Carlson appoints a lay woman to key archdiocesan post
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 23, 2009 - St. Louis’ new Catholic Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has named its first laywoman as the archdiocesan chancellor.
Nancy J. Werner is the first lay person, as well as first woman, to hold the post in the diocese’s history, which goes back to 1826. Only since 1983 has church law allowed lay people to hold that diocesan post. Now lay chancellors have become almost common place in the United States, freeing more priests for full time ministry.
Werner who worked for Carlson in Saginaw, Mich., is expected to move to St. Louis and begin work in mid-August, he said.
“Nancy brings to the Archdiocese over 26 years of parish, diocesan and national leadership experience,” Carlson said in a statement released Wednesday. He was installed as archbishop last month. “The occasion of this appointment gives me the opportunity to name a highly qualified woman to a senior position within the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.”
Werner has worked in Catholic parish and diocesan ministry since high school.
Now 48, she's said she would not have been surprised if she'd been told in high school that she'd spend her career in the church.
"I always expected that I'd be involved in the church," she said in a phone interview Thursday. She grew up in Holy Redeemer Parish in Marshall, in southern Minnesota. The large parish had "great pastors" and wonderful programs that involved youth. In high school, she was in leadership programs in her parish, in its New Ulm, Minn., diocese, where she became a friend of its bishop. She also was student body president of her Marshal public high school.
"The love of my live is the church, especially the young church," she said. "It's made me the woman I am."
Bridge Between People
She enjoys being a bridge between people, working directly with people. "I've had success in bringing together people and creating an environment that is positive," she said.
She enjoys desk work, too, especially complex effective church projects. "I love organizing the details that come with a big project," she said. "My favorite is the combination of managing people and projects, I love my work," she said.
In the 1990s she served for three years on an advisory committee of Catholic women to the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Warner went to college at the Benedictine Sisters' Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D. In 1997, she got a master's degree in pastoral administration at the Jesuit Regis College in Denver.
Just out of college, she worked in a St. Cloud parish for a year then moved to the St. Paul-Minneapolis area where for the next 17 years she was a youth minister at St. Peter Parish in Forest Lake, Minn., a suburb of St. Paul.
While there in 1984 she first met Carlson, who was then a young Minneapolis-St. Paul auxiliary bishop with great devotion to youth ministry. He lived in a college house with a group of Catholic students.
Her success in developing an effective youth ministry caught the attention of Sioux Falls Bishop Paul Dudley who hired her as the diocese's director of youth ministry in 1989.
"He was a very dear man," she said.
Over the years, she led groups of teen Catholics to three World Youth Days in three different countries. She saw youth gravitate to Pope John Paul II as if he were a rock star-like prayer leader at all three events. She led 900 youth to Denver, 100 to Manila and 100 to Paris.
She was at first surprised at the idea of leaving youth ministry for diocesan administration but in 1996 about a year after Carlson had replaced Dudley as the Sioux Falls Catholic bishop, he passed her in the office hallway one day, invited her into his office and asked if she'd be interested in "winding down" her work in youth ministry to work in diocesan administration. She loved it right off and became vice-chancellor of the Sioux Falls diocese.
About six months after Pope John Paul II sent Carlson to Saginaw the bishop invited her to become the chancellor of that Michigan diocese. After she had prepared the bishop's house for a new resident, helped moved a beloved monsignor into long-term care housing and other "loose ends," she moved to Michigan in 2005.
Nancy Werner attended Carlson's installation at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in June and "liked everything about St. Louis but the humidity" she said. "I think I'll need new hair care products," she said.
After he had a few weeks in St. Louis, he invited her to become his chancellor here. She's looking forward to being in a large metropolitan city like Minneapolis-St. Paul again and is pleased that the winters here have mild stretches.
This week in Michigan, she's busy with the installation on Tuesday of Bishop Joseph Cistone of Philadelphia. Until this summer, he was an auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Justin F. Rigali. Cistone was named in rapid fire, less than a month after the pope named Carlson to St. Louis, which only enhanced Rigali's reputation as an influential member of the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops.
