By Jerry Duggan
Diane Blair first realized during a retreat in college that centering her life on Church-related work is where she finds fulfillment.
As the first director of pastoral life in the more than century-long history of Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Orleans, Blair is busy. She also has found a breadth and depth in her work that keeps her energized and fulfilled.
About two years ago, Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus, was looking for an addition to complete his parish staff – preferably someone with experience in Jesuit circles who had a strong desire to immerse him or herself in every aspect of parish life.
Blair, who had worked at Loyola University New Orleans for nearly 15 years in the graduate school for ministry (the Loyola Institute for Ministry), recruiting and advising students, as well as in a variety of ministerial capacities – helping with retreats, campus ministry and more – emerged as the perfect candidate. Her desire to serve the HNJ community has only grown with time.
“I love that I am able to be involved in every ministry at the parish,” she said. “I always have plenty of things to keep me busy and am able to meet parishioners of all ages and walks of life.”
She focuses her work on the five priorities Fr. Thibodeaux has identified for the parish that are in accord with the Society of Jesus’ Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs). They include social justice ministry, youth and young adult ministry, adult education, fund development and Holy Name of Jesus online (HNJO).
Last year, the parish established a social justice commission, which strives to bolster the parish’s involvement in the local community and address systemic racism and societal inequities.
Blair’s work with the young and young adult ministry seeks to strengthen the parish’s ties with Loyola University New Orleans by opening its doors to students and other young people in myriad ways.
The parish adult education programs seek to deepen parishioners’ understanding of the faith.
Diane is involved in all of these programs. Fortunately, she works with a dedicated staff, supportive pastor and passion for her work that helps her to balance all of it.
“It is a lot of work, but, because this is so personally fulfilling, I’m able to roll with what comes my way,” she said.
She is particularly grateful for the parish’s relatively small size, which has allowed her to get involved in all of these areas while maintaining close relationships with parish families, which she cites as the most rewarding aspect of her job.
“We have parishioners from all over New Orleans and from all walks of life but, because it is New Orleans, we still have that close-knit, family feel,” she explained. “Many of our families have been in the parish for generations, and, because of that, are heavily invested in everything that we do.”
Father Thibodeaux and Blair have nonetheless taken the opportunity to broaden the parish’s horizons whenever possible. Perhaps the best example of this is HNJO, a multi-faceted effort launched in the last year that offers online retreats, prayer services, Masses and more to a group that has grown to about 200 Catholics all over the United States and beyond.
Blair is also involved in the parish’s fund development efforts.
“I am lucky to have a personal relationship with Christ and a love of Ignatian Spirituality,” she said. “Through those, I have found that my faith is not just rules and regulations – it is something that I am able to make my own and live out through my work. My ministry at Holy Name of Jesus is one way for me to live that out.”