“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you‚Ä¶plans for your welfare, ‚Ä¶ plans to give you a future full of hope” (Jer. 29:1).
I have found it very exciting to be open to God’s plan in my life. From my first “yes” to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph and throughout the different callings I have had, it was the “yes” that moved me along and opened many new experiences, each time preparing me for the next “yes.”
As a junior sister, not yet professed, I taught second grade in Auburn. The classroom was in a house, and I had 60 youngsters, two in each desk. That experience taught me the value of good organizational abilities, gave me a deep respect for the simplicity of children and allowed me to cultivate a great deal of patience!
A few years later, I had the opportunity to begin a new school at St. Jerome’s in East Rochester. Grades one and two began in the CYO building, and I taught one of them while also serving as the on-site supervisor. That same facility became the first site of the next school I helped get off the ground — a new elementary school for St. Thomas More. Before the church and school were built at the parish, the children of St. Thomas More were bused to St. Jerome’s. We had buses coming and going all day, it seemed.
My next assignment, at St. Rose in Lima, had me teaching seventh and eighth grades while serving as principal of the school and superior of the house. All of these roles were brand-new experiences for me. This quickly became a lesson in setting boundaries and, after a part-time teacher was hired, I was able to “just” teach the eighth grade while continuing as principal and superior.
During my eight years at Holy Trinity in Webster, where I was principal and superior, I began to see that relying on the excellent teachers there to help plan the program was the key to the outstanding school we created together. Allowing gifted people free reign to accomplish their work is a sure-fire recipe for success.
My next job was assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, overseeing the religion and sex-education curricula. As in many of my previous jobs, I needed to be able to work with boards and committees, set goals and oversee the work of others. The responsibility to supervise schools throughout the diocese required me to make periodic on-site visits to those located outside the City of Rochester. I was impressed by how many loving communities existed in our rural parishes.
Feeling as though I had given all I possibly could to the diocesan school system, I looked for something completely different and found myself in parish work. For nearly 10 years I served as pastoral minister at St. Pius X. It was there I continued to learn that calling forth the gifts of the people and then getting out of their way is an effective way to start new ministry. As an example, I saw a need for a seniors group and put an invitation in the bulletin for interested parishioners to come to a meeting. I listened to what the large group who came out told me they wanted to do, and by the second meeting they were electing officers and starting their activities. It took off like a top, and continues as a very strong ministry to this day.
It was at this point in my life that I heard that the diocese was creating a new position, that of a pastoral administrator. When I read the list of job responsibilities, I found myself thinking, “Why, I could do that. I’ve done all those things over the course of my previous ministries.”
After a great deal of prayer and soul searching, conversation and encouragement from friends and colleagues, I decided to apply. I’m not sure anyone knew exactly what the job would turn out to be, and I am very grateful to my first sacramental minister for pushing me — sometimes beyond my comfort level — to establish myself as the leader of St. Gabriel’s parish.
I quickly found out that the most important things a pastoral administrator can do are to listen, be completely present to the people, and accompany them on their journeys through life, enabling them to become the individuals and the community they have within them. I see myself here as a catalyst, helping the people live out the reality that “We are the church.”
A pastoral administrator does not need to possess all the gifts required to make a parish work. Rather, she or he — whether lay, religious or ordained — must be able to help the people recognize their giftedness and then call forth that giftedness, helping each person see the value of contributing to the mission of the parish. When I walk down the aisle at each Mass and turn to see all the faces of the people I have cared for, counseled, laughed and cried with, grown with and loved, it is a truly uplifting experience.
Now, at the end of my 12 years here as the pastoral administrator of St. Gabriel’s Parish, I feel that I have taken these people as far as I can. My greatest joy has been to be a part of this wonderful community as we grew together to be church. But it is too easy to take ownership of something this is not yours. The parish belongs to the people. God has His plans, not only for me, but also for the people here. He will give us a future full of hope if we but follow His plans.
Sister Anne Michelle McGill, SSJ, was the Diocese of Rochester’s first pastoral administrator.