Many pastors will soon spring into new parish assignments

| April 27, 2011 | 0 Comments

Spring always brings change and growth. This year, the changes will be numerous for pastors and parishioners in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The archdiocese has 21 openings in parishes for pastors, said Deacon Russ Shupe, director of clergy placement and diaconate.

“There are a few other [parish openings in addition to the 21] that are part of the whole domino effect” because of other pastors interested in the openings, Deacon Shupe said. “I think this is definitely larger than last year.”

Some parishes are open because of priest retirements and others because of the 12-year term limit for pastors that was implemented by Archbishop John Roach in 1985, after the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) approved a decree allowing limited terms, Deacon Shupe explained.

Change is good

Father Stan Mader, who formerly served on the Clergy Personnel Board, said that, overall, term limits are a good thing.

“The thing the 12-year limit does is it makes a priest re-evaluate his abilities,” he said. “If he’s been pastor of a 500-member parish, maybe it’s time for him to move up to a much larger one.”

Change is also good for parishes because “it keeps a place from coasting,” he added. “It’s good to have new eyes to see things.” A new pastor can come in and re-engage parishioners who have not been involved or allow others to move on to another ministry, he said.

After serving 11 years at Our Lady of the Lake in Mound — a large suburban parish — Father Mader left to take on the tri-parish cluster of St. John the Baptist in Vermillion, St. Mathias in Hampton and St. Mary in New Trier.

“I was intrigued with the idea of having three-parish work as a cluster, especially because the idea was to work with another cluster,” he said. “It’s on the cutting edge in the way a lot of church will have to happen now and in the future, really seeing ourselves as part of a bigger church.”

Father Mader, 55, said he turned down another assignment that was offered because the parish was small, had no school and no debt.

“I told the archbishop that this is the time when I have some experience and I have energy and there is more I can do for the archdiocese,” Father Mader said. “He called me back a week later and said, ‘You wanted a challenge, here you go.’”

Change can be difficult for pastors, parishioners and parish staff — “You do get attached to people and they get attached to you,” Father Mader acknowledged, but it can also be refreshing and renewing.

Special circumstances

However, sometimes it makes sense to extend a pastor’s term because of a pastor’s age, events in a parish or special circumstances.

“There is a priest in our archdiocese who is legally blind and he does very well where he is,” Father Mader said. “To uproot him and and have him learn a whole new house and 2,000 new voices, as opposed to 2,000 new faces, [would be] hard.”

One advantage to knowing when a pastor is expected to leave is that it allows time for planning the transition with parish leaders.

“That is something that we started to do [in Mound] with the idea that I would be leaving in a year,” he said. Typically, members of the Clergy Assignment Board meet with parish leaders to get an understanding of the parish’s needs and challenges, he added.

Deacon Shupe said, “I admire the guys who have been willing to take this on and consider something new because it’s opened up the possibilities for finding pastors who are a good fit for open parishes.”

If things have gone well for a pastor, he may not want to move to a new parish, but priests “recognize that there is a policy and that they made a promise of obedience,” he said. They also can feel good knowing that the next pastor can benefit from the work they have done.

A collaborative process

Deacon Shupe explained the process for changing pastors.

  • Pastors notify the archbishop if they plan to leave when their term is up, or they ask permission to have their term extended or to retire.
  • When the archbishop approves the change, the parish opening is sent to all the priests to consider.
  • Members of the Clergy Assignment Board meet with leaders at the open parish to get an understanding of the parish’s needs and challenges.
  • The board gathers information about available priests and tries to determine who may fit well and be interested in a particular parish.
  • The board prepares a recommendation for the archbishop, who makes the final decision.

“We have good discussions and I think we try to come to a consensus on the opening and recommendations,” Deacon Shupe said.

Father Mader offered one bit of advice to parishioners who will be getting new pastors: “Be good to whomever comes in. . . . Cut them some slack and know they are still trying to figure out where they put the cereal bowls at the same time as they are doing the first couple of funerals in the parish.”

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Category: Archdiocese Planning Process