Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Two long-time parish ministers retire this year

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the July 3, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

The Association of Parish Ministers held a retirement party for Diana Sanderson and Jackie Keyes on May 30 in Spokane. From left: Barb La Combe, Shonna Bartlett, Dominican Sister Judith Nilles, Teresa McCann, Jackie Keyes, Diana Sanderson, Sue Harmon, Joan Leeds, Betty Newstrom, and Theresa Paul. (IR photo courtesy of Sue Harmon)

This year sees the retirement of two women long involved in the faith formation of Eastern Washington Catholics: Jackie Keyes, youth minister at St. Patrick Parish, Pasco, and Diana Sanderson, most recently Director of Adult Education for St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley.

Sanderson retired after 35 years in various ministries at St. Mary. She began as a volunteer in 1973, helping to form and administer a junior high religious education program. “I had a wonderful time with 140 teens who met in various parishioners’ homes,” she said, “and we had 16 to 18 team teachers.” She also helped to form the parish’s first Religious Education Board, and eventually she was hired half-time to direct the junior high program.

Four years later, Sanderson became St. Mary’s full-time youth minister for high school juniors and seniors. The program included preparation for Confirmation, which at that time was still celebrated during adolescence. “The leather banner (the students) signed is hanging in my office,” she said, “(and) I pray for these students now grown and raising families.”

After two years, Diana appealed to the pastor at that time, Father (now Msgr.) Robert Pearson. So much of her time was spent at the parish, “My three children and husband did not know who I was.” Father Pearson’s “very good solution” was a half-time junior high and half-time adult” religious education position.

For three weeks during the summers of 1985, ’86, and ’87, Diana Sanderson, with her family in tow, attended Regis College, in Denver, and completed a master’s degree in Adult Learning and Leadership. She wrote her thesis on small faith communities in St. Mary Parish. She was encouraged by the pastor, Father George Haspedis, she said. “Whenever I would ask if we could try a new adult class or board training workshop,” he was enthusiastic. “His ‘Go for it” and ‘You can do it’ still cheer me on.”

In October 1989, St. Mary’s next pastor, Father (now Msgr.) Frank Bach, together with parishioners Mary Hansen, Bev Shove, and Joe Connellan, “walked me right into Father Art Baranaski’s vision of small church communities. That was life-changing for me and our parish. Not only did we have 21 groups meeting in two years, but when the diocesan Renew program got into full swing, we had 40 groups with 500 people attending Advent and Lent sessions.” That means the parish “has had small faith communities for 15 years now.”

In 1989, Sanderson’s job description changed again, this time to direct the parish’s entire religious education department. “I learned,” she said, “that there is a big difference between supporting others to accomplish their dreams and being in charge of my own arena. The Tarzan wail is a great way to release tension.”

During her most recent two years at St. Mary, she has facilitated the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, as well as a similar program for children, thanks to the next two pastors, Father Steve Dublinski and, now, Msgr. John Steiner. It has been wonderful, she said, “welcoming those adults and children who would like to discover the teachings, beliefs and traditions of Catholics. There is a wonderful team to work with and many presenters to add variety to our community experience of church.”

Msgr. Steiner had this to say: “For (more than) 30 years Diana has shared her life and her faith with the people of St. Mary Parish. Universally, the one overriding description of her … years of ministry is her positive enthusiasm for living the Catholic faith. As the song says, ‘… never a discouraging word.’ This has been Diana’s grace to our community. She has never had a bad word for anybody or anything.”

Sanderson said that she looks forward to “enjoying and treasuring my supportive husband, Larry, and our three fantastic children, and a son- and daughter-in-law, plus three amazing grandchildren.” She plans to take a year to “read travel books and look at a variety of ways to be part of ‘the New Earth’ and to contribute even more to the building of God’s presence in our church.”

“Youth ministry has truly been a blessing in my life,” said Jackie Keyes, whose career in the Diocese of Spokane goes back to when she taught elementary level religious education classes as a student at Walla Walla’s DeSales Catholic High School.

