By Michelle Johnson
Special to The Texas Catholic
Perhaps the four most impactful words Barbara Landregan has said in her life are “It’s not your fault.” She has said those words many times over the 14 years she was director of the Safe Environment Program for the Dallas Diocese, up until her retirement in December.
The program uses training, screening, background checks and other tools to mitigate the risk of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Its implementation is consistent across every parish, school and diocesan agency. In addition to overseeing the program, Landregan’s role was also one of providing empathy and a kind ear.
“It’s a ministry of listening. It’s simply listening and hearing,” Landregan said. “It’s caring, being sympathetic. I am impressed by the faith of so many of the victims. Despite everything, they have been consistent in their faith.”
Landregan is leaving behind a legacy of healing but said she has been personally struck by the graciousness of those she helped through the program. Before Landregan’s husband, Steve, passed three years ago, the couple had been working together but in different roles for years with the diocese. Bishop Edward J. Burns said their combined legacy simply cannot be replaced.
“The Diocese of Dallas has benefited so much by her work and the work of her husband,” Bishop Burns said. “As the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, I am grateful for what they have done together as well as independently in order to build up the Church in north Texas. I continue to utilize the good work that Steve Landregan has done, and I know for certain that we will continue to benefit from the good work of Barbara Landregan for years to come. They have left a lasting mark on the Diocese of Dallas and on behalf of all the faithful, we are most thankful for the many things they have contributed.”
After her husband passed, Landregan took on even more responsibility with the program, adopting a role with victims’ assistance. She was the one who picked up the phone when victims called and was often the first voice they heard after making the difficult decision to tell someone.
“It’s not counseling; I listen,” she said. “When a victim calls, I’m the person who takes the information. After receiving the information, I inform Child Protective Services, the police, and the bishop. Many of these men and women have carried this hurt but they are really survivors. Many of them are still active in the church. Many times, they have told somebody but weren’t believed so that’s a big part of it: hearing them and believing them.”
Gregory Caridi, chancellor for the Dallas Diocese, said he was often touched by her empathy after so many years in the role.
“I started here 2019 and in a lot of ways she was a mentor to me even though she worked for me,” Caridi said. “She knew everything about the diocese, guiding me to fully understand the safe environment process beyond just the law. To understand victims, to understand how important Safe Environment really is to the Church on a pastoral level. She came with a great deal of wisdom and a lot of experience. She very much acted on an emotional, personal level when she was talking to victims. I was always struck by her ability to be that emotionally invested.”
Although she was raised in the Methodist church, Landregan converted to Catholicism in 1964. She not only embraced her faith, but she also studied it. “Women my age, born and raised in the south, many of us went back later and finished college,” she said. “I was 55 and went and got two master’s degrees and a paralegal certificate.”
One of those degrees is in pastoral ministry, which Landregan used to fuel a teaching career. She taught Old Testament at the University of Dallas, Great World Religions at Brookhaven Community College, Theology of Christian Marriage and Theology of Christian Ethics at Our Lady of the Lake University, and several other ministries and classes over the years.
“What we know about the Church is what our families celebrate, not what can be learned at the college level,” she said. “I went back and studied scripture.”
Ever the student, Landregan is considering going back to school in her retirement, if she can fit it in with traveling to visit her three children, five stepchildren and 15 grandchildren. Her late husband, Steve, was a former editor of The Texas Catholic and was a longtime archivist and historian for the diocese.
“Life is just a series of adjustments,” she said. “Retirement is another adjustment to the future. I was thinking of going back to law school or maybe getting a doctorate in public policy from UTD.”
As she leaves the Safe Environment office, she is encouraged by how the program focuses on prevention of abuse. She pointed out how important it is to realize that background checks only address the potential abuser’s past.
“The prevention program is the aspect that’s most important,” she said. “We just know so much more about the grooming process, especially since partnering with the Child Advocacy Center. It’s not just our problem, it’s a big problem for society. We are in a good position. We know more now than we did before.”
She attributes the effectiveness of the program in no small part to Bishop Burns, who visits parishes in the diocese, meeting with victims and listening to their experiences.
“Barbara Landregan has been a true blessing to the Diocese of Dallas,” Bishop Burns said. “Through all the years that she has worked with the Church in north Texas, she has beautifully demonstrated a professionalism, a grace, a competency, and a joyful fervor — Barbara has been an absolute gift to the diocese. Everyone who has worked with her has been impressed with her eagerness to work with others and the wonderful respect and care she gives to those around her. In particular, in her years as the safe environment director and victims’ assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Dallas, she has dealt with the most difficult issues within our Church and has met victims survivors with compassion, charity, and care. She has represented the Church well in the mission of healing those who have been wounded by ministers who should have been trusted.”
Landregan said she hopes she represented the Church with dignity and respect for victims.
“I hope that I would have been considered kind and responsive,” she said. “You’re representing the Church. I hope I did that intelligently.”