Parish vitality, viability studies to be complete by the end of the year

By Jay Nies

An important phase in the long-term planning for sacramental ministry throughout the diocese is set to be completed by the end of this year.
Father Joseph S. Corel, diocesan vicar general, and Sister Kathleen Wegman of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, diocesan chancellor, are attending and facilitating deanery meetings in each of the diocese’s eight geographical regions.
The purpose is to help determine how a diminishing number of available priests will be allocated in the years to come.
Planning for the staffing of parishes is the fourth priority in Bishop John R. Gaydos’ 2010 pastoral plan for the diocese, “Christ’s Call … Our Response,” which was renewed and updated in 2016 after two years of extensive consultation.
That portion of the plan calls for a comprehensive study to be undertaken, “including consultation with laity, regarding parish viability, consolidation, clustering, creation of new parishes, and staffing by combinations of clergy and lay ministers appropriate to each parish.”
Much of this consultation has taken place over the past two years.
The people at each of the deanery meetings will work together to develop recommendations for possible reconfiguration of parishes and missions, in order to make the best use of the number of active priests available for service in the diocese. That number could fall by as many as 20 — from 66 to 46 — in the next five years, due to projected retirements.
That will leave the remaining priests traveling farther and farther to minister in the 95 parishes and 15 missions within the 22,000-square-mile expanse of this diocese.
“Obviously, this is not sustainable,” Fr. Corel noted.
Input from the leaders of each parish and mission has been gathered as part of recent efforts to gauge parish vitality and find avenues for more effective collaboration among parishes and between parishes and the diocesan Chancery staff.
That input will be taken into account at the discussions at the deanery meetings, as will the combined experience of the people who attend.
Benchmarks for gauging the vitality and viability of parishes and missions will include:
•core members who are willing to make the parish or mission a priority with time, talent and treasure;
•availability of a priest or appropriately trained deacon, religious or layperson to serve as the pastoral leader;
•active involvement of a significant number of members;
•demand for and ability to provide spiritual growth opportunities through participation in worship and parish programs;
•ability to hand the faith on to the next generation;
•commitment to evangelization, social ministry, service beyond the parish, and hospitality;
•the ability to cover costs and provide resources for programs;
•demographic trends and the local economy.

“New reality”

The deanery meetings are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Pastors and pastoral administrators in each deanery will meet with their parish leadership teams and finance councils to share any proposals for restructuring of the parishes and missions within that deanery.
Early next year, the recommendations from the deaneries will be combined into a single recommendation to be presented to Bishop Gaydos.
He and the diocesan Priests’ Personnel Board will then discuss the recommendation as part of the board’s deliberations on possible priest reassignments for this summer.
Bishop Gaydos asks all parishioners to continue praying for and supporting their parish, deanery and diocesan leadership throughout this important process.
A prayer, written by Father Daniel Merz, chairman of the diocesan Liturgical Commission, has been distributed to parishes and is included on this page.
Bishop Gaydos has requested that the prayer be prayed communally during all meetings in parishes and among the Chancery staff.

“A unique challenge”

“Christ is always building up His Church, specifically in the sacraments and the preaching of His Holy Word,” Bishop Gaydos noted. “As in ages past, we face a unique challenge of carrying out our sacramental, Eucharistic mission within the reality of changing demographics and a limited number of priests.”
The average age of priests active in the diocese is now 57 and continues to rise.
Priests are eligible to retire at 70, although many continue serving beyond that age. Church law requires every pastor to submit his resignation at age 75. The bishop can allow him to continue serving if the priest wishes to do so.
Priests of the Dominican order staff St. Thomas More Newman Center parish in Columbia. A priest of the Missionary Society of the Most Precious Blood is pastor of the Sedalia and Bahner parishes, and a Redemptorist priest is canonical administrator of the Cuba, Bourbon and Steelville parishes.
All three of those religious orders are actively discerning how to carry-out their mission with fewer priests.
Over the past five years, Bishop Gaydos has welcomed 18 priests from other countries to minister temporarily in this diocese. Of those, 14 are currently serving here, as is a priest of the St. Louis archdiocese.
This has helped broaden the worldview of many Catholics while allowing Mass to be offered each Sunday in many parishes with hope that God would call more priests from among the faithful to serve in this diocese.
“However, we have not in five years been able to call forth a sufficient number of homegrown seminarians, and our international priests will eventually be called back to serve in their home dioceses,” Fr. Corel stated earlier this year.
Since 2007, 13 men have answered the call to Priesthood for this diocese.
Eight men are in various stages of priestly formation for the diocese at this time.
No priestly ordinations are scheduled for the diocese in 2018.

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