MURRIETA—The Diocese of San Bernardino has developed a national reputation for parish leadership models that empower lay Catholics, particularly women.
Perhaps no one embodies that more than Kirsten Thorstad, who has led three different parishes in the Diocese as a Pastoral Coordinator over 26 years of ministry here. At the end of January, Thorstad left her post as the Pastoral Coordinator at St. Martha Parish in Murrieta to take a similar position in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.
“I trust in God’s providence,” says Thorstad. “This really felt like a call to me, being closer to family and something different.”
She will serve as Parish Life Director for the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd, a parish in the Appalachian Mountains that is so small she hopes to get to know all the parishioners on a first name basis.
That will represent quite a contrast to her most recent assignment as Pastoral Coordinator of St. Martha in Murrieta, which has over 9,000 registered families. She’s held that position since 2016. She also led St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Yucaipa from 2006-2015, and St. Patrick, Moreno Valley from 1999-2004.
A Pastoral Coordinator is the top administrative leadership position in a parish. In the Pastoral Coordinator model, Sacramental leadership is designated to a priest/parochial vicar. At one time, the Diocese used this model in 13 parishes. Though not traditional, Thorstad said the faithful at St. Martha, St. Frances Cabrini and St. Patrick were supportive of her.
“I’m certainly grateful for the trust Bishop Barnes had in me to do that,” she says. “I’ve been really welcomed by the people of God, seeing a woman in leadership.”
Thorstad said she also enjoyed collaborative relationships with the priests at the three parishes, who continued to provide Sacramental leadership.
“It didn’t diminish the role of the priests,” she said. “It was more working together and using our gifts.”
The leadership lessons learned in the Diocese she says she will take with her to Kentucky.
“Each parish had its special charism and memories that I take with me,” Thorstad says. “The joy has been empowering people and seeing them grow.”