Constance Schepers has spent the past 32 years building bridges between parishes and the central administration of the Jefferson City diocese.
“We’re here to help them,” she said. “It’s very important to be kind and patient and helpful.”
Mrs. Schepers will retire on June 30 from her roles as diocesan chancellor, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection and longtime officer of the diocesan Matrimonial Tribunal.
“Connie Schepers has been an asset to this diocese for many years,” stated Bishop W. Shawn McKnight. “I am grateful for the willingness she has shown to step into new roles as needed and assist in any way she can with carrying-out the Church’s mission. She will definitely be missed.”
Her own experience of consistently helpful and friendly service is what drew her to work for the diocese in the first place.
The Eminence native was serving as a part-time secretary for Annunciation Parish in California when her children were young.
“You have to communicate with people in the Chancery a lot when you’re a parish secretary,” she noted. “I had such a good experience anytime I talked to anyone in the Chancery.”
She resolved that when she was ready to work full-time she would apply for a position there “because the people are so nice.”
In due time, she was hired as a secretary for the diocesan Religious Education Office, in part due to her willingness to enter data into a computer.
That was in 1990.
“My parish was ahead of the curve on that,” she recalled. “I was already doing bookkeeping and the bulletin on a PC. Thank goodness for that!”
In the years that followed, she completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in counseling and a master’s degree in pastoral theology.
“You have to keep learning or you’re not going to advance,” she noted.
Her passion for detail eventually attracted her to an opening as a secretary in the diocesan Tribunal.
A large part of the Tribunal’s work involves helping couples in failed marriages formally request a declaration of nullity from the Church.
The process involves identifying any factors that would have prevented the man and woman from freely entering into a valid sacramental union.
Such a declaration, known as an annulment, allows the man and the woman to remarry freely in the Church while receiving the Sacraments.
“It really is a ministry because you’re often assisting people in their attempts to return to the sacraments or to marry again,” said Mrs. Schepers.
It’s not always an easy process.
“You’re often dealing with people who have been hurting for a long time, and they require understanding,” she noted. “You really have to be patient and kind to them.”
She quickly befriended Loretta Neuner, who worked for the diocese from 1958 until her death in 2002.
“Loretta was my mentor,” said Mrs. Schepers. “I worked with her for 10 years. She was wonderful. I learned so much from her — not just directly, but also by listening to her talk to the priests on the phone, and how she earned all of their respect.”
Mrs. Schepers served full-time in the Tribunal for 27 years, eventually taking summer courses offered at The Catholic University of America by the Canon Law Society of America.
“It was a paraprofessional course in marriage law,” she recalled. “You could become a paraprofessional in a diocesan tribunal.”
This credential allowed her to serve as defender of the bond, an important role in the process of evaluating applications for annulments.
“I got to work with a lot of good people in the Tribunal,” said Mrs. Schepers. “I appreciated the opportunities to take classes and meet and network with people from all over the United States.”
She decided to pursue the master’s degree in pastoral theology for her own sake.
“I was a convert and didn’t have very good catechesis,” she recalled. “I wanted to learn more about the Church.”
Her preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation involved reading a book her pastor gave her and meeting weekly for six weeks to ask questions about what she was reading.
“So most of what I eventually learned came from working for the Church,” she said.
Monsignor Gregory L. Higley JV, judicial vicar for the diocese, has been working with Mrs. Schepers in the Tribunal for many years.
He said he considered her an equal within the Tribunal ministry, “and, in certain areas, more of an expert than myself.”
“Her presence, work ethic and service to advocates and clients was invaluable to the ministry provided by the Tribunal,” he stated.
He pointed how she started out as receptionist and after much training and educational formation over many years, became certified to be defender of the bond and director of the Tribunal.
“Connie was dedicated to learning the law that governs and directs the procedures and jurisprudence of marriage and re-marriage in the Church, to the extent that she became a trusted advisor to pastors, deacons and other advocates who were trying to get the marriage of their parishioners regularized in the Church and have them be able to return to the reception of Holy Communion at Mass,” Msgr. Higley stated.
“She did it with professional and understanding empathy toward the people who were seeking reconciliation with the Church, and a new beginning in their lives,” he added.
Listening and learning
Mrs. Schepers never dreamed of moving into diocesan administration.
“It took a lot of listening, a lot of education, a lot of learning,” she said.
She began serving as a volunteer facilitator for “VIRTUS: Protecting God’s Children” training modules for the Office of Youth Protection in 2003.
This training gives Church personnel, volunteers and parents practical direction for identifying and properly addressing possible exploitation of minors by adults.
That experience along with her eye for detail proved helpful when Bishop McKnight appointed her director of the diocesan Office Child and Youth Protection in February 2019.
She continued in that role while succeeding Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND as diocesan chancellor a few months later.
Every diocese is required to have a chancellor, whose primary function under Church law is to notarize documents and ensure that records of the bishop’s and his advisors’ official actions “are gathered, arranged and safeguarded in the archive of the curia.” (Code of Canon Law, #482).
Mrs. Schepers’s work involved overseeing the diocesan archives, seeing to it that documents were properly filed for safekeeping, and signing and affixing the official diocesan seal to important documents and diocesan decrees.
The chancellor and youth-protection positions have kept her very busy, in addition to serving as a member of Bishop McKnight’s cabinet and working with missionary priests from other countries who are serving in this diocese.
“I’ve really enjoyed helping the missionary priests — working with them and our immigration attorneys to help them get from their country to ours,” she said. “I find that to be one of the most enjoyable things I do in my work.”
Mrs. Schepers announced last autumn her intention to retire this spring.
Bishop McKnight has appointed Benjamin H. Roodhouse JD JCL to succeed Mrs. Schepers as chancellor while he continues as director of Canonical Services and takes on additional duties in the Tribunal.
A new director of Child and Youth Protection will be hired soon.
Mrs. Schepers said she plans to spend more time volunteering in her parish, enjoying her grandchildren, and traveling.