Committee addressing unresolved parish planning recommendations

| February 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Seven years after the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis began implementing the mandates of a comprehensive strategic planning process, a new committee is working to reassess parts that never took effect. It plans to meet with pastors and leaders of parishes considering merging or clustering, and recommend solutions to Archbishop Bernard Hebda and his consultative councils.

Called the Strategic Plan Implementation Group, or SPIG, the committee is under the leadership of Marilou Eldred, retired president of the Catholic Community Foundation and St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, who served on the 2010 strategic planning task force. Most of the committee’s members are lay Catholics who are geographically and racially diverse and have different areas of expertise, including finance, parish leadership, parish planning and business.

A parishioner of Assumption in St. Paul, Eldred said that the committee is looking at about 20 parishes that the 2010 process identified for clustering, merging or another relationship with a different parish. In some cases, pastors have asked archdiocesan leadership to re-address their parishes’ situations and provide direction.

“We’re not starting over; we’re building on what was done before,” she said.

The committee plans to meet with parishes’ pastors, trustees, finance councils and pastoral councils, and listen to their challenges and ideas, and review essential information before preparing recommendations. It is beginning with parishes with the most urgent situations, in which pastors or leaders have asked archdiocesan leadership for help.

“We’re there mainly to listen, and we’re going to make that very clear from the outset,” Eldred said of the parish meetings that will help inform recommendations. “This is a time for us to hear the facts of the situation from parish leaders.”

Committee members include John Allgaier of Holy Name of Jesus, Medina; Judy Berger of St. Genevieve, Centerville; Dorice Law of Ascension, Minneapolis; Salvador Suarez Medina of St. Francis de Sales, St. Paul; Deacon George Nugent of All Saints, Lakeville; and Philip Paquette of St. Bernard, St. Paul.

“The goal of each plan is to best serve the people in living out their Catholic faith while at the same time exercising prudent stewardship with available and limited resources,” said Father Charles Lachowitzer, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the curia.

Completing the plan

Financial instability, aging parish buildings, a shortage of priests available for ministry and changing demographics are among the factors driving SPIG’s work, Eldred said.

“Our goal is to hear from the parish leaders about how they are perceiving the state of things at their parish, considering the financial situation, the Mass attendance, the geographic proximity to other parishes, [and] the condition of buildings and their building usage,” she said.

In 2014-2015, Eldred worked with Father John Bauer, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and a 10-person committee to follow up on the 2010 plan’s progress and make recommendations. They submitted a 19-page report to Bishop Lee Piché in June 2015 just days before he and Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned. Their report was tabled as the archdiocese transitioned leadership.

The 2010 planning process was the first time the whole archdiocese had been examined strategically. The final plan affected more than 40 percent of the parishes. In the past seven years, the number of parishes was reduced from 213 to 187 through mergers. Other parishes clustered or began to share resources.

The 2010 planning process considered projections for priest availability, changing demographics, geography, changing ministry expectations and parish finances. A variety of factors, however, led to some mandates not coming to fruition.

“Father Lachowitzer and Archbishop Hebda are absolutely committed to bringing this to some closure,” Eldred said.

Archbishop Hebda said it’s important for archdiocesan leaders to respond to parishes that request help, but that he waited until he had “a better feel for the archdiocese” before moving forward with parish planning.

“We have a few parishes who have been asking for assistance or direction for the future, and I didn’t feel that it would be just to wait any longer in addressing their needs,” he said, adding that the goal is to help “our parishes to be dynamic evangelizing communities focused on the Church’s perennial mission.”

It’s also important for the planning processes to get ahead of potential pastoral or financial crises, Father Lachowitzer said. “Through good consultations between pastor, parish leadership and parishioners, some of the stress that comes with clusters and mergers is abated, and the parishioners feel part of the process,” he said.

Catholics’ emotional resistance to change can be among the greatest roadblocks to achieving successful parish transitions, Eldred said.

“It’s parishioners’ strong attachment to their parish that may go back many generations of families,” she said. “It may be difficult to look beyond that to see how the parishioners from parish X could become a part of parish Y, or even cluster with parish Y, not to mention merge.”

While the 2010 process was confidential, Eldred said the current process is going to “be as transparent as it can be” without harming the deliberation process. Archbishop Hebda wants to receive short-term and long-term recommendations as the committee reaches them and is expected to announce changes as he determines them, rather than reveal all of the parish changes on a single weekend, as was the case in 2010.

SPIG was to begin its parish work Feb. 21 in a meeting with leaders of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Boniface in northeast Minneapolis. The 2010 plan slated St. Boniface to cluster with All Saints in Minneapolis, but that changed when the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter began serving All Saints in 2013. By 2015, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Boniface were working toward a merger. Father Daniel Griffith, pastor of  Our Lady of Lourdes and parochial administrator of St. Boniface, asked the archdiocese to reassess their situation.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not unique in prioritizing strategic planning, Eldred said, adding, “I think this is just a regular ‘modus operandi’” in most dioceses.

She advises parishes that are flagged for change to find a way to celebrate the transition, especially if there are feelings of loss.

“As you anticipate a major change in the parish, think about how you’re going to bring closure to what you’re leaving or giving up, and how you’re going to celebrate the new opportunity that this presents,” she said.

Eldred advises Catholics who are wondering if their parish may be affected to review the 2010 strategic plan.

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