About two years ago Reverend John Fallon, pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church, called Reverend Jon Chalmers, who was pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Birmingham, and asked him what he was thinking of coming to Prince of Peace. Peace.
Chalmers said he thought Fallon was “playing with me” because Prince of Peace is the largest Catholic parish in the Birmingham metropolitan area and Holy Rosary is the smallest. But he soon learned that Fallon, who was considering retirement, was serious.
The decision was up to Bishop Steven Raica, but Fallon was chairman of the parish staff council for the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham at the time, and a year later Raica transferred Chalmers to Prince of Peace as associate minister.
In July of this year, when Fallon retired as senior pastor of Prince of Peace, Raica appointed Chalmers to take on the lead role, with Fallon remaining as pastor emeritus to help with tasks 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 everything. a change.
The Holy Rosary had a Mass every Sunday, while Prince of Peace, with about 4,000 families, has several thousand people who come to eight Masses every weekend, and that’s a conservative number, Chalmers said.
The two parishes are also 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 more affluent suburban postcode that is considered much safer.
Holy Rosary is predominantly African American, while Prince of Peace is “phenomenaly 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 daunting for some priests, especially with Fallon still active there, but Chalmers said the transition was working well.
“I don’t take his place in a meaningful way,” Chalmers said. “He and I both have our respective strengths. We are not in competition with each other. He remains pastor emeritus. He remains a welcoming, grandfather-like sage in the community, and I am very happy that he will continue in this role.
“I have a little more experience in communicating with the community, a little more experience in the administrative side of the house and how we unite program areas,” Chalmers said. “It really is a beautiful partnership.”
Chalmers said he was friends with Fallon and the Reverend Ray Dunmyer, another retired priest who has been attending Prince of Peace for a long time.
“We work well together. Our communication models are really strong,” Chalmers said. “I think Father Fallon – he has the good of this community at heart and is incredibly supportive of me.”
Fallon said he thought Prince of Peace was in great hands with Chalmers because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and people had been receptive to him.
Chalmers said they each had different styles of preaching and celebrating Mass, and he certainly didn’t have Fallon’s Irish accent.
“But we are strongly aligned with the idea that a parish should be a welcoming and engaging place for all – that it should be a place where people not only find hope but joy,” Chalmers said. .
They both focus on the concepts of loving God and loving neighbors, he said.
Chalmers is originally from the Pittsburgh area, but has family ties to Birmingham. His great-grandfather left Scotland for the community of Ensley as a 16-year-old bricklayer. His grandfather worked in the steel industry with US Steel and ended up in Pittsburgh, so Chalmers said he kind of came full circle because the land Prince of Peace sits on came from US Steel.
Chalmers finished high school in New Jersey after his mother 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 research an employment law case and eventually transferred to the University of Alabama, where he graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in labor studies. work.
As an undergraduate, he became involved with the Student Coalition for Community Health and the university’s Rural Services Research Program, working to address health issues in rural Alabama. . Much of their work was to use schools to improve the health and wealth of communities, he said. When the program director retired, Chalmers was hired to replace him.
Chalmers later earned a master’s degree from Harvard University School of Education and married, but his first wife died at age 30 after battling cancer for a year and a half, he said. He met his second wife, Margaret, in 2003, and they married in 2004.
Raised as an Episcopalian, Chalmers said he was intrigued by the intersection of social outreach work with theology and decided to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest. He quit his job and graduated from Yale Divinity School in 2007.
He was chaplain to the Episcopal campus in Alabama for two years, then served as associate minister for missions and evangelism at an Episcopal church in Greenville, South Carolina. He focused a lot on a project in Haiti to integrate a vocational school into the work of the medical mission.
Chalmers worked on the Haiti Project for three years and, after digging deeper and deeper into Catholic theology, decided to seek ordination as a Catholic priest.
Because he was already married, he had to request a 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 bioethical issues, before becoming president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic School in Birmingham.
Chalmers remained at Cristo Rey until 2021, when he transferred to Prince of Peace and was concurrently named Executive Vice President of John Carroll Catholic High School, handling finance, strategic planning , alumni development and 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 is business manager of operations for Prince of Peace Parish and president of Prince of Peace Catholic School, said he was extremely excited about working with Chalmers.
His past work with nonprofits and schools makes him an ideal candidate 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 easier, Doss said.
“He’s had a year to figure out how the church works and who the players are,” Doss said. And now Chalmers has a chance to put his own unique signature on operations, he said.
Chalmers said some people are surprised to find out he is married and a “small handful” of people are expressing skepticism that most people are saying it must be OK if the pope and bishop approved it.
Although he is the only married priest in the Diocese of Birmingham (which covers the upper two-thirds of Alabama), there are at least three married Catholic priests in the Diocese of Mobile and about 250 nationwide, a- he declared.
Marsha Hernandez, a member of 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 personal experience it helps him understand a lot of our situations better,” she said.
He also speaks very freely about his personal experiences of 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 so you can absorb everything he says.
While many people at Prince of Peace are still getting to know him, she had the opportunity to work in the Holy Rosary pantry with people who know him well, and they were delighted with him, he said. she declared. Her background in fundraising and technology should also help Prince of Peace, she said.
Chalmers said he loved being at Prince of Peace. “As Catholic parishes go, it’s flourishing and complex,” he said. He wants to continue the rich liturgical and worship life of the church and continue to ask more questions about how Prince of Peace can show love to his neighbors, he said.