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Sister Lois Paha, OP, Ministers in Formation and Liturgy for Diocese of Tucson
Sister Lois Paha, OP, visits a church during an October 2013 pilgrimage. Preparing liturgy is one of her responsibilities as Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Tucson.

Sister Lois Paha, OP, visits a church during an October 2013 pilgrimage. Preparing liturgy is one of her responsibilities as Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Tucson. Photo Courtesy of Sister Lois Paha

October 19, 2023, Tucson, Arizona – Sister Lois Paha, OP, has been called a pioneer, always ready to try new work. That seems fitting for a Chicago native who has ministered for nearly 40 years in the Southwest. Those years have involved parish ministry, adult faith formation, formation of deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, and liturgical ministry. 

Sister Lois Paha, OP, (middle row, third from right) with other members of the Diocese of Tucson’s Common Formation Team. Photo Courtesy of Sister Lois Paha, OP

Sister Lois has spent 18 years in ministry as Director of Pastoral Services at the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona. She began ministering in the diocese in 2005 as Director of Formation. In 2008, Bishop Gerald. F. Kicanas combined several pastoral offices and asked Sister Lois to oversee them as Director of Pastoral Services. “We had seven employees and five offices until COVID, when we had to close offices,” Sister Lois said. 

Currently, Sister Lois directs the Common Formation Program for permanent deacon and lay ecclesial minister candidates; oversees diocesan liturgies; supports parishes in their liturgical ministries; serves on the Executive Committee for the current bishop, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger; and responds to other needs that might serve the pastoral ministry of the diocese.  

Her formation work has been one of the highlights of her ministry at the Diocese of Tucson. Through the Common Formation Program, she has been involved in the ordination of 101 permanent deacons and the certification of 75 lay ecclesial ministers. “Those ministers are still involved in the diocese in some way,” she said. “In doing the formation programs, I was always conscious that what they learn and what they carry out is going to touch many more lives. Seeing people grow in their faith, their spiritual life, and discovering their gifts for ministry have always been the highlight for me.” She is now in the midst of the four-year formation of her fifth cohort, scheduled to be completed in 2026.

In her focus on liturgy, Sister Lois works with Bishop Weisenburger on diocesan liturgies such as the Chrism Mass, involving the blessing of the oils, usually on the morning of Holy Thursday; the Red Mass for Catholic lawyers; the special Mass for Catholic doctors; and other Masses in which the bishop is involved. “Liturgy planning is my strength,” Sister Lois said, explaining that it involves everything from working with the bishop on the planning document to creating the worship aid and securing ministers for the liturgy. 

Sister Lois Paha, OP, at her desk
at the Diocese of Tucson. Photo
Courtesy of Sister Lois Paha, OP

“My ministry is really event-driven, so no day is really typical,” Sister Lois explained. “My day begins with a review of the emails and issues that are on the table. Depending on the events at hand, the day can be a short one or a long one.” For example, the formation program involves 12 hours of in-person instruction on the weekends and preparation of the materials beforehand.  

Sister Lois occasionally travels around the expansive diocese, which stretches from Yuma, Arizona, to California and as far south as the Mexican border. These trips are usually to lead a workshop on liturgy at one of the diocese’s 78 parishes or to lay ministers in rural parishes on how to conduct Communion services in the absence of a priest. 

Sister Lois’s ministries have not been what she expected when, in 1970, she earned a bachelor of science degree from Siena Heights College (University). “I thought I wanted to be a math and science teacher, and those were my strengths during the elementary teaching years,” she noted. 

However, when she worked with junior high students who were being formed in their faith through the perspective of Vatican II, she noticed that their parents were still focused on the 100 questions from the Baltimore Catechism that they had memorized as children. “I wanted to find a way to teach adults,” she said. “Without Vatican II, that wouldn’t have been an invitation.” 

Sister Lois served in Initial Formation for the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1978 to 1980. During that time, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching Religion from St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, in 1980. “It was designed for high school religion teachers but had all the basic current theology I needed to feel confident in parish work.” 

Sister Lois served five years at St. Augustine Parish in Phoenix, Arizona. Those years “taught me almost everything I needed to know when I got into diocesan work,” she said. “Flexibility, survival, creativity: all those skills for ministry surfaced as needed.” These skills prepared her for her 16 years as full-time Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Austin, Texas. 

At the end of her time in Austin, Sister Lois was looking for a new “pioneer job.” She began a Doctorate in Ministry in the Supervision Program at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas, where Adrian Dominican Sister Sarah Sharkey, OP, taught. 

After attending classes in June and January for four years, Sister Lois worked on her doctoral project: a curriculum of 24 clock hours – eight three-hour sessions – on topics that wives of permanent deacon candidates would need to accept their new role as the spouse of an ordained minister. 

By now, Sister Lois was ministering in the Diocese of Tucson. “I actually used the sessions as practice” in the Common Formation Program and implemented the curriculum in the studies of the Classes of 2017 and 2021, she said. “As I look back on it, one thing did lead to another and prepared me for the next step.”  

Sister Lois’s years of ministry have given her a broader perspective of the Church. “Working in diocesan ministry for 30 years has kept me in touch with at least the U.S. Church,” she said. “My work in the diocese has continued to keep me open to the great diversity of our Church. In the Diocese of Tucson, you don’t just live it one way.” 

Through her work overseeing the diocesan process to prepare for the Catholic Church’s global Synod on Synodality, Sister Lois confirmed that the people of the Diocese of Tucson experience “different areas, different communities, different prayer interests, and devotional life. The biggest thing is we’re a big Church, and there’s a lot of diversity out there.” 

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