Diocese welcomes Lavelle as faith formation director

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Fran Lavelle, former director of the Office of Campus Ministry, will move into the Office of Faith Formation as director this fall. She replaces Jeanne Howard who left fulltime ministry this July. This is just one of a couple of changes that started in February of 2014 when that office added Libby Antici and Melissa Smalley to lavellethe staff to help coordinate programs in different deaneries.
“What we wanted to do is go to more of a team model,” explained Catherine Cook, director of the Department of Formational Ministries for the diocese. “We wanted to make sure parishes in all the deaneries were represented and getting the attention they need for the ministry of faith formation,” she added.
To that end, Antici was brought on board to focus on the needs of the northwest area, Deaneries 3 and 4. Melissa Smalley to focus on the central-southwest area, Deaneries 1 & 2.  Lavelle, in addition to overseeing the Office of Faith Formation, will give attention to the needs of the northeast-east central area, Deaneries 5 and 6.  Fabvienen Taylor completes the team as the administrative assistant. Howard continues to teach online classes from her home in Kentucky.
Lavelle comes to the diocesan office from Starkville where she has served as campus minister to the Catholic Student Association at Mississippi State University. In Starkville, she has been involved in parish ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church since 1999.  Additionally, for the past six years she has served as the diocesan director of campus ministry for the colleges and universities across the state. Fran will surrender her duties as campus minister for MSU effective October 1 and become the Director of Faith Formation.
Lavelle, an Ohio native, came to Mississippi in 1999 after a stint as a lay Glenmary missioner. She said in an email to Mississippi Catholic that ending up in Mississippi is something of a surprise for her. She started her career in politics with a BA in Political Science from Ohio University. She worked her way from the state to the national level when her life suddenly changed.
“In 1993, my dad died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. The ensuing few years gave me an opportunity to reflect, pray and discern where God was leading me. While I would never trade those years in politics, I recognize God was calling me to more fully live my faith as my vocation,” she said.
In 1996 she took a job as a lay missioner with the Glenmary Sisters in Western Kentucky. “Glenmary was a great opportunity to shed the frantic pace of life in the nation’s capital and open myself to God’s will. The first three months of ministry experience involved what I fondly referred to as ‘Glenmary boot camp.’  The formation program was set up to prepare me for working in mission ministry,” explained Lavelle. “It was deeply rooted and centered in fully living the gospel among God’s people.  My formation was very Christ-centered as we were called to serve the poor without judgment or discrimination. There is a saying in Glenmary that the most important thing you might do in any given day is go to the post office.  What they were referring to is the ‘ministry of presence.’  It is a gift and challenge to keep oneself in the present moment.  I hope to never lose my awareness of its importance,” she went on to say.
After three years with the Glenmary Sisters, Father Mike O’Brien invited Lavelle to come to Mississippi to serve the students at Mississippi State University as a campus minister.  In 2008, Bishop Joseph Latino appointed Lavelle to serve as the diocesan Director of Campus Ministry in a part time capacity.  “Working at the diocesan level has given me the opportunity to collaborate with the priests and campus ministers who serve at other colleges and universities,” said Lavelle.
That ministry, according to Cook, is one of the greatest assets Lavelle brings to her new position. “She can really enhance our ministry to young people, who we know are the future of the church” said Cook. The Office of Faith Formation will continue to operate the current catechist and lay ministry training programs in place and Cook said she is proud of the team currently involved in that training on every level.
“The opportunity to serve the diocese in this new capacity is challenging and exciting.  I am eager to carry on the legacy of service to all of the parishes of our Diocese.  It was not ‘my plan’ all those years ago to come to Mississippi and make it my forever home. What has transpired both in ministry and my personal life has been a blessing and an amazing gift. I pray that I may continue to serve with the same gratitude and love that has brought me this far,” said Lavelle.