Aug. 12 is her last day of work in Saginaw then she'll move her to a house she leased with a good size yard to satisfy her love of gardening. Her other avocation is spending vacations with her parents and sister in northern Minnesota or Florida.
"This is my vocation," she said of her work in the church.
Office of Chancellor
The very old church office of chancellor can have an array of duties depending on each bishop's choices but all chancellors must be secretary and record keeper of corporate reports of the diocesan administrative body, known as the curia. The heads of various archdiocesan church offices form the curia. The chancellor also is the notary of that body and overseas and distributes all of its decisions to the appropriate departments and in many cases to the Vatican and to the archdiocesan archives. In many dioceses, chancellors serve as the bishop’s chief of staff, overseeing daily operations and working as liaison to groups within the diocese including parish councils and parish finance committees.
Carlson has a reputation for giving key responsibilities to women from his days as a university chaplain, said his sister Cathy Carlson Percival of Minneapolis. Trudy McCafferty, also a lay woman, is one of his two spiritual directors. McCafferty has worked with several bishops for 25 years, Carlson said. Carlson’s two sisters also give him solid advice, he said.
In January Percival told the Beacon that her brother has a high opinion of women’s professionalism in the church and in the wider world.
In a June interview the archbishop spoke with admiration of how Werner had worked with him in his two previous dioceses. Werner is completing her stint as chancellor of the Saginaw, Mich., Catholic Diocese where Carlson most recently was bishop. Before that she worked as an assistant chancellor in Sioux Falls, S.D., when Carlson was its Catholic bishop. He knew her Catholic pastoral work in Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese, he said. The archbishop explained in a June interview, that Werner had moved to South Dakota some time before Pope John Paul II assigned him to that Great Plains state. He was pleased that eventually the South Dakota diocese was able to use her well-honed pastoral gifts.
Wednesday the archbishop described her as being “a highly qualified individual (who) possesses an outstanding record as a collaborator in ministry and administration."
Women in the Post
In Pope John Paul II’s 1983 revision of church law – canon law – lay persons were allowed to serve as diocesan chancellors. The next year, the San Francisco archdiocese was the first U.S. diocese to engage a woman chancellor, Sister Mary Bridget Flaherty, a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart, who had years of administrative experience. San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn had noted the change in canon law and appointed her. She’s generally believed to be the first women at least since ancient times to be a diocesan chancellor.
“There was great positive reaction to her appointment,” Quinn told this reporter in an interview two years ago. Flaherty remained in the post for several months when his successor Cardinal William J. Levada become its archbishop. Levada now heads the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
A woman chancellor is far from unusual today. The Jefferson City diocese now has its fourth consecutive woman chancellor, Sister Kathleen Wegman, a School Sister of Notre Dame. In 1989 Sister Mary Margaret Johaning, also a School Sister of Notre Dame, became Jeff City’s first lay Catholic chancellor. Some months later, Bishop Michael McAuliffe of Jefferson City told its diocesan paper “The Catholic Missourian” that some priests initially were uneasy with the appointment but after she began work those feelings “dissolved.”
Wednesday Carlson also appointed a priest, the Rev. Monsignor Jerome Billing, as chancellor for canonical affairs of the St. Louis Archdiocese - canonical duties that a lay person cannot do including marriage dispensations as well as the oversight of the well-respected large Archdiocesan Archives. They are a historical treasures since the diocese once covered Illinois and all the Louisiana Purchase states north of Arkansas. His work in the chancellor’s office will be a part time assignment since he also will work in the archdiocesan courts as Promoter of Justice and Defender of the Bond for the Metropolitan Tribunal.
Wednesday's St. Louis archdiocesan appointments are just the first of several. Carlson is revising the archdiocese’s governing structure with a new organizational chart, for the administrative and ministerial operations.
Patricia Rice is a freelance writer who has covered religion for many years.