15 January 2015, The Tablet

The sister running two parishes

by Sr Yvonne Pilarski

Sr Yvonne PilarskiJust over three months ago I was appointed Pastoral Administrator of Christ the King, Milton Keynes, and St Bede’s, Newport Pagnell. As this is a new role I was not quite sure what it would entail, but I have come to love this challenging work.

The people have welcomed me with open arms, even if at the beginning they found it hard not to have a resident priest. Many of them now tell me they will help in whatever way they can to make this new model of parish work and this really gives me joy and hope, as I am hoping to facilitate a parish where everyone is involved and puts their gifts and talents at the service of the community. (I would be very interested to hear from anyone doing a similar job – please contact me by leaving a comment below.)

So what do I do?

I welcome the parishioners into church and greet them as they leave. I am slowly getting to build up relationships; they are getting to know me, trust me and share their journey with me. By listening to them, to their hopes, dreams, worries and difficulties, I hope I might be able to support them and show them that I care. I always speak to the congregation on a Sunday at the end of Mass. I talk about important events coming up in the parish and encourage them to take part.

I visit and give Communion to the sick and the elderly in hospital, in their homes and in care homes.

I am involved in the sacramental programmes for both parishes. We have started a new Journey in Faith group; we are experimenting with a new baptismal preparation programme. I have introduced a new confirmation programme and I support and encourage the First Holy Communion programme.

I like to get involved in anything that is going on in the parishes, be it the Christmas bazaar or the parish quiz evening.

I have started a parish council and finance committee in both parishes. I am hopeful that they will become strong groups that generate new life and participation in both parishes.

I work closely with the two priests who say Mass every Sunday in the two parishes, and with the two fantastic deacons who give me unfailing help. I rely too on the friendship and support of Sr Eileen, who lives in community with me, and who helps in whatever way she can.

I also need time to prepare for these important meetings, and most importantly time to pray about and to reflect on this new mission and the best way forward.

Christ the King is an ecumenical church, so I am getting used to working with other denominations, especially the Baptists. Hopefully this Lent we will be able to have a joint reflection programme.

And of course – as every parish priest knows – there is all the administration to attend to and the unannounced events that happen every day: phone calls, callers at the door – matters that have to be attended to.

I find that this mission fits into what I am called to be as a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our charism is to demonstrate to all, particularly the poor, the tenderness and merciful love of the Father revealed in Jesus. People want to be listened to, they want to know that someone cares, that they are loved, appreciated and valued. People are searching for a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope in some small way I can help facilitate that.

Sr Yvonne Pilarski is pastoral administrator of two parishes in the diocese of Northamptonshire

What do you think?


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User comments (11)

Comment by: Martin
Posted: 19/01/2015 11:11:33

"I would argue that you do not have to be a priest to preach."

No - you can be a deacon. You do, however, have to be an ordained sacred minister, something this nun can never be. I'm not doubting her good intentions, but I think it sets a dangerous precedent not least because it encourages erroneous ideas like the heretical comment below about ordaining her to the priesthood - a manifest theological and ontological impossibility - to take root.

Comment by: guest
Posted: 18/01/2015 17:22:43

Members of religious orders are trained and educated for ministry. Lay people would need to be paid a far higher salary than a sister or brother.
I welcome this development and in reality it is only an extension of the work of numerous parish sisters which provide an invaluable service to the church.

Comment by: Roz
Posted: 17/01/2015 21:38:03

I had a similar role in the 80s when I was a lay person in my 20s. It worked out really well & when I left, someone else was appointed.

Comment by: David
Posted: 16/01/2015 20:17:43

Re "sisters can be held to account within the diocesan system in a way lay people can't. So it's possible for both hierarchy and lay people to trust a sister in the way they couldn't trust me as a mere lay person"

I have no idea what this means, but the main word with which I disagree is "mere". This seems to indicate a very strange form of hierarchy indeed. I for one do not trust sisters more than lay people just because they are sisters. Why would I?

Comment by: Luis Gutierrez
Posted: 16/01/2015 17:24:39

I thinks this nun should be ordained to the priesthood. This is a summary of my reasons:

Ordination of Women in the Sacramental Churches

Comment by: mlab
Posted: 16/01/2015 17:06:16

I am surprised at the negative comments. This nun is doing a good job and people appreciate it. I doubt that she put herself forward to do it in the first instance, but was probably asked because people will have recognised her skills. She clearly states that people need to be listened to, appreciated and loved. That is at least as important as the sacraments. The priests and the deacons seem to appreciate her work, so why not appreciate it too? The parishes still have priests and they can administer the sacraments when necessary, though I would argue that you do not have to be a priest to preach. We would probably do very well to have wide interpretations of the word of God, by people from a variety of life experiences who have reflected on what their faith has meant in their daily challenges. People only die once in a life time! and I wonder what proportion of any priests' work is devolved to anointing and absolution. If vocations dry up, then I shall feel sorry for those men whose jobs will be confined to the sole administration of the sacraments whether or not they know or do not know the people they will minister to.
There are alternatives, but I doubt that they will be examined in my life time. In the meantime, thank you Sr Yvonne for what you do to bring people closer to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Comment by: Charlie S
Posted: 16/01/2015 16:48:05

Congatulations Sister. Keep up the good work

I notice in Vatican 2 that a "priest" is someone apointed by the Bishop – who is "the Priest" in the Diocese – to carry out his mission of administering Sacraments, preaching and teaching, presiding at Liturgy,...or administration.

You do seem to be carrying on that administration part of the Bishop's or priest's function.

Comment by: Maureen rscj
Posted: 16/01/2015 16:29:35

Yvonne - read with interest your description of your ministry. I did the same ministry here in US in San Bernardino diocese of California for 17 years. The diocese had as many as 14 parishes with religious, deacons and laity in similar ministry over the years. You seem to be on the right track - my only advice is to take care of yourself as the ministry can be all consuming, (particularly with multiple parishes - I also had that experience) I found that time off each week and occasionally a long stretch off for vacation and retreat enabled me to be more effective. Best wishes - enjoy - it is an interesting and enriching ministry.

Comment by: sara_tsm_again
Posted: 16/01/2015 15:58:50

Good for you, Sister. People below ask why a sister is doing this rather than a lay person. Well the answer is- sisters can be held to account within the diocesan system in a way lay people can't. So it's possible for both hierarchy and lay people to trust a sister in the way they couldn't trust me as a mere lay person.

So many people make high-minded comments about what ought to be, without looking at the practicalities. Either we stop having churches at all when the number of priests goes down, or we do something like this. Which do you prefer? I know which I prefer.

Comment by: David
Posted: 16/01/2015 12:25:45

Why do we need religious sisters to do this? Any lay person could do a similar job. In fact, many lay people probably already are doing a similar job, but they go unnoticed since they were not officially appointed. I wonder why the title of 'pastoral administrator' is necessary, especially since it is unknown in Canon Law. As such, its office-holder has no real authority. In any case, it seems odd to be celebrating such quasi-clericalisation. Why do lay people need a religious sister around in order to start taking their rightful place in the church community? The point of the priest (and deacon) is his sacramental and preaching role.

Comment by: Martin
Posted: 16/01/2015 11:25:33

I'm sure she's well-intentioned, but I don't see how this can work. What happens when one of the parishioners is dying, perhaps in the middle of the night, and needs the last rites, which include absolution and anointing? She cannot do this. There's no point in taking someone communion if they haven't been absolved. What about regular confessions? What, in sum, about all of the sacramental functions aside from the Mass that she simply cannot exercise but which are necessary for the running of a church?

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