By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
For Jeanne Marie Miles, understanding the role of worship in the Catholic Church starts with knowing how to connect people with their faith.
“It’s about building relationships,” said Miles, who in August was named the new director of the Office of Worship, under the Ministries Offices for the Diocese of Dallas. “Worship is about our relationship with God, and this primarily means that we as Catholics build our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, it lives very close to the heart of anyone who is Catholic.”
As the director of the Office of Worship, Miles wears a number of hats, but she said she sees her primary role as helping the faithful forge and strengthen that relationship with God.
“For me, it is about helping people to develop that relationship and helping people to understand what all that relationship truly means,” Miles said. “It’s helping people know what worship is supposed to be and what worship truly can be. I work to help people to worship as best they can within their community.”
According to Miles, the role of the Office of Worship is to serve as a resource for parishes, parish staff and clergy in regard to any questions related to worship and to the liturgical parts of the church. The office also prepares major diocesan liturgies celebrated by either the bishop or auxiliary bishop at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe as well as any parish liturgies either bishop would celebrate.
“We also arrange for the televised Masses that are happening,” Miles said. “And provide formation for liturgical ministers of all sorts.”
As a guide for her work, Miles said she has to look no further than the Church and its storied history.
“The Church has been thinking, praying and writing about liturgy for more than 2,000 years,” said Miles, adding that she hopes to help people understand what the Church says about liturgy today. “The overriding goal of the Church is that everyone who participates in worship do so fully, consciously and actively. Everything that I do is to help facilitate that goal – both for people in the pews and for parish staff persons and clergy.”
At the heart of that mission, Miles said, is understanding the vision of the bishop.
“Because the bishop is the true liturgist of the diocese,” she explained. “He is the one whose liturgical vision I seek to understand and convey to the people of the diocese.”
Miles comes to Dallas from the Diocese of Cleveland, where she served eight years as the director of worship. For Miles, joining the Dallas diocese is also a homecoming. Miles attended St. Augustine Catholic School as a child and graduated from Bishop Lynch High School in 1990.
Her father, Alvin Kohr, still lives in the home she grew up in and remains active within the St. Philip the Apostle parish in southeast Dallas.
After graduating from Bishop Lynch, Miles attended Phillips University in Enid, Okla., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. During her time at Phillips, Miles spent a year in Japan as an exchange student. She called that year “one of the most formative experiences” of her life in terms of building self-confidence.
After college, Miles moved to Tennessee, where she taught elementary music education for three years in the Memphis public school system before God’s call began to pull at her heart.
“I realized that classroom teaching was probably not for me,” recalled Miles, who during that time was also involved with the music program at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis. “I started looking into graduate study, and I began looking into music programs that focus on sacred music.”
Miles made the move to Collegeville, Minn., where she would attend St. John’s University. Originally, her plan was to study sacred music, but she changed her focus to theology within her first semester there, eventually graduating with a master’s degree in theology with concentrations in liturgy and systematic theology.
While attending St. John’s, Miles had the opportunity to attend a mission trip to Kenya as part of an effort by Bishop John F. Kinney of the Diocese of St. Cloud to establish a sister diocese with Homa Bay, Kenya. Traveling with Catholic Relief Services, the group visited orphanages and small farms while visiting with the men and women in small communities.
“I really got to see what poverty looks like in a way that I had not seen before,” Miles said. “It profoundly changed the way I look at the world.”
Returning to the U.S., Miles was asked by Bishop Kinney to be a part of a group that visited schools and entities within the diocese to discuss the trip. Her musical background became a key component of those visits as she was able to write down some of the music and songs that the group heard while in Kenya.
“There was one song in particular that we heard in many places. It’s a very simple, call-and-response song that essentially says, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” Miles said. “I was able to teach that fairly easily to school children, parish groups and such.”
Once she graduated from St. John’s, Miles relocated to Kansas City, Mo., taking a job as the director of worship for St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church. She would call that parish home for nearly 12 years, meeting and marrying Blair Miles, a fellow Dallas native, in 2010 and starting a family with daughters Emily, 10, and Rachel, 8.
“I loved working for the parish. It was a wonderful family to be a part of, and it was a wonderful experience,” said Miles, who left the parish for an opportunity in the Diocese of Cleveland.
In Cleveland, Miles served as the director of worship for nearly eight years. Two-and-a-half years ago, though, Miles’ mother passed away and she felt the Holy Spirit pulling her once again.
“At the time of my mother’s death, she had not had the opportunity to really get to know her grandchildren. They have photographs of her, but not real memories,” she said. “That was really one of the greatest griefs at her death — the loss of that relationship.”
Following her mother’s death, Miles and her husband began looking for opportunities to return to Texas.
“The Holy Spirit brought everything into line,” she said. “And here I am — right where God needs me to be.”