Coghlan to retire — diocese’s first woman and lay chancellor

Categories: Around the Diocese

Sept. 27, 2013, edition
By Nikki Rajala

Catherine “Cate” Coghlan, the first woman and first lay person to serve as chancellor for the St. Cloud Diocese, will retire Sept. 30.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked for Bishop [John] Kinney in two different venues, and for his acceptance of women’s roles in the church. I’ve served nearly 13 years here; it’s a remarkable place to work and I feel blessed. Now it’s time for what lies ahead.”


Catherine “Cate” Coghlan is retiring after serving the Diocese of St. Cloud since 2001, first in development and later as the diocese’s first female and lay chancellor. Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

No stranger to the forefront, she’s chosen challenges that made her a little uncomfortable.

“In life, as in water skiing,” she said, “it is more challenging when you ‘venture outside the wake.’ The waters might get rough, you might go down but you get back up and are the stronger for it. I guarantee that life is far more exciting living this way!”

Coghlan was the first executive director of The Catholic Foundation in Northeast Kansas, and received honors in North Dakota and at the national level for leadership roles and stewardship achievements.

A leader from the beginning

“I used to say that my stewardship and development career took off in sixth grade,” Coghlan said. “Our Catholic school raised money for the Presentation Sisters in Fargo, N.D. In high school I was active in Sodality. While home six years with my children, I was active in my parish organizations and in the community.”

That formation led to working for the Fargo Diocese, and eventually serving as director of alumni relations for the University of Mary, in Bismarck, N.D.

In 1988, she moved over to the Diocese of Bismarck — led, at that time, by Bishop Kinney.

“He left for St. Cloud in July 1995,” she recalled. “In August, I left for the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

With new grandchildren and parents with health issues, it was too distant for weekend visits.

“On my daily drive to work, I’d pass the Baptist Church marquee. One day, four years later, it said, ‘You are going in the wrong direction. God allows U-turns.’ That night I told my husband, ‘Bill, I received a message! We’re supposed to go back north.’ ”

It was after working as managing director of development at St. John’s School of Theology/Seminary and Abbey in Collegeville in 1999 that Coghlan came to St. Cloud Diocese. She began Jan. 1, 2001, as the diocese’s first executive director of The Catholic Foundation, then newly forming, and director of the Office of Stewardship and Development.

By 2006, she said, the foundation had its “legs” — boards and committees established, policies and procedures in place, a huge accomplishment. Coghlan weighed ending her 25-year stewardship and development career. The only position open then was that of vice chancellor, and Coghlan thought a canon law degree was required.

A conversation with Bishop Kinney, however, revealed that a canon law degree was not necessary and she stepped into that position.

Appointed chancellor

After Father Robert Rolfes became vicar general, she was appointed chancellor in May 2011, maintaining official records and archives, responding to pastor inquiries, performing service by Virtue of Office and all other duties as assigned.

“Cate has done a wonderful job in establishing The Catholic Foundation,” Father Rolfes said, “setting the course for a solid and prosperous foundation. She’s served as chancellor these last few years and has been of great assistance to the bishop and to many of us. We’re grateful for her leadership in the diocese and the church nationally.”

Her days mixed meetings, assignments and projects, from serving as liaison to various groups such as the Diocesan Pastoral Council to listening to parishioners to help resolve parish concerns. As liaison for Eremitic Life, Coghlan worked with hermits within the diocese. Another area which demanded more attention was her work with immigration issues as they related to diocesan international priests.

Jane Marrin, a long-time friend who served the diocese as planning director from January 2002 to June 2011 and is currently a consultant for the diocese, said, “When Cate became vice chancellor, we traveled around the diocese to work with councils and parishes. I discovered her wonderful sense of humor, which has been important in getting through the challenging times. She is dedicated to the church and our diocese. I will greatly miss her.”

Coghlan grounded her days with inspirational readings.

“Sometimes I chose booklets, like ‘The Daily Word.’ More recently, I’ve been reading ‘Magnificat® Year of Faith Companion’ for reflection and guidance.

“Another prayer ends with ‘Give the Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.’ ”

Returning to hometown

Hoping the diocese would be celebrating a new bishop’s installation in July, which would have allowed ample time to transition a new chancellor into the position, the Coghlans committed to relocating to Fargo by early November.

In retirement, Coghlan looks forward to reconnecting with family and friends in North Dakota and to being a more involved grandparent.

“Going to our lake place will be convenient. Maybe I’ll try golf, join a book or bridge club again or volunteer. Waking up without the jolt of an alarm clock will be heaven. I’m serious about taking time just to be.

“One last thought — of the women before me who’ve assumed leadership positions in the church — and how far we’ve come. We will continue to move forward and plow new ground. Where might that road lead for generations after me?”