'Dispenser of Wisdom'

Posted: 3/7/2011

By Margaret Gabriel

Father Bob Dalton thinks of himself as a circuit-riding priest, a sacramental minister, a servant who addresses the needs of the missions he tends to in northeast Mississippi.

Glenmary Father Bob Dalton and Bishop Joseph LatinoHe shies away from the word "mentor," though, when describing his role with the pastoral coordinators of those missions. "My role with them is really that of coworker," he says.

Sister Mary Jean Morris, one of the pastoral coordinators Father Bob describes with a smile as "my bosses," begs to differ.

Father Bob has been instrumental in the success of Glenmary's lay ministry program, says Sister Mary Jean, pastoral coordinator in Bruce, Miss. "He was the head of the lay pastoral ministry department when I first came to Glenmary and he was on my interview team, so we've always had a special connection."

Sister Mary Jean values the practical advice she receives from Father Bob. "He has a great understanding of the culture of the South. And you always know you can trust Father Bob and that he'll keep your confidences."

Father Bob modestly admits that, as a senior member who has been a Glenmarian for over 50 years, one could call him a "dispenser of wisdom." In addition to his sacramental ministry, he also facilitates a monthly meeting of lay ministers in the Diocese of Jackson.

"Sometimes they want to steer that group into a problem-solving mode, but I try to keep it focused more on support of ministry," Father Bob says. In sorting out problems, Father Bob helps the group reflect on how a given problem might be affecting a minister and how he or she can learn from it.

Father Bob enjoys observing the trust that grows between lay ministers and the people they serve. He uses a visit to a nursing home with Sister Kate Regan, pastoral coordinator of Glenmary's mission in Ripley, Miss., to illustrate the point.

"She was accompanying a man on his journey back to the Church, and it was time for him to receive the sacrament of reconciliation," Father Bob says.
"Sister Kate began to excuse herself but the man said, ‘No, I want you to stay.'" That request, Father Bob says, shows the depth of the relationship—and the trust—the two had established.

The partnership of the lay professional minister and the priest is "one of the monumental turning points in Church ministry in the last 2,000 years," he says, adding that Glenmary was ahead of its time in developing and encouraging lay ministry.

"We (Glenmary) had been calling our lay ministers ‘coworkers' for years before the U.S. bishops wrote Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord (the pastoral letter on lay ministry) in 2005," Father Bob says.

He appreciates the balance that women bring to pastoral ministry and how the blend of masculine and feminine qualities are manifested in the collaboration of a pastoral coordinator—frequently a woman—and a priest serving as the sacramental minister.

The quality of the work of Glenmary's lay ministers is "amazing," he says. Sister Mary Jean quickly credits that to Father Bob's prayer and support.

"He gives practical advice," she says, "and he also helps me focus on God and what I am called to do." That's a recipe for success.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 Glenmary Challenge.