The last time he appeared on Thomas Aquinas College’s website, Rev. Jeffrey Hanley (’13) was a newly ordained priest bound for Rome to study canon law. He may have returned a canon lawyer, but he now does much more as well.
“From the outside, my responsibilities and duties might look ‘impressive,’ but at the end of the day, I am a priest who has laid my life down for Jesus Christ and for the salvation of souls.”
In addition to working on the marriage tribunal for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Fr. Hanley directs the Office of Worship and serves as the master of ceremonies for his bishop, the Most Rev. Paul J. Bradley. But though his plate seems full, Fr. Hanley laughs at the idea that he is busy: “As St. John XXIII would say at the end of the day, ‘Lord, it’s Your Church — I’m going to bed.’”
The bulk of Fr. Hanley’s time is spent at the marriage tribunal. “Ninety-nine percent of the work regards the annulment process, in which the essential elements for a sacramental marriage are investigated and declared ecclesiastically valid or invalid,” he says. His studies in canon law especially prepared him to navigate this sometimes spiritually trying process. “The investigation that goes into declaring such a reality is quite involved and requires special training, both to do the process and to pastorally accompany all the persons who approached the tribunal asking this question.”
Not all of Fr. Hanley’s work for the marriage tribunal concerns annulments, however. “The other 1 percent deals with persons looking to be married for the first time but who need a dispensation,” he says, “either because the couple confess different religions or because the couple come from a different diocese.”
But unraveling the subtleties of the Church’s marriage laws is only one part of Fr. Hanley’s diocesan duties. As the director of the Office of Worship, he is intimately involved with the most important public expression of the Church’s life, her liturgy. “The Office of Worship has two primary purposes,” explains Fr. Hanley. “One is the organization of persons and of things of the liturgies at which the bishop will preside, but the second is to be a resource for the liturgical life for all the parishes in the diocese. Whenever a pastor or parish needs a particular resource or to consult the diocese on a matter that touches liturgical life, the bishop brings me into those conversations as a consultant on what the Church has to say, and how best to support our pastors and our parishes.”
In conjunction with his duties at the Office of Worship, Fr. Hanley also serves as Bishop Bradley’s primary master of ceremonies. “I preoccupy myself with the logistical matters of the liturgy so that the bishop can pray the liturgy and focus on that sacramental act,” says Fr. Hanley. “The master of ceremonies is at the bishop’s side, taking care of the practical organization at the liturgy, such as training altar servers and deacons, and so on.”
When the workday is done, Fr. Hanley returns to St. Joseph Parish, a bilingual parish, where he serves as parochial vicar, assisting the pastor where he can. “It gives me a home and direct contact with the People of God,” he says. Offering Mass for, and hearing the confessions of, the People of God keeps him tied firmly to the fundamentals of his priesthood. “From the outside, my responsibilities and duties might look ‘impressive,’ but at the end of the day, I am a priest who has laid my life down for Jesus Christ and for the salvation of souls,” Fr. Hanley reflects. “I’m happy to be poured out in these ways that Christ may be glorified.”