After graduating in 1972, Keyes attended Walla Walla Community College and served as a volunteer youth minister for the city’s three parishes, St. Patrick, Assumption, and St. Francis, a position she was hired to fill in 1976 and where she remained for 11 years. She moved to St. Patrick Parish, Pasco, as minister to the English-speaking youth in 1987 – 32 years as a full-time youth minister in Eastern Washington.

Marriage is in her immediate future, with a wedding planned for August. “I am moving back to my hometown of Walla Walla,” she said. “I plan to take at least a year off from ministry to adjust to and enjoy married life. During that year I will also be spending time listening to how God might be calling me and discerning the direction for my future.”

Over her more than three decades in youth ministry, Keyes has seen some changes.

“Catholic youth ministry has grown and developed tremendously since I began,” she said. “In my early years … there were very few resources available to choose from. We looked to Protestant models of youth ministry and adapted them by adding Catholic doctrine, practices, and experiences. Youth ministry ‘gurus,’ like Mike Yaconelli, were all Protestant. Today, there are numerous Catholic resources that are rich and wonderful, and our own Catholic ‘gurus’ have emerged.”

Youth ministry, she said, “constantly evolves and changes, as youth culture changes. In order to meet the needs of the youth that we serve, we have to keep up-to-date with music, media, and technology, as well as religious education and theology.”

As far as her official job description goes, one of the most noticeable changes came when the Diocese of Spokane’s policy for reception of Confirmation changed in 1999, she said. When children began receiving Confirmation prior to First Communion, “the job of the youth minister became more of a catch-up process to prepare adolescents who had not been confirmed prior to First Communion.”

There have been challenges over the years. “One was the change in pastoral leadership. During my years of youth ministry, I worked with 11 different pastors and at least 26” different parochial vicars. “As you can imagine, each one had a slightly different philosophy of how to minister to teenagers, as well as a different style of leadership, which could be frustrating at times, and it took time and effort to make adjustments. Often, by the time adjustments were made, the revolving door would turn” once again, with a new parochial vicar on the scene.

Changes occurred on the diocesan level, too, that affected youth ministry in parishes.

“I worked under three different bishops over the years,” Jackie said, “as well as nine different youth ministry consultants. However, one of the biggest challenges was in 2005 when, because of the bankruptcy due to the clergy abuse crisis, the (diocesan) Parish Services Office was closed, and we were left without a youth ministry consultant. For the past three years, while we have been without a consultant to oversee such things as the Diocesan Youth Council and the Catholic Youth Celebration, as well as the Middle School Faith Day, I have tried to continue the work of the council and the annual events for middle and high school youth. In addition, I have filled in as one of the (youth ministry) representatives for Region XII. It has been a huge challenge to try to maintain some semblance of youth ministry at the diocesan level with fewer and fewer full-time, or even part-time, youth ministers each year, while trying to minister to a large number of youth in the largest parish in the diocese.”

Like many ministries, youth ministry has fallen on hard times in the years during and since the diocese’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding. There are fewer paid professional youth ministers on staff; among those remaining, morale is suffering. “The youth of today have been victimized by the transgressions of yesterday, and I believe that it is going to take a very long time to build youth ministry back up again,” she said. “I think the ongoing neglect of our youth ministry programs, and our youth ministers, is a mistake, and the church will have to answer for it someday. Youth will always be a part of our church, and if parishes make it a prime concern to pass the faith on to them through quality programs the future of youth ministry will be bright. If not, our youth will leave the Catholic Church to have their faith needs met elsewhere.”

She is, however, grateful for the experience.

“I would not be the person I am today had it not been for all of the experiences and people that have touched my life,” she said. “I am most grateful to all of the youth that I have had the honor to work with, to know, and to serve over the years. They are the reason I was led into youth ministry, they are the reason that I served with such passion, they are the reason that I stayed as long as I did. I am eternally grateful to all of those youth, both young and older today, who will forever be a part of my life.”

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