By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
MT. VERNON — In their positions as parish life coordinators, laywomen Marcia Reilly and Susan Markee Schettler provide for the ordinary, day-to-day needs of the parishes in which they serve.
“I do most of the work that a pastor would do, except the things reserved for the ordained,” said Schettler, parish life coordinator for St. John the Baptist Parish in Mt. Vernon and St. Isidore Parish in Springville.
“The responsibilities are many and varied,” added Reilly, who serves the three parishes of the Heart of Mary Cluster — St. Mary in Vinton, St. Mary in Urbana and Sacred Heart in Walker.
Parish life coordinators such as Schettler and Reilly are responsible for meeting a wide range of administrative, pastoral and spiritual needs in their parishes. Examples of responsibilities include: overseeing parish finances and facilities; maintaining sacramental records; providing leadership for parish councils and committees; managing staff and volunteers; coordinating liturgies; facilitating RCIA, faith formation programs and preparation for the sacraments; visiting parishioners, including the sick and homebound; welcoming new families; and counseling those seeking spiritual guidance.
The position is one appointed by the archbishop. A deacon, religious brother or sister, or a layperson may fill the role. Qualifications usually include an MA in a relevant degree. Both Schettler and Reilly hold master’s degrees in the area of theology and religious studies from Loras College in Dubuque.
Parish life coordinators are accountable to a priest supervisor who is assigned to oversee the role. They also work closely with a sacramental priest who says Mass and provides parishioners with the sacraments and pastoral care.
The position is not a common one in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. While there have been several other parish life coordinators in the past, there are currently only three individuals in the role in the archdiocese today — Deacon James Patera also serves in that capacity at Sacred Heart Parish, Oelwein, and Immaculate Conception Parish, Fairbank.
Sixty-three-year-old Schettler has been the parish life coordinator for her two churches since 2002. During the nearly 15 years she has been in the role she said it has provided her with a great sense of purpose.
“I feel I have been called by God into this role. I feel that my faith and the Holy Spirit help me to do the work of Christ,” she said.
Reilly, 47, feels similarly.
“I worked in the corporate world for 20 years. I steadily advanced in my career and felt good about the work that I did. However, I was restless. I didn’t feel like my life had a purpose. I was looking for something that held more meaning, more satisfaction,” she reflected.
The search for something more eventually led her to the role of parish life coordinator, a position she has held at her cluster for almost four years.
“I feel that God has led me to where I’m at today,” she said. “Over the years, God has put people and opportunities in my life that have helped me to learn, grow and experience him in ways I never would have imagined.”
When asked about favorite aspects of her ministry, Reilly said she has especially enjoyed working with those who are considering joining the Catholic Church.
“They are asking important questions of themselves, of the church and of God,” she said. “It is truly a privilege to share in their journey. As a result of their questions, I often find myself looking at things anew and going deeper in my spiritual life.”
For Schettler, the most rewarding part of her ministry has been her work with the bereaved.
“I help families plan vigils and funerals for their deceased loved one. It is my belief that personal presence is the one gift you can give to someone who has lost someone they love,” she said. “I believe God has given me a gift which allows me to be the steady presence in a very emotional and difficult time.”
Schettler said she has felt supported in her work as parish life coordinator both by the ordained and by the laity of the church.
“The great thing is that I have not done this alone,” she said of her role. “I have great staff, loyal and dedicated parish volunteers. The priests and archbishop(s) have been very supportive, open and willing to give me advice and counsel when needed.”
Reilly said she believes when she began serving at her cluster most people didn’t know what a parish life coordinator was or what her ministry there would look like.
But, she said, “Generally, once the role is understood — people see how it works and they get to know me, they have been accepting and supportive. I’ve also experienced support from Archbishop Jackels and the priests of the archdiocese.”
Reilly said she thinks there is also a benefit to having women in the role of parish life coordinator and other positions of leadership.
“I think women and men bring different perspectives to situations and both can be helpful and, in fact, are needed. I think this is true for all leadership roles — not just in the church.”
Schettler said women do most of the ministry in her two parishes, and she said she hopes to continue to see more women in positions of parish leadership in the future.
She also distinguishes the work she does as a parish life coordinator from that of priests.
“I believe the holy people see me as their leader,” she said, “but they do not mistake me for their priest. The priest is an important role in the Catholic Church and that seems to be pretty clear in my work.”
But Schettler also believes laypeople have an increasingly important part to play in the life of the church today.
“It has been an exciting time in the history of the church,” she said. “We are in that transitional time where the expanse of our archdiocese is bigger than the growth of our priesthood. So I truly believe that laity is called to step up.”
“I hope that both women and men will take seriously the responsibility to discern their vocation in life and be attentive to how God is leading them to live out their vocation — be that in parish leadership or otherwise,” Reilly said.
“I have come to believe that I have something to offer the church in this time and place,” she continued. “My hope is that others discover that for themselves too and that they have a chance to put their gifts and talents to use in the unique way that God is calling them to do so.”
“I believe we all have a role to fill,” Schettler added.
Sue Markee Schettler (center), parish life coordinator of St. Isidore Parish, Springville, and St. John the Baptist Parish, Mount Vernon, listens to Kellyn Moeller tell a story as his parents, Andy and Erin, and brother and sister, Ryne and Evelyn, look on. (Photo by Jake Krob)