Bishop announces new leadership model at St. Anthony

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano today announced that Dr. Eleanor W. Sauers has been appointed Parish Life Coordinator of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield and will oversee the daily administration of the parish while a team of priests will fulfill its sacramental needs.

Dr. Sauers, who has been Director of Religious Education and Pastoral Minister since 2002, has been in charge of church administration since the death of its pastor, Father John Baran, last March.

“St. Anthony’s has had a long history under Father John Baran of developing an extensive and co-responsible lay leadership that has allowed the parish to prosper, and Eleanor was instrumental in helping to make that a reality,” Bishop Caggiano said. “Saint Anthony’s was ideal to have this new model of leadership, where Eleanor is the parish administrator and a group of priests will come to attend to the sacramental ministerial needs of the people.”

While the model is new to the Diocese of Bridgeport, it has been in use a long time in other dioceses, including Albany, Syracuse and Baltimore, and is supported by Canon law, the Bishop said.

He added that Father Baran’s illness in many ways necessitated that Dr. Sauers assume administrative responsibilities and that her appointment as Parish Life Coordinator was a “natural evolution for the people of St. Anthony’s.” Bishop Caggiano also said that he met twice with the leadership of the parish in discerning who should follow Father Baran.

“I am delighted that this is possible in part because it is another avenue being opened for lay leaders who with the proper training and experience can exercise leadership in the Church,” Bishop Caggiano said. “The key for success in our parishes is that we engage lay leadership in real, substantial, competent and appropriate ways.”

“I am thrilled to have been appointed to the position of Parish Life Coordinator of St. Anthony’s,” Dr. Sauers said. “I am grateful to Bishop Caggiano for his recognition of the unique character of the parish, and his understanding of the culture of lay involvement and ownership. This new model of governance is a tribute to that recognition and hopefully will lead to the continued flourishing of the parish.”

She also expressed gratitude to the parishioners for their support and for assisting in many ways to the life of the church. “I know they stand ready to continue to work together as we move forward in mission and ministry, and in doing so, honor the legacy of Father John.”

Since his death, she, Frank Macari, director of music, and Beth Paris, pastoral minister for youth, have worked with Father Michael Boccaccio, Director of the Propagation of Faith, to manage the pastoral and administrative needs of the church.

Dr. Sauers has a master’s degree and PhD in religious education from Fordham University and a bachelor’s in history from Emmanuel College. While at Fordham, she was named to the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. She is an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, where she teaches a course in Christian spirituality and is a board member of the Center for Catholic Studies.

Her dissertation was a case study in the transformation of St. Anthony of Padua Church, and her writing has been published in “Commonweal” and “Church.”

“Eleanor is tremendously competent in what she does, and I have confidence in her,” Bishop Caggiano said. “She certainly is very well respected by the people of the parish and has a keen pastoral sensitivity to them and their needs. I am very confident she will do a great job.”

Patrick Turner, Director of the Office of Strategic and Pastoral Planning, said the leadership model of Parish Life Coordinator has been implemented in dioceses across the country from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, as well as many Northeast dioceses, as many undergo reconfigurations as a result of declining number of clergy in recent decades. One of the primary purposes is to allow the priest as the sacramental minister to focus on the sacraments and to allow a lay person, as administrator, to focus on the various aspects of parish life.

Turner said that when he and Bishop Caggiano met with the parish leadership about the appointment, they were excited and supportive of the change.

“As our Church looks to increase lay involvement in our parishes, this is an ideal opportunity for us to implement this model,” he said. “St. Anthony of Padua Parish is fully ready for this type of leadership. Eleanor has been there as a full partner with Father Baran in the life of the parish community, and she has the theological and pastoral credentials to do this. This is someone who has been formed in ministry and administration for a number of years.”

Looking to the future, the Bishop said changes in parish leadership are inevitable.

“All of our parishes except for the one have residential pastors,” he said. “The model of the residential pastor in each parish is eventually going to morph into a series of models.

In her new role, Dr. Sauers will have the decision-making authority for the parish and be responsible to Bishop Caggiano. She will work with the Parish Council and the community to develop a pastoral vision and mission, in addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations and administration of the parish, including its financial management and strategic planning. She will also be responsible for recruitment, training and management of employees and volunteers and work with a sacramental ministry team that will be named by Bishop Caggiano.

Click here for Bishop Caggiano’s letter.