Office of Ethnic Ministries created; Greenville native named director


CHARLESTON  A lifelong St. Anthony of Padua parishioner from Greenville has been appointed by Bishop Robert J. Baker as the new diocesan director of Ethnic Ministries.

Kathleen Merritt, whose appointment was effective April 1, will head the new department, which incorporates the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and the Office of Hispanic Ministry.

Merritt said she is currently becoming more familiar with the diocese by meeting people, visiting parishes, and reading church documents dealing with multicultural ministry.

A psychotherapist in private practice in Greenville, Merritt holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a master’s degree in counseling from Webster University. In addition to her clinical practice, Merritt was employed by the Girl Souts as director of outreach services for the Old 96 Council.

She is pursuing her doctorate from The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is conducting research in the Upstate for the next year. Upon completion of her graduate studies, however, the diocesan director will relocate to Charleston.

In her private practice, Merritt said she works primarily with victims of domestic violence and other problems such as school truancy, where clients are referred under court order to obtain counseling.

Merritt said she was approached about applying for the diocesan position by Franciscan Father Paul Williams, her pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Church. “I’ve been there all my life,” she said.

Upon talking with the bishop and Sister Susan Schorsten, assistant to the vicar general, a dialogue was begun about the whole concept of multiethnic ministry.

“Before, there were separated offices and the organizations were separate. Our initial conversations were based on that,” Merritt explained. “However, when I came down and met with the board, we started to talk about a whole new office in general.”

The diocesan director of Ethnic Ministries said her reading of papal documents on ethnicity emphasizes allowing groups to maintain their own culture.

“The challenge is offering ministry to ethnic groups where everyone is welcome in every church, yet allowing each to maintain their own heritage and traditions. The challenge is to find ways in which everyone fits into every church, where anyone can walk into a Catholic Church and feel welcome,” Merritt said, adding that she has experienced instances of feeling unwelcome in certain parishes because she is an African-American woman.

Merritt plans on conducting research into what works well in that initial contact, everything from music to greeters, and offering those suggestions to churches. “It’s being done well in a lot of parishes, but there are still a lot of groups that have to have basic needs filled.”

The new office director is now working to develop a six-month plan with goals and objectives, eventually extending that to a one-year plan, in addition to formulating a job description for the recently created position.

“I see this position as an opportunity to do a Catholic blitz, to inform people of what we are about,” said Merritt.

In the future, an assistant director will be hired for the department to also work with the various ethnic communities.

But for now, Merritt said forming an Advisory Committee is one of her first priorities, in addition to searching for available office space in the Greenville area.

“To be successful we have to do this as a team,” Merritt said, adding that, “I see myself working closely with all diocesan departments.”