by JON ANDERSON
September 30, 2022
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Prince of Peace Catholic Church Rev. Jon Chalmers offers Mass for the Prince of Peace Catholic School on Aug. 24.
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Prince of Peace Catholic Church Rev. Jon Chalmers blesses the sacraments for Holy Communion for the Prince of Peace Catholic School.
About two years ago, the Rev. John Fallon, the pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church, called the Rev. Jon Chalmers, who was pastor at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Birmingham, and asked him what he thought about coming to Prince of Peace.
Chalmers said he thought Fallon was “messing with me” because Prince of Peace is the largest Catholic parish in the Birmingham metro area and Holy Rosary is the smallest. But he quickly learned that Fallon, who was considering retirement, was serious.
The decision was Bishop Steven Raica’s to make, but Fallon was chairman of the parish personnel board for the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham at the time, and a year later Raica transferred Chalmers to Prince of Peace as an associate minister.
In July of this year, when Fallon retired as the lead pastor at Prince of Peace, Raica appointed Chalmers to take the lead role, with Fallon staying on as pastor emeritus to assist with duties such as Mass and visiting the sick.
Chalmers said being at Prince of Peace as an associate for a year before taking on the lead role was good because it gave him a chance to get to know the place, but the move from Birmingham was quite a change.
Holy Rosary had one Mass each Sunday, while Prince of Peace, with about 4,000 families, has several thousand people coming to eight Masses each weekend, and that’s a conservative number, Chalmers said.
The two parishes also are very different. Holy Rosary is in Gate City, a low-income area of Birmingham with a history of violence, while Prince of Peace is in a wealthier suburban zip code that is considered much safer.
Holy Rosary is primarily African American, while Prince of Peace is “phenomenally diverse” and potentially has a higher Hispanic population than non-Hispanic.
Following in the footsteps of Fallon, who has been at Prince of Peace for 24 years, might be intimidating for some priests, especially with Fallon still being active there, but Chalmers said the transition is working well.
“I’m not taking his place in any meaningful way,” Chalmers said. “He and I both have our respective strengths. We don’t compete with each other. He remains pastor emeritus. He remains a welcoming, grandfather-like sage in the community, and I’m very happy for him to continue in that role.
“I have a bit more experience in communication with the community, a bit more experience in the administrative side of the house and how we knit program areas together,” Chalmers said. “It’s really a nice partnership.”
Chalmers said he has been friends with both Fallon and the Rev. Ray Dunmyer, another retired priest who assists at Prince of Peace, for a long time.
“We work well together. Our communication patterns are really solid,” Chalmers said. “I think Father Fallon — he has the good of this community at heart and is incredibly supportive of me.”
Fallon said he believes Prince of Peace is in excellent hands with Chalmers because he preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and the people have been receptive to him.
Chalmers said they each have different styles of preaching and celebrating Mass, and he certainly doesn’t have Fallon’s Irish accent.
“But we’re strongly aligned with the idea that a parish ought to be a welcoming and engaging place for all people — that it ought to be a place where people find not only hope but joy,” Chalmers said.
They both are focused on the concepts of loving God and loving neighbors, he said.
Chalmers originally is from the Pittsburgh area, but he has family ties to Birmingham. His great-grandfather moved from Scotland to the Ensley community as a 16-year-old bricklayer. His grandfather worked in the steel industry with U.S. Steel and wound up in Pittsburgh, so Chalmers said he has kind of come full circle because the land Prince of Peace sits on came from U.S. Steel.
Chalmers finished high school in New Jersey after his mom moved there, and he went to the University of Chicago as an economics major but switched to history. He came to Alabama for what was supposed to be a brief stint to do some research on a labor law case and ended up transferring to the University of Alabama, where he graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in labor studies.
As an undergraduate student, he got involved with the Student Coalition for Community Health and the university’s rural services research program, working to address health issues in rural parts of Alabama. A big part of their work was to use schools to improve the health and wealth of communities, he said. When the director of the program retired, Chalmers was hired to replace him.
Chalmers then earned a master’s degree from the Harvard University School of Education and got married, but his first wife died at age 30 after battling cancer for one-and-a-half years, he said. He met his second wife, Margaret, in 2003, and they married in 2004.
Raised as an Episcopalian, Chalmers said he was intrigued with the intersection of social outreach work with theology and decided to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest. He quit his job and obtained a degree from Yale Divinity School in 2007.
He served as the Episcopal campus chaplain at Alabama for two years and then served as an associate minister for missions and outreach at an Episcopal church in Greenville, South Carolina. He had a heavy focus on a project in Haiti to integrate a vocational school into medical mission work.
Chalmers worked on the Haiti project for three years and, after increasingly digging into Catholic theology, decided to seek ordination as a Catholic priest.
Because he was already married, he had to seek dispensation from the obligation of celibacy from Pope Benedict XVI. He got it and was ordained in 2012.
He worked for a Catholic health care system in South Carolina for four years, dealing with clinical bioethics issues, before taking a job as president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic School in Birmingham.
Chalmers stayed at Cristo Rey until 2021, when he was transferred to Prince of Peace and concurrently made executive vice president of John Carroll Catholic High School, dealing with finances, strategic planning, development and alumni engagement.
He now spends part of his time at Prince of Peace and part at John Carroll. He also oversees the K-8 Prince of Peace Catholic School.
Kelly Doss, who serves as the operations business manager for the Prince of Peace parish and president of Prince of Peace Catholic School, said he’s extremely excited to work with Chalmers.
His past work with nonprofits and schools makes him a perfect fit for Prince of Peace, Doss said. He really understands the business side of things, and having him as an associate minister for a year made the transition to senior pastor much easier, Doss said.
“He had a year to understand the way the church operates and who the players are,” Doss said. And now Chalmers has a chance to put his own unique signature on the operations, he said.
Chalmers said while some people are surprised to find out he is married and a “small handful” of people express skepticism at the idea most people say it must be OK if the pope and bishop have approved it.
While he is the only married priest in the Birmingham diocese (which covers the top two-thirds of Alabama), there are at least three married Catholic priests in the Mobile diocese and about 250 nationwide, he said.
Marsha Hernandez, a member at Prince of Peace for eight years, said she thinks it gives Chalmers a unique perspective that most priests don’t have. “I feel like from a personal experience, that helps him better relate to many of our situations,” she said.
He also speaks very freely about his personal experiences with pain and grief, she said. “I feel like he speaks from his heart.”
It’s also clear he’s very well-educated, Hernandez said. “His sermons are very theological. You have to really focus and pay attention to be able to absorb everything that he says.”
While many people at Prince of Peace are still getting to know him, she had an opportunity to work at the Holy Rosary food pantry with people who know him well, and they raved about him, she said. His experience in fundraising and technology should help Prince of Peace as well, she said.
Chalmers said he loves being at Prince of Peace. “As Catholic parishes go, it’s flourishing and complex,” he said. He wants to continue the church’s rich liturgical and worship life and continue asking more questions about how Prince of Peace can show love to its neighbors, he said.
by JON ANDERSON
September 30, 2022
Hoover Sun LLC
by JON ANDERSON