Published March 3, 2005
In the three dioceses (Chicago, Belleville and Atlanta) that I have been blessed to serve, it’s always called the same name: “downtown.” The Chancery is a place that may physically be located either downtown or uptown. It may be large or small, located in a couple of different sites or all together in one building, but it’s usually referred to as downtown.
In all three different locales, I have found some of the most generous people that I have ever met as employees at the infamous downtown. These folks work for the Church full time. It is their livelihood, and they bring tremendous competence and generosity to their tasks.
Perhaps it’s our almost universal aversion to any form of bureaucracy that occasionally causes us to look with suspicion on those who serve the Church in administrative capacities, or most likely, it’s just our unfamiliarity with the extraordinary work that these people render in the life of the local Church, but all too often they are overlooked or undervalued for what they do to help the local Church and the many parishes and institutions within the diocese accomplish our mission.
Secretaries, photographers, receptionists, reporters, agency directors, construction supervisors, custodians, department heads, clerics and Religious are all part of what is commonly referred to as “downtown.” I think that any negative reference associated with that term may simply be part of the visceral response that people have to the nuts-and-bolts activities that any organization must pursue.
The truth is that our parishes and institutions could hardly perform their vital functions without the assistance of these wonderful people. I certainly could not do my job without them. They maintain my calendar, review insurance forms, plan for our schools, train catechists, organize all types of events, work with immigrants, provide emergency assistance to the homeless, screen candidates for the Priesthood, clean the places where diocesan meetings take place and a thousand other things that make the mission of the Church flow smoothly.
Most people never meet our downtown staff; they just rely on the many services that they provide for all of us. Downtown makes mistakes—don’t we all—but by and large the activities they accomplish and the services they render vastly improve the proclamation of the Gospel and enrich the celebration of our Faith in ways that are indispensable.
I am still coming to know the downtown folks in Atlanta. I must travel more throughout the Catholic Center and visit the outlying offices more frequently over the next months. There are more staff personnel here than in Belleville but not nearly as many as in Chicago. What is the same in all three locales, however, is the devotion to the Catholic Faith that marks all of the lives of our staff members. Most are Catholics themselves and active parishioners, along with being full-time employees of the Church. I am sure that there may be times when that dual identity must be a challenge for them, but they always manage to carry themselves with dignity and faith. We all would be hard-pressed to fill the void that would be created without these wonderful folks. I know that I would be hopelessly lost without them.
Our downtown is a good place, generally a very happy place, and hopefully I will help to make it a more efficient and resourceful place that serves us all better in the months and years ahead. I’m very glad it’s there for us and—admittedly from a selfish perspective—especially for me.