Father Christopher Cordes delights in the brotherly bond he shares with those who minister in the person of Christ at altars throughout the Jefferson City diocese.
Now, he ministers not only with them but to them.
“In 27-plus years as a priest, I have valued the relationships I have with the priests in this diocese and I enjoy interacting with them,” said Fr. Cordes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, whom Bishop W. Shawn McKnight appointed this spring to serve also as diocesan vicar for priests.
“I appreciate that Bishop McKnight has confidence in me to serve in this role,” he said.
All priests minister in union with their bishop, but as a vicar, Fr. Cordes actually carries out his diocesan duties on Bishop McKnight’s behalf, specifically in matters pertaining to priests.
“A vicar is appointed by the bishop to represent him either in a broad range of matters or in a particular area of ministry and governance,” Fr. Cordes explained.
This is true for all the vicar assignments in the diocese, including the judicial vicar (who oversees the work of the Matrimonial Tribunal), the vicar for the Diaconate, the vicar for Prison Ministry, and the Vicar General.
Some of Fr. Cordes’s responsibilities as vicar for priests include:
“In each of these, the vicar doesn’t act alone, but collaborates with the bishop, the vicar general, diocesan directors and staff, and parish leadership,” Fr. Cordes said. “This is essential for me, as I balance this role with serving as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia.”
Consistently one of his biggest challenges is arranging for substitute priests for weekend Masses throughout the diocese.
“Our number of priests who are available to fill-in is small,” he said, “and some of them have health limitations that impact their availability.”
In some cases, the only alternative is for parishes and missions to have Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest presided over by a deacon, instead of Mass.
“We try to limit these,” said Fr. Cordes, “but sometimes it is unavoidable.”
Fr. Cordes succeeds Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, who served temporarily as vicar for priests. This change returns to Bishop McKnight’s original plan to have two separate priests serve as vicar general and vicar for priests.
“I’m still relatively new to the position,” Fr. Cordes noted, “so the practical carrying out of it is still developing.”
He spends most Wednesdays in his office in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.
He also occasionally travels to the Chancery for other meetings, participates in the bishop’s weekly cabinet meetings through Zoom, and carries out other duties remotely throughout the week.
This does affect his availability in his parish.
“I’m grateful to have staff and parish leadership who are supportive and able to carry on the ministry of the parish with less presence from me,” he stated.
It’s a challenge, but Fr. Cordes believes in its value for the sake of priests and parishioners throughout the diocese.
“I see it as part of my response of service and obedience,” he said. “I also believe it’s important to have a priest assigned to serve both the bishop and the priests in this way.”
Fr. Cordes grew up in Jefferson City. The St. Peter School and Helias Catholic High School alumnus studied at Truman State University in Kirksville and Conception Seminary College in Conception before undertaking theology studies at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.
Ordained to the Priesthood in 1995, he has served as associate pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City and as sacramental minister at St. Michael Parish in Russellville; then as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina and St. Patrick Parish in Clarence; then as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery City and sacramental minister of St. Patrick Parish in Jonesburg; then as pastor of Mary Immaculate Parish in Kirksville and the Mission of St. Rose of Lima in Novinger.
He has been pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, the largest parish in the diocese, since 2015.