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June 5, 2008

Review of "Shaping Catholic Parishes," newly published book about the many, diverse ministers and ministries in U.S. parishes today

In this edition:
-- "Shaping Catholic Parishes. Pastoral Leaders in the 21st Century."
-- Voices of parish leaders.
-- Diversity in ministry.
-- Connecting with young-adult Catholics via the Internet.
-- Collaborating in ministry with someone quite different from you.
-- Priests and laity together in ministry.
-- Commission model in parish pastoral planning.

Shaping Catholic Parishes: Pastoral Leaders in the 21st Century

The many stories about the ministers and ministries in U.S. Catholic parishes that are told in a just-released book titled "Shaping Catholic Parishes" offer "a snapshot of the life of the church in our day," says Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D. It is a snapshot "complete with a full description of our wide diversity, of the enormous challenges we face in a new reality and of the breadth of the talent that both the lay and the ordained bring to serving the people of God," the bishop adds. He contributed the Foreword to this 174-page, very easy-to-read volume.

"Shaping Catholic Parishes" -- said to be the first in a planned five-part series of books -- was published this May under the auspices of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project (Loyola Press, Chicago). The project's ministry summit, held April 20-23 in Orlando, was discussed in the May 20 edition of this jknirp.com newsletter. Bishop Cupich serves as the project's episcopal adviser.

Carole Ganim, the book's editor, points out that the ministers one encounters in the pages of this book and their stories "represent the diversity of the American Catholic experience." Ganim is a professor of English at Miami University of Ohio. She writes:

"I learned about the multitude of names for people doing parish ministry: parish life coordinator, pastoral associate, deacon, canonical pastor, youth minister, adult minister, pastoral life director and so on."

A goal of this book is "to present the real people of the church, in their own voices and in their own idiosyncratic personhood," Ganim explained. As she went about her work and listened to those whose ministries are described by the book, Ganim said she found that "each story was fascinating and inspirational. Here were ordinary people doing day-to-day things in ordinary ways, ways that added up to the extraordinary. Here were people like the people in the Gospel stories, the folk of the community tending to their own."

"Shaping Catholic Parishes" offers a rewarding look into the life of America's diverse parishes: clustered or merged churches; rural and urban churches; churches served by priests with a multiple-parish ministry; multicultural parishes. The leadership roles and the collaboration of priests, deacons, religious women and laity are described.

The book ($11.95) can be ordered from any of the six partners of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project: the National Federation of Priests Councils; the National Association of Church Personnel Directors; the National Association of Diaconate Directors; the National Association for Lay Ministry; the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development; and the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association. I requested my copy from the NFPC at 333 North Michigan Ave., Suite 1205, Chicago, IL 60601; phone, 888-271-6372.

In the review of "Shaping Catholic Parishes" that follows, the book's riches can only be hinted at, for it contains 20 chapters, each of which looks inside a different parish to tell the story of ministry in that place. There are, in addition, three chapters of commentary. Yet, it takes only a few hours to read the entire book. And this book might serve well as a resource for discussion among priests and other parish and pastoral leaders, as well as a tool for pastoral planning.

Listening to Parish Leaders

Pam Minninger is the pastoral minister at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Gluckstadt, Miss. In the chapter of "Shaping Catholic Parishes" that profiles her ministry, she says:

"Presently at St. Joseph I have an 'angel' who comes into the office once a week to handle the bookkeeping. Otherwise, I am the only person in the office, and I do everything from taking out the trash to counseling parishioners; from watering the plants to advocating for annulments; from typing the bulletin to visiting our sick, elderly and shut-ins; from answering the phone to attending deanery meetings. I am also involved in the lay-ministry formation program offered by the diocese, working toward my certificate in theological studies."

Adam Ruiz is another parish minister whom readers will enjoy meeting in "Shaping Catholic Parishes." He serves in Hispanic ministry at Annunciation Parish in Shelbyville, Ky. The parish is a center for Hispanic ministry in the Louisville Archdiocese.

