Last April, the Very Reverend Edward Fellhauer summed up his tenure as president, CEO, and dean of Saint Francis Community Services more succinctly than anyone else could. “God wants us to take care of these children,” he said. The fifth president of Saint Francis, known to all as Fr. Ed, announced earlier this year that he would retire at the end June of 2014, after more than 21 years of service.
For Fr. Ed, leading an organization like Saint Francis Community Services has always been a vocation that entails much more than fiscal and regulatory oversight.
“Saint Francis was founded by Fr. Bob Mize, a priest in the Episcopal Church, so it’s always had that connection running through its history,” he said. “As president, you’re not just responsible for the financial health of the organization; you also have a commitment to the spiritual health. We’re not in the business of evangelism and converting people, but we are a faith-based organization. That’s who we are, and that thread really does make a difference.”
As a result, Fr. Ed has always considered pastoral care a vital component of his leadership ministry, and he has worked tirelessly with his senior staff members to ensure that the spiritual well-being of employees, as well as the children and families they serve, remains a priority.
Spirituality is, after all, the seed from which his ministry at Saint Francis grew.
“I started as a Chaplain on the Ellsworth campus,” Fr. Ed explained. “After a short time, I also became the Chaplain at Salina West, and I drove back and forth between the two campuses.”
“I didn’t plan on social work”
Fr. Ed came to Saint Francis in 1993 with extensive experience in social work and child and family services. He met his wife, The Rev. Sheila Fellhauer, at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Following ordination, Mother Sheila answered a call to serve as vicar of a small mission in Oklahoma.
“I really thought I was going to end up in a parish, too; I didn’t plan on social work,” Fr. Ed remembered. “But when we got married, and I moved to Woodward, which had only one Episcopal Church—the one where my wife was the priest—I had to get a job. I initially went to work for the State of Oklahoma as a child welfare investigator, and then I began working at a guidance clinic leading parenting classes with families.”
Later, Mother Sheila answered a call to St. Dunstan’s in Tulsa, and Fr. Ed went to work for the Tulsa Mental Health Association, which provided support groups and housing programs for the mentally ill, as well as serving as the part-time priest for a small Episcopal Church outside of Tulsa. That’s where he was when the bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma put forth his name for the chaplaincy position with Saint Francis. Fr. Ed took the job and began driving back and forth between Oklahoma on the weekends and Kansas for the weekdays.
“I think, before it was all done, I’d given training in seven different dioceses.”
While Chaplain, Fr. Ed helped co- facilitate a sex offender treatment program and began sitting in on classes run by Cheryl Rathbun, the current vice president of clinical services for Saint Francis, who was a therapist at the time.
“I was listening to the kind of work that went on and was trying to understand the cycle of abuse and what kind of prevention aspect we could glean from it,” Fr. Ed said. “I took information I learned from sitting in on these sessions and – working from a prevention standpoint – put together a booklet called ‘Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.’ Because that turned out to be one of the few resources available at that time when the Episcopal Church—indeed churches of most denominations— began to see the importance of providing child safety training for priests and others in positions of authority in the church, I soon found myself providing training to several different dioceses around the country.
I think, before it was all done, I’d given training in seven different dioceses.”
After spending two years in Kansas, Fr. Ed accepted a position as executive director of Saint Michael’s, a residential treatment facility in Picayune, Mississippi, operated by Saint Francis for persons who were dually-diagnosed with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Mother Sheila joined him a year later. For a time, she served as a chaplain at Saint Michael’s, and then she accepted the call to be the rector of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Picayune. They spent seven years in Mississippi, until a search committee selected Fr. Ed to succeed the retiring president of Saint Francis, The Rev. Canon Phillip J. Rapp. In 2002, Fr. Ed began as president, dean, and CEO of Saint Francis and worked out of the central offices in Salina, Kansas. The following year, Mother Sheila joined him.
She has served Saint Francis through these past eleven years as the chaplain for spiritual wellness.
“More professional, more accountable, and more data-driven”
That was 12 years ago, and Saint Francis was already a much more complex organization than the one Fr. Ed had joined 10 years prior.
“It was different,” he said. “When it was much smaller, we basically just did residential programs. That was the history and heritage of Saint Francis.
Now, we provide a lot more diverse programming; our residential program is actually a small part of what we do.”
The beginning of those changes occurred in 1996, when the State of Kansas moved to a private contractor model for child and family services. In 2000, the State awarded Saint Francis the contract for the West Region, and in 2013, under Fr. Ed’s leadership, Saint Francis was additionally awarded the contract for the Wichita Region. The agency now serves 9,000 children and families in 75 Kansas counties, in addition to areas in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Mississippi.
Such expansion has required Saint Francis Community Services to adopt a more sophisticated operating model.
“We have really had to be more professional, more accountable, and more data-driven,” said Fr. Ed. “The old-style residential facility that Saint Francis had was more personality-driven. You can’t run a contract and handle all the responsibilities that go with it in the same way. It has to be professional, or the ship will sink under its own weight. At the same time, however, I considered it essential to my call to maintain our spiritual foundation and to implement in everything we do and every decision we make the four tenets of what we call Therapy in Christ: Unconditional Love; Forgiveness; Accountability; and Prayer.”
“Doing the work of Saint Francis is doing God’s work”
That professionalism and spiritual base, combined with a strong regard for Saint Francis Community Services’ residential heritage, has resulted in one of Fr. Ed’s most significant accomplishments as president of Saint Francis – construction of the new Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility at Salina West. Last October, he helped break ground for a new building that will replace the nearly century-old structure originally purchased by Fr. Bob Mize 67 years ago.
“It’s been a long time coming; it needed to happen. Many people were involved in it—not just me—but it did seem like it needed a push to get it going. My role was to perceive that the time was now and that we must not give up. It seems fitting because it is where my ministry at Saint Francis began. For me, it all started in the residential treatment facilities of Ellsworth and Salina West. It’s kind of like coming full circle.
“At the ground-breaking, an employee that I’ve known for a long time came up to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve been hearing about this building for about 20 years.’ And, I was thinking, with gratitude to God, ‘We have actually broken ground; it’s finally being built!’ It will be a state-of- the-art facility with a chapel, and it will be good for the kids.”
“Good for the kids.” That sentiment motivated the founder of Saint Francis, Fr. Bob Mize, back in 1945, and it has inspired Fr. Ed each day of his twenty-one years of ministry at Saint Francis.
“God wants us to take care of these children,” affirms Fr. Ed. Fr. Ed is, above everything else, a priest. Doing the work of Saint Francis is doing God’s work.
“There have been a lot of people who have been involved in this organization in many different ways over the years – many I’ve known for decades,” he said. “There is a common thread they’ve all shared, and that is a passion for this work of helping children and families. That has been consistent. Saint Francis has that important faith-based, spiritual piece, and we also have that God-given and Holy-Spirit-guided real commitment to making a difference in the lives of children and families.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Hi-Lites. You can view past HiLites here.