Father Slattery appointed Vicar General, chancery offices restructured

Bishop Joseph Kopacz formally announced several substantial changes to the structure of the chancery in the Diocese of Jackson to take effect Friday, Feb. 16. The restructuring is the result of a months-long process of re-envisioning the role of the chancery as well as redefining the roles of the people who work there, done in conjunction with Catholic Leadership Institute, an organization that offers leadership consultation and training to Catholic dioceses. The changes impact virtually every department.
Father Kevin Slattery has been appointed the new vicar general for the diocese effective Monday, Feb. 16, but his role will be different than that of outgoing vicar Msgr. Elvin Sunds. Father Slattery, who has served in the past as the Judicial Vicar and in several parishes in the diocese, was most recently pastor at Canton Sacred Heart Parish, sacramental minister at Gluckstadt St. Joseph and adjutant judicial vicar. He will now be the sacramental minister for Magee St. Stephen.
He was ordained in Clarksdale St. Elizabeth Parish in June of 1986, after completing his studies at St. Meinrad Seminary. He has a masters of divinity from St. Meinrad as well as a Canon Law degree. He has served in Clarksdale, Meridian, Oxford, Carthage and Gluckstadt. He has been a Vicar Forane and Dean of a deanery.
Msgr. Sunds will act as administrator pro-temp of Canton Sacred Heart and sacramental minister pro-temp of Gluckstadt St. Joseph until a pastoral assignment is made. He said he is ready to serve in a parish. Msgr. Sunds was ordained in August 1973 in Bay St. Louis. At the time of his reassignment, he served as the Vicar General, Vicar for Priests, Chancellor and Moderator of the Curia as well as serving on 13 other boards and committees within the diocese including the governance council at Catholic Charities and as the chaplain for the Boy Scouts and Knights of Columbus. He has been the vicar general for 11 years. Prior to that, he was the director of Catholic Charities and served in parishes in Biloxi, Jackson, Flowood and Meridian. “I want to thank Bishop Latino and Bishop Kopacz for their support during the ten years I have served as Vicar General. I also want to thank our diocesan and religious order priests as well as the many women and men religious, Lay Ecclesial Ministers and laity. We have a great group of men and women serving the people of our diocese.  It has been a privilege working with all of you,” said Msgr. Sunds
The role of the vicar general has been better defined so some of the duties Msgr. Sunds previously fulfilled will pass to others, allowing him to operate more as he should, as the head of the chancery and moderator of the curia. “That vicar is the Chief Operating officer,” explained Bishop Kopacz. “Realistically the bishop cannot meet with department heads every time there is a change, like a personnel change or other business,” he said.
The new role of the vicar general is to directly supervise all the department heads, work with the vicar for priests, judicial vicar and chancellor to ensure the smooth day-to-day operation of the chancery. He will report to the bishop. He will also represent the bishop in public, when needed and supervise legal activities of the diocese.
In the past the vicar general has also served as the vicar for priests. Msgr. Sunds will continue to fill this role until an assignment is made. This role will now go to a priest who does not work in the chancery building. “A vicar for priests not living and working in the chancery is a good thing because the priests feel like he’s a pastor and has been where they are,” explained Bishop Kopacz, who served in this role in the Diocese of Scranton. This vicar has not yet been assigned.
The vicar for priests helps with assignments of priests and lay ecclesial ministers, provides training and continuing formation and can act as a mediator or resource for priests. He would also direct the permanent diaconate program.
Mary Woodward has been appointed diocesan chancellor and is the first lay person to hold this office for the diocese. The chancellor is the official record keeper and notary of the diocese. The primary role of the chancellor is to gather, arrange, and safeguard the Acts and the archives of the diocesan curia. Woodward will be responsible for the orderly arrangement and accessibility of the records and files that keep the diocese running and are its recorded history.
The office of the chancellor also helps disseminate information to clergy, parishes and the Catholic faithful that may be beneficial to the people of the diocese. In the Diocese of Jackson, the chancellor also will serve as director of the office of worship and liturgy. This office coordinates all diocesan liturgies and works with the bishop to establish liturgical norms and directives for the diocese.
