative approach to providing adequate pastoral ministry was based on several concerns:
- The number of priests is dwindling.
- Some priests may choose not to become “pastors.”
- There are increasing numbers of highly educated, experienced and motivated lay Catholics who view ministry as a profession.
- Closing or merging some parishes was a negative option.
- “Circuit-rider” priests who would be the central parish leader in two or more parishes was not considered to be a healthy option for priests or parishes.
The Minister of Parish Life would be a seasoned pastoral leader and would be responsible for the overall life of the parish, not just for “temporalities” as would, say, an administrator…
…In November 2005, Bishop McGrath named Elizabeth Lilly the first Minister of Parish Life, serving Sacred Heart Parish, Saratoga through June 30, 2006. Lilly, an experienced pastoral minister, now retired, had served several parishes in a variety of roles over 25 years and at the time was serving at Sacred Heart Parish as Pastoral Associate and twice served as Administrator pro tem there.
Lilly said then that she viewed her role as a work in collaboration with those who are ordained. “This is another example of the variety of gifts,” she said. “We have to work together to use all the gifts available among all people in the parish community.”
This year Dorothy Carlson has been named Minister of Parish Life at St. Justin Parish in Santa Clara where she has been serving as Pastoral Associate, Business Manager and Director of Liturgy. She was officially installed in her new position last July 24, by Bishop McGrath at a Mass at St. Justin Church.
There’s more about this at the diocesan website.
UPDATE: This post indicates that there are three priests on staff at the parish. For whatever reason, it was decided not to name any of them pastor.