‘I was practicing law with a Catholic twist’

New archdiocesan legal counsel Chris Arth and retiring legal counsel Jeanne Gorman discuss archdiocesan business. Gorman served as legal counsel for the past 15 years. Arth has been the parish administrator at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood for the past 16 years. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It almost goes without saying that when you’re an attorney, your job is about the law.

But that’s not quite right, according to Jeanne Gorman, archdiocesan legal counsel for the past 15 years. It’s also about people. And in her work, she has met a lot of really wonderful people.

“I enjoyed the work; I enjoyed the people,” said Gorman, a member of St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village. “I was committed to try to assist them with the legal needs of those who serve the archdiocese. I always said it was practicing law with a Catholic twist.”

Gorman was succeeded by Chris Arth on Nov. 4. She will remain available to help Arth with the transition until the end of the year.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann had high praise for Gorman.

“Jeanne has a real love for the church,” said the archbishop. “She is a person of integrity, has a great understanding of the law and is very intelligent. Because of her years of experience, she became very familiar with the particular issues that are important to the church.”

One of Gorman’s great accomplishments was overseeing the legal reorganization of the archdiocese. 

“Sometimes, from the outside, people think the church is very centralized,” said the archbishop. “But in many ways, we’re a very decentralized organization. We went through a process of the separate incorporation of the parishes and other entities.”

Gorman grew up a member of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor of arts in speech communications and human relations in 1972, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1978.

She was a research attorney for a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals and also worked for the firm of McAnany Van Cleave & Phillips, PA, of Kansas City, Kansas. Among her clients during her 20 years for the firm was the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

“As the work grew over the years, that’s pretty much what I confined my work to [at the law firm], because that also included Santa Marta, Villa St. Francis, Donnelly College, Catholic Charities and Catholic Cemeteries,” said Gorman. “I also represented all the parishes and schools.”

Gorman succeeded John Jurcyk as archdiocesan legal counsel on Aug. 1, 2004.

“A lot of the work is what you would do for any client that has a large organization, as does the archdiocese,” said Gorman. “There could be human resource issues, so you’re advising on employment matters. There could be property issues — buying and selling, and leasing real estate. 

“[There are] lots of school issues, which run the gamut of issues. Even though they are Catholic schools, they are governed, in part, by state statutes.”

And there was transactional work, contracts, overseeing litigation and working on safe environment issues. She did not handle criminal law, although she would pay attention to archdiocesan employees involved in criminal matters.

“A lot of the work is counseling people, helping them to arrive at a solution to a legal issue they have,” said Gorman. “It’s very collaborative work.”

She even found joy in her work.

“I think the joy has to be in working closely with people,” said Gorman. “It’s really exciting when you can help someone with a problem that has presented itself.

“I can’t stress enough how wonderful the people have been who have worked with me. They are kind and they work hard. They’re so committed to what they do and have such expertise in what they do.” 

“When I get to share a bit of that with them,” Gorman added, “it makes you happy. When you help someone get to a positive result, that’s a joyous thing.

 “I’ve always striven to try to get the best result we can get, and the best judgments we can get in light of the legal constraints out there.”

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