Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted installed Dr. Maria Chavira as the new chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix at a Mass Aug. 20 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. Surrounded by her family, the new chancellor was introduced to diocesan staff.
Chavira was born and raised in Tucson where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology as well as a master’s and doctoral degree in educational psychology from the University of Arizona. She was a faculty member at Mesa Community College for 16 years where she taught research methods, statistics, developmental psychology and culture and psychology.
Chavira said she will miss working with college students. “Once a year I taught Psychology 101,” Chavira said. “I like the freshmen and teaching has been a big part of what I’ve done.”
Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said that Chavira is a gentle and wise spirit who is well-equipped for her new role in the diocese.
“She is a woman of faith — that’s key and foremost,” Fr. Adamson said. “She is a woman who loves the Lord and loves the Church, and beyond that, she has a wonderful education, experience and possesses the gift of a good mind.”
The chancellor of a diocese holds a canonical office and is the chief record-keeper, overseeing both the archives and chancery staff and acting as a secretary and a notary of the curia to certify documents.
At the Aug. 20 Mass, Chavira made a profession of faith and took an oath of fidelity to the Church, something Fr. Adamson said is the norm for pastors and official positions.
During his homily, Bishop Olmsted noted that, “No troubles will come that are too strong for the love of God and His Church.”
“These words mean so much to me that I had them framed and put them on my desk to remind me when things might get really busy that nothing is too strong for God,” Chavira wrote to The Catholic Sun a few days after the Mass.
Family and faith
Chavira said that her Catholic faith always played a central role in her life. Growing up in Tucson, visits to her maternal grandmother on Christmas Eve began with prayer.
“Everybody would show up at her house,” Chavira said. “And we couldn’t eat, we couldn’t open presents, we couldn’t do anything until we said a whole rosary together on our knees — the entire family — in Spanish.”
Chavira said the moment she became a mother changed her world. She recalled preparing to defend her doctoral dissertation in 1996 and expecting her first child, a son. Her doctor examined her Oct. 22, the day before she was to defend the dissertation, and made a startling announcement: she was to deliver the baby that very night.
“Right then and there my world stopped and I thought, my gosh, what’s happened? My baby… I had an emergency C-section,” Chavira said. “When I saw his face, I knew right then and there that my world had changed. And so I went home and I told my husband, ‘Here I am a person who has training in developmental psychology — I have to live what I say.’”
Chavira went on to defend her dissertation the following month and walked with her graduating class, carrying then-newborn son Michael. Her career shifted toward teaching at the college level until last month when she was appointed chancellor.
Chavira’s husband, Billy, is in the formation process for the permanent diaconate and the two have been going through the formation process together. At one of the sessions, Deacon Doug Bogart gave a talk about the various charisms. Chavira discovered she had a charism for administration, something she plans to draw on in her role as chancellor.
Prayer is something the new chancellor cherishes and she said she is thankful that she’ll be able to attend daily Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. She also spoke of her devotion to the Morning Prayer of the Church.
“I believe that when you sit down quietly in the morning and you focus on God first, that guides the whole day,” Chavira said. “It helps me get centered in regard to listening to that inner voice inside. With this position [as chancellor] I need to be rooted in prayer, so that is something that I hold very dear.”