By Jerry Duggan
Cheryl Archibald, parish life coordinator at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in St. Louis, is living out her vocation. As parish life coordinator, she is, in Jesuit terms, the “director of the work.” While Pastoral Associate Fr. Kevin Cullen, SJ, attends to the parish’s sacramental and liturgical needs, Ms. Archibald balances pastoral care with administrative responsibilities in a time-consuming, but incredibly fulfilling role. Archibald wakes up every day “with a sense of purpose and an eagerness to serve.”
A cradle Catholic, Ms. Archibald moved between Milwaukee and St. Louis several times as a child. After graduating high school in Milwaukee, she attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Eventually she transitioned to Columbia College, earning a degree in management information systems. As her academic career and professional life flourished, she returned to the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science & Technology), earning a certification in system engineering.
As a young adult, Ms. Archibald drifted away from the faith. “I didn’t have a deep understanding of the faith,” she said. “I had a lot of young energy and church just wasn’t exciting for me.”
Still, Ms. Archibald never abandoned her faith life altogether. She attended a Baptist church, among several other congregations, and searched for a faith that spoke to her. It was only through exposure to other faiths that she discovered what she missed about the Catholic Church: the sacraments. “I always enjoyed the ritual aspect of sacraments,” she said. “When someone gets baptized or receives first communion, that’s exciting, and you can witness their initiation into the faith.”
Soon after this realization, Ms. Archibald participated in a sacrament herself, marrying in the Catholic Church in 1985. She had two children with her husband and raised them in the Catholic faith in the St. Louis area.
Ms. Archibald balanced a devout faith life with professional success, working for the federal government in a computer science and program management role for 30 years. As she raised her children in the faith, she found herself falling more in love with the Church, but did not, at that time, consider working for it full-time.
That changed when she attended a Bridges Retreat, a nine-month program designed to help people experience the Spiritual Exercises in everyday life. She marks this as the beginning of her calling to her current role at St. Matthew’s.
“While I was on that retreat, I knew God was calling me to something, I just had to figure out what,” she said. “I felt a strong pull to something deeper. It was like the doors were opened for me without even having to ask.”
While on the retreat, she was given an opportunity to attend Aquinas Institute of Theology and earn an additional degree. After much discernment, she decided this might help her discover what God was calling her to. She graduated in 2010 with a master’s degree in pastoral studies.
In 2013, Ms. Archibald was nearing retirement and began discerning her next path. She saw an opening for a part-time pastoral associate position at St. Matthew’s and applied, thinking this would be a meaningful way to answer God’s call.
She was hired in June 2013 and immediately became a fixture in the parish community.
“So much in life is about relationships. I learned that in my career as a program manager,” she said. “I knew that the quickest way to establish myself as part of the community was to engage with its members, to talk to people, hear their stories and start to grow together in faith.”
Although Ms. Archibald flourished in this part-time role, she never expected what came next. In summer 2018, she was appointed the inaugural parish life coordinator at St. Matthew’s.
A parish life coordinator, unlike pastoral associate, is a position that shares the shepherding of the parish flock with the priest as canonical pastor. A parish life coordinator has the responsibility of administering and overseeing the temporalities of a designated parish, as well as participating in and giving pastoral direction to the parish. The role incorporates a team approach with a canonical pastor providing for the sacramental needs of the parish.
St. Matthew’s was the first Jesuit parish in the UCS Province to adopt this structure in more than 30 years. Recently, a similar arrangement was implemented at St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City, Mo.
“Since there’s a shortage of priests, many smaller parishes like St. Matthew’s (which has about 105 households) would face closure if some structural change were not made,” Ms. Archibald explained. “This model allows the priest to focus on liturgical responsibilities while I shoulder the administrative work but also help him with the parish’s spiritual needs. It’s a win-win.”
When Ms. Archibald retired from her career as a program manager, she didn’t anticipate that this is where she would be in 2020: at a parish full-time, and busier, on many days, than she was at the height of her career. She would not change a thing.
“It’s easy to get bogged down with administrative tasks, but it’s all in service of the Lord,” she said. “What I find most rewarding is developing relationships with parishioners. I have to be intentional about carving out time for that – putting paperwork aside and focusing instead on people.”
Ultimately, this job is the best of both worlds for Ms. Archibald.
“What I love about this role is that I am able to, as a married lay woman, contribute to parish life in such a meaningful way,” she said. “I’m very blessed that God gave me this opportunity.”