"Connecting the real lives of the people with the ministry of the church" is the key, Ruiz says of his work. So he "learned firsthand" about the problems people face in his area: "underemployment, cultural shock, language barriers, immigration status, domestic violence, alcoholism, prostitution, parallel society."

Ruiz says that what continues to motivate him in his challenging ministry "is a desire to draw close to the people where they live and therefore experience the real questions and the real meaning of ministry." He continues: "We must do what Jesus did -- we've got to do some walking. We should no longer invite the people into our reality, but humbly ask them if we can share in their reality."

Then there is the story of Father Daniel Lamothe's ministry at St. Bernard's Church in Keene, N.H., and how he became a mentor in that setting to other priests. "Eventually, I became pastor of four parishes, five churches and two other priests, and we developed a new model for clustering as we created the Clairvaux Center, a place for centralized offices for all the churches and a training ground for newly ordained priests," he says.

In describing this program "to train young priests to be pastors," Father Lamothe says that the priests "live at St. Bernard's for four years and work in the field in the five churches I pastor. I serve as pastor, mentor, companion-in-ministry, brother and friend to the young priests."

For example, Father Lamothe mentors the young priests "in working with lay people in meetings; sometimes I serve as a kind of referee," he says, adding: "I have to help them to listen to people, to work with them, to work out a compromise. They learn how to work with the parish council and how to collaborate with the people."

Sister of St. Joseph Maryellen Kane, parish life coordinator at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Queens, N.Y., says that she "firmly believed that all the gifts and talents we needed were present in the community." She saw her "role as helping the community to recognize their gifts and to develop leaders."

Sister Kane says, "Since I am the only full-time minister in the parish, the development and mentoring of lay leaders for ministry is a top priority." She "discovered the hard way that no one volunteers for anything because of an announcement in the bulletin."

Diversity in Ministry

"Shaping Catholic Parishes" includes three chapters of commentary - one by a theologian, the others by a sociologist and a psychologist. The theologian is Zeni Fox of Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.

"One characteristic quickly noted from a simple listing of the persons whose stories are included [in the book] is that of diversity," Fox says. "We have stories of men and women; of ordained and lay people, vowed religious and permanent deacons; of those holding advanced degrees and those never having finished grade school; of persons older and younger, and of varying races and ethnicities; of individuals from very large and very small parishes, in urban, suburban, inner-city and rural communities." And their roles are diverse too.

Fox points out that diversity is a characteristic of the times in which we live - that "in every arena of work, greater specialization, greater diversity, is emerging."

Sulpician Father Anthony Pogorelc provided the sociological commentary. The stories of pastoral leaders found in the book "weave a tapestry that enables us to see the diverse characteristics of those who are called to ministry," he comments. He says the ministers profiled in the book come across as "well developed, both humanly and spiritually; they are strong and mature individuals. This is what enables them to respond to situations and circumstances that they may not have willed or have been able to control."

Connecting With Young-Adult Catholics Through the Internet

The welcoming role the Internet can fulfill in parish life is explored in a chapter of "Shaping Catholic Parishes" about the young-adult community at St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Francisco, Calif. In this chapter John Brust, who serves on the steering committee for the young-adult community at the church and who has spoken at national conferences on the use of technology in parishes, says:

"Today, young adults can find the parish (and our young adult group) on the Internet (at www.svdpsf.org) and stay current with activities by visiting our Web site or subscribing to the weekly e-newsletter."

After reading that, I decided to see for myself what the parish does online for young adults. I encourage readers of this newsletter to do the same. Quite possibly this Web site can serve as a model for others. The site is so clear and easy to use that it won't leave a young-adult visitor wondering for even a moment whether the parish indeed has something of interest to offer.

Brust says in the book that the young-adult group's success "comes from providing a balance of spiritual, social and service-oriented activities for Catholics in their 20s and 30s, and from having a pastor, Father John K. Ring, who offers our community his complete support." The parish offers "a path for young Catholics looking for a transition back to the church," says Brust.

