Parish overseen by deacon takes a team approach

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Deacon Allen Boedeker explained to the two children in simple terms why their house was about to be blessed -- to keep it in God's hands.

Their mother, holding her 3-month-old, gathered the children around her in the house she and her husband purchased just before the baby was born. They made the sign of the cross as Father Abe Arganiosa, CRS, began prayers: "May He always be here among you, may He nurture your love for each other, share in your joys ..."

After short readings, Father Arganiosa added to Deacon Boedeker's explanation, noting that the blessing shows "all that we have -- a house, a car, our lives -- are gifts from the Lord. ... We are stewards, caretakers of God's love and grace."

Holding a cross and accompanying the priest as he blessed each room, Deacon Boedeker added prayers that every home grow into a holy temple and that people who are homeless obtain housing.

It was just one stop -- an important one -- of a typical day for Deacon Boedeker, who is the administrator of the family's parish, St. Andrew in Lemay. The mother, Kimberly Spencer, was asked if she felt her parish was different because it has a deacon as administrator and not a priest. The thought never occurred to her, she said, as she then explained how much they like the parish.

Deacon Boedeker came to St. Andrew Parish in 2001, assisting Father Joseph Weber, who later was named pastor of St. Justin Martyr Parish in Sunset Hills. Deacon Boedeker's wife, Mary, began work as religious education director at the time.

The next two pastors had health difficulties, and the parish had been doing a team approach along with the business manager, Karen Wood. After Father Vic Barnhardt left the parish for health reasons, the staff talked with Msgr. Richard Hanneke, vicar for priests, and reassured him that parish administration was being handled. Msgr. Hanneke later asked them to continue their work, with Deacon Boedeker as administrator.

The decision has helped the parish save costs -- Deacon Boedeker does not take a stipend because he has a full-time salary as a teacher at St. Louis University High School.

"Every parish is unique," Deacon Boedeker said. "What is working here may not work in the same way somewhere else. But we can look at the commonalities and see what can work somewhere else."

Since Deacon Boedeker and his wife already had been working at the parish, a trust relationship had developed with parishioners, and a smooth transition resulted.

St. Andrew is known for its Focolare movement spirituality dedicated to seeking unity and for its strong religious education program, with adult education being conducted the same night as Parish School of Religion classes for children in public schools.

Father Arganiosa, a native of the Philippines, also ministers to the Filipino community in the St. Louis area. He lives in the St. Andrew Parish rectory.

Deacon Boedeker is the only non-priest overseeing a parish in the archdiocese. Deacon Mike Buckley is the director of St. John Nepomuk Chapel in St. Louis, which has one Mass on Saturdays and another Sunday mornings.

Deacon Tom Forster, associate director of the archdiocese's Office of the Diaconate, explained that many dioceses already have a deacon, religious or layperson administering a parish without an assigned priest as pastor. "In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, being the 'Rome of the West' as it is called, we have not had to deal with that yet," Deacon Forster said.

Forecasts, however, show that "we have to prepare for that eventuality," he noted. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has asked the diaconate office to see if any deacons would be willing to fill the role, Deacon Forster said. Plans are that the roles most likely would be full-time positions, working with a priest who would perform the sacramental duties of celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and more.

The sacramental priest could be a religious order priest who is a hospital chaplain or educator, for example, or perhaps a retired priest.

The deacon or other person administering the parish would be involved in scheduling the priests, overseeing parish activities, attending meetings of the parish and more. A deacon also can do baptisms and witness marriages outside of Mass as well as fill other roles in parishes. Deacons would be trained in their role, with a manual for new pastors used as a base.

In part because canon law requires it, a pastor would be designated for the person administering the parish to report to and consult with, Deacon Forster said, perhaps the dean of a deanery or pastor of a nearby parish.

Jefferson City is among the dioceses that have had non-priests administering parishes. One deacon who served in that role is Deacon Bob Smerek of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who since has returned here.

Mary Boedeker noted that she was a parish administrator in Indiana in the 1980s. "This is not new to the rest of the United States," she said.

St. Andrew parishioners at first had a fear that it would be closed if they didn't have a priest. Now, Mary Boedeker said, the people say that if they would get a pastor, they fear they'd lose their deacon-administrator. She added that Father Arganiosa is the second sacramental priest to serve there, and both have worked well with the staff and parishioners.

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