By Fran Lavelle
Several years ago, when I was still the campus minister at Mississippi State, I also had the privilege to serve as the diocesan director for the Office of Campus Ministry. In that role I was part of the Department of Formational Ministries. A change in leadership in the department came about when Sister Deborah Hughes retired, and Cathy Cook was named the Superintendent of Catholic Schools and the head of the department. When Jeanne Howard retired in 2014, I was approached by a few people and asked to consider the position. I remember meeting with Cathy at Lake Tiak O’Khata that July for an interview. It turned out to be more like a conversation between old friends although we had not known one another very long. It was then that I knew the Holy Spirit was calling me to work in the chancery. Her confidence in me was ultimately the reason I accepted the job. Her confidence in me is ultimately the reason I became the director of the Department of Faith Formation.
Cathy announced earlier this Spring that she would be retiring at the end of April. She has served the church for 30 years in many roles within education and youth ministry. It is always bittersweet when colleagues of Cathy’s caliber announce their retirement. On the one hand I am so pleased that she will be able to pursue interests other than work. On the other hand, I will miss the day-to-day interactions. We both place a high premium on serving the young church.
Sharing a background in youth ministry was the source of many robust conversations. I remember after I moved my personal effects into my office at the chancery, Cathy saw a candle that I had from a diocesan youth convention many years earlier when I served as youth minister for St. Joseph in Starkville. She asked me with some urgency to follow her to her office. There she showed me the candle she had from the same convention when she was the youth minister at St. Mary’s Basilica in Natchez. It was as if our fate was sealed at that Youth Convention those many years earlier though we do not remember meeting one another there.
I was recently with one of Cathy’s former employees from the Office of Catholic Education. We talked about the many people that she empowered over the years in church lay leadership. There are no doubt countless former employees, students, educators, administrators, and other church leaders who have benefitted from her years of dedicated service. In her leadership role, she advocated for training and education for lay leaders.
Over the past six plus years Cathy has helped me keep focused on the mission of Christ and not get bogged down in the mess. She taught me the value of discerning what “hills to die on” and when it is prudent to stay the course. She knows the value of a good laugh, appreciates a good meal, and enjoys sports at all levels. Her love of sports knows no bounds as she recently cheered for my alma mater in the NCAA Basketball tournament. I am Cathy’s only connection to Ohio University, but she wouldn’t let that minor detail get in the way of watching them play and cheering when they knocked off Virginia, the defending tournament champions.
Thinking about Cathy’s retirement reminded me of something I heard in a webinar sponsored by Ave Maria Press that I watched last Summer titled, “Strengthening Your Inner Life in Challenging Times: The Simple Care of a Hopeful Heart” presented by Dr. Robert J. Wicks. Dr. Wicks is Catholic and works as a clinical psychologist. He writes and speaks about the intersection of spirituality and psychology. In his presentation he mentions the four kinds of friends everyone should have:
The Prophet … who helps name what voices are guiding you in your life;
the Cheerleader … who is sympathetic and encouraging;
the Harasser or Teaser … because on the way to taking compassion seriously sometimes we take a detour and take ourselves too seriously; and,
the Inspirational friend that calls us to be all that we can be without embarrassing us that we are where we are.
Little did I know when we first met the impact she would have on my life and the role she would play as a prophet, cheerleader, teaser, and inspirational friend. This is not good-bye. I fully expect to continue to share good laughs, tasty meals, and a sporting event or two. I also expect I’ll continue to seek her advice.
If you are lucky to have the four types of friendships Dr. Wicks identifies you are very fortunate. When they come wrapped up in one bundle of energy, joy, and laughter you are especially blessed. There’s an old Irish proverb that reminds me of Cathy: “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.”
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)