A native of Jackson and graduate of Millsaps College, Woodward has been working for the diocese since October 1990, when she began as a part-time assistant at Mississippi Catholic. She became full-time office manager for the paper in January 1991. In 1996 she was appointed director of the department of evangelization and communications. In 2003 the diocesan office of worship was added to the department of evangelization. Woodward took on the role of archivist in July 2009 and in January 2010 she became liturgical minister of ceremonies for Bishop Joseph Latino.
“It has been an honor to serve the church in such a unique capacity over the past almost 25 years. Being able to share my Catholic faith with so many people in parishes around the diocese as well as our diocesan chancery family has been an enlightening and enriching experience,” said Woodward. “We have some amazing people here in our diocese. I look forward to this new ministry and responsibility as diocesan chancellor. I am humbled that after many years of gaining knowledge and experience from such good leaders I have been allowed to take on such a historic role in the life of our church,” she added.
Maureen Smith steps into the role of director of communications. The newly-formed department will handle internal and external communications including newsletters, the Mississippi Catholic, media relations, website maintenance and design and publication services for the chancery offices. She has been an associate editor at Mississippi Catholic since September 2012 and has an undergraduate degree in radio/television/film as well as a master’s of theological studies, both from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Her past experience includes work as a producer at the Fox television affiliate in Mobile and work as a public relations coordinator and account service manager at Red Square Agency. She and her husband are members of Jackson St. Richard Parish. They have two daughters who attend St. Richard School.
The department of Evangelization and Faith Formation has been restructured with two directors, Fran Lavelle and Catherine Cook. Lavelle, an Ohio native, has spent nearly 20 years in ministry. Prior to joining the chancery staff in October of 2014, she spent 15 years as the full-time campus minister at Mississippi State. Her interests include farming, gardening, reading and writing.  She brings with her a love for collaborative ministry and wants to be an advocate for the chancery and parish staff alike.
“I have great respect for the men and women who work for the church. It is a calling that is not always easy but quite rewarding,” said Lavelle.
Cook will continue to serve as superintendent of Catholic Schools. The offices reporting to the new directors include Hispanic Ministry, Family Ministry, Black Catholic Ministry and Youth Ministry. This department is also responsible for catechist certification and training.
The office formerly called Administration and Finance will now be called the Department of Temporal Affairs, which better describes its role managing finances and legal affairs.
The office of Stewardship and Development, which houses the Catholic Service Appeal and the Catholic Foundation has added a position, coordinator of stewardship. Christopher Luke, a recent graduate of Jackson State University and member of Jackson St. Therese Parish has stepped into that role to help parishes develop stewardship among the people in the diocese.
The Judicial Vicar’s office and tribunal remain the same, but the department welcomes Fabvienen Taylor as the new administrative assistant. Taylor worked for Mississippi Catholic for many years and also served in the Office of Faith Formation.
Amidst all of these administrative moves, the chancery is undergoing a physical renovation including new flooring, paint and some office moves to better reflect the new structure. Work crews hope to be finished with the work mid-February.
The bishop said shortly after his arrival in February of 2014 he wanted to make a few changes in the structure and he was approached by the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) with an offer to do leadership training with the priests, covered in part by grant money. He said he wanted to make sure the chancery was properly structured before he started any other training.
“I think it came out in an amazing way – I am very happy with it and I am very confident it can serve the diocese well,” said Bishop Kopacz. The next step in the process was to welcome CLI’s Good Leaders Good Shepherds program for the priests, detailed in another story in this edition of Mississippi Catholic. After that, the leadership in the diocese will go through a discernment process.
When the bishop reflected on what’s next for the diocese he said he wants “to continue to strengthen the bonds of the diocesan network – which is the body of Christ. Come the end of this year we want to enact a process in the diocese that would be a picture, an aerial view, a view on the ground of each of our deaneries, because they are different from one another, but have similar realities, so we can move forward together. It’s a kind of re-envisioning as we did here in chancery.” He said it will be a time to do some productive planning.