Walking with the people from a position of influence: Sister Therese Guerin Sullivan
Sister Therese Guerin Sullivan serves as the first woman chancellor of the diocese of Cleveland, Ohio. Collaborating with Bishop Richard G. Lennon in the daily administration of the diocese is one of the “great joys” in her ministry, she says.
Statistics from the National Association of Church Personnel (posted at www.usccb.org in 2013) reported that: “About one-quarter of all diocesan chancellors are women. . . a position of considerable influence in many dioceses.”
Reflecting on her position, Sister Therese Guerin stated: “I especially value my lived experience of having the personal trust of the bishop. I am included in dialog on sensitive issues and my counsel is sought for decisions on serious matters affecting diocesan policy and practice. Being able to speak honestly and frankly makes for productive discussion, informed decisions, and furthers understanding. The respectful candor and open communication between us allow for efficient and effective working together.”
Bishop Lennon appointed Sister Therese Guerin as chancellor in 2007. She brought years of ministerial experience to the position, both as an elementary school teacher and principal in the inner city of Chicago, plus 18 years of service as a canon lawyer who had published and presented papers for the Canon Law Society of America on multiple topics related to lay participation in the Catholic Church.
In her current role she assists the bishop in the daily administration of the diocese that stretches over eight counties (3,414 miles) in Northeastern Ohio. It serves 710,351 Catholics in a total population of more 2.8 million.
As chancellor, Sister Therese Guerin offers canonical advice on particular issues to the bishop. She also answers requests for information and other services, gathers statistical data, formulates reports for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Vatican offices and countless other tasks.
“Offering canonical advice [to the bishop] often involves being cognizant of developing situations and anticipating background information that would be most helpful. At times, our conversations lead to specific requests. At others, my own initiative prompts me to clarify questions and strategize on how to move,” she said.
Challenge and power of the present
In her role, she faces many challenges. “The rapid pace of communications and pressure from special interest groups can present demands for immediate response or action. I appreciate taking a thoughtful and measured approach to conflict. This requires the discipline of understanding and a good deal of patience,” she said.
As a church leader, she said: “I view the role of women in the church today as being co-laborers. The work of the church is the promotion of Christ’s mission to gather all into one. I perceive women’s roles evolving through education and active participation. Serving on committees has been a source of learning for me over the years.
“I believe in the power of the present moment. Our affirmative responses place us in the best position to contribute to current needs. My experience is that new gifts are given when we respond. As I reflect on my own experiences and the leadership of Pope Francis, I observe that the women he has appointed to boards and commissions have demonstrated competence and a history of serving in other capacities,” she stated.
Being chancellor, Sister Therese Guerin says, “has brought many opportunities to contribute to systemic change in the church. I love the church. These years have afforded me occasion to suffer for the church and to be steadfast in faith.”
(Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)