Sister calls her ministry as parish director a 'blessing'
Sr. Marlene Dimmerling is one of 12 parish directors in diocese
By Tony Staley
Diocese seeks parish director candidates
What: Informational meetings for persons interested in becoming parish directors.
When: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 6:30
to 8 p.m.
Where: Melania Hall, Room B, on the diocesan campus, 1825
Riverside Drive, Green Bay.
Why: To inform and recruit women and men (lay leaders, religious and permanent deacons) interested in pastoral leadership in parishes of the diocese where a priest is not available for full time ministry.
Speakers: Parish directors, a sacramental minister, and Father Paul Demuth, diocesan director of ministry personnel.
Qualifications: Five years experience in pastoral ministry in the Green Bay Diocese and have or be working on a master's degree in theology, theological studies, pastoral theology or the equivalent.
Duties: Serve as a parish's spiritual, pastoral and administrative leader. Includes working with a priest (often retired) who presides at Mass and administers the sacraments and a priest moderator who is the "canonical pastor," but whose involvement in the parish is minimal.
Registration: Call Mary Jo Krueger at (920)272-8188 or, for more information, Father Demuth at (920)272-8165.
Deadline: Oct. 22.
DYKESVILLE -- Word of mouth is often called the best form of advertising.
It certainly worked for Dominican Sr. Marlene Dimmerling.
Fifteen years ago at a conference, Sr. Marlene met Sr. Mary Bride Grubbs, who told her about her job as parish director at St. Patrick Parish, Stephensville. Sr. Mary Bride, a Sister of a New Genesis, had become the diocese's first parish director in 1986.
Sr. Marlene was interested. To even be considered as a parish director candidate, Sr. Marlene would have to leave her native Ohio and work at least five years as a pastoral associate in the Green Bay Diocese. She asked Sr. Mary Bride to let her know if there were any openings.
Eventually, she was hired as the pastoral associate at Queen of Peace Parish, Sugarbush, to assist Fr. Dean Dombroski, who was pastor at two parishes.
After six years living and serving at Sugarbush, she was appointed parish director at St. Louis Parish in Dyckesville. That was eight years ago.
"I always say Fr. Dean trained me," Sr. Marlene said. "He made me the person I am today."
Sr. Marlene is one of 12 parish directors in the diocese. Parish directors, who include lay people, religious and deacons, are responsible for the spiritual, pastoral and administrative leadership of a diocese. They work with a priest (sacramental minister) who presides at Mass and administers the sacraments, and with a priest moderator - the official canonical pastor - whose duties are minimal.
The diocese is looking for more people interested in becoming a parish director and has scheduled two meetings on Oct. 25 to explore what the position entails (see sidebar for details).
No new candidates had been sought for a while, said Fr. Paul Demuth, diocesan director of ministry personnel, while then Green Bay Bishop David Zubik worked with the Priest Personnel Board and parish directors to update "Parish Director Guidelines," which were recently approved.
"We would like to have up to 10 people in the pool of potential parish directors," Fr. Demuth said. He noted that several parish directors are expected to retire in the next five years.
Additional parish directors also will be needed as more priests retire, he said. "We have been blessed by such good parish directors over the years and, as the need for this type of
pastoral leadership continues to increase, we are eager to seek out new candidates."
Potential candidates are asked to spend considerable amount of time with a parish director to learn what the job involves. Next comes the paper work - academic records, letters of
application, psychological testing and screening by the parish director advisory board. Those who pass, enter the pool.
"That still doesn't guarantee an assignment. It means they will be one of the people considered when there's an opening," Fr. Demuth said. "Ultimately, it involves an appointment by the bishop."
Sr. Marlene said being a parish director is a blessing because it allows her to be a part of so many people's lives.
"It's being called to be there in times of need, being with people as they go through different stages of life - their own journey of faith - and being the one they're looking to for leadership in the parish," she said. "I love welcoming people to Mass on Sunday, getting to know them and being able to encourage them, and sharing my own spiritual life with them."
She also visits the sick and homebound, does marriage preparation, spiritual direction and counseling, administers the parish and fills out reports for the diocese.
Sr. Marlene, who has master's degrees in pastoral ministry, education, guidance and counseling, received a certificate in spiritual direction from the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago.
As parish director, she said, "I encourage people to use their gifts and talents for the parish ... sometimes, to arrange some flowers for the altar or to take a leadership position in parish planning; go to the hospital when someone is sick and visit the homebound or rest homes along the way."
She conceded though that she "wasn't so well accepted at the beginning. They wanted a priest. After a while it got much easier. There were so many things that I could do to help them go through that transition and because of the priests we had coming here as sacramental ministers, it was easier too. One person said it's like having the best of two worlds: a wonderful priest who comes for the sacraments and having someone here all the time to be with the people."
Kathy Cornette, parish religious education director for 22 years, agreed that parishioners needed time to adjust because they were not used to the new terminology, let alone having a woman in a leadership role.
"Sr. Marlene was patient and people began to accept her for who she is," Cornette said. "Since then it's been a blessing. People know that she is always willing to listen, but they
don't always know what she does. She has so many responsibilities and is a tireless worker."
One accomplishment Cornette points to is how Sr. Marlene built up the RCIA. The parish had four candidates one year and five the next. "That's no small feat in such a small parish," Cornette said.
Lynn Johnson, a parishioner for nearly 20 years and a newly elected parish council member, called Sister Marlene "a great spiritual leader. I think of her as a good friend and also as a very peaceful person. And she loves the Packers, along with her Ohio State Buckeyes."
Johnson said she is impressed by Sr. Marlene's stewardship, particularly during Advancing the Mission. "She told us she was going to give up a month's salary from her order for Advancing the Mission. I thought 'Wow, if she can do that it inspires me to do more.' She lives what she preaches and she does give good reflections."
Johnson also said that as a single woman, she is inspired by Sister Marlene's example of leadership.
Sr. Marlene's advice for anyone thinking about being a parish director is to "come into it with the idea of serving by first listening to the people. Let them teach you how to be with them. Every parish is different and you have to be willing to share yourself with them too. Don't come in if you're looking for power. That's not part of the position. It's the people's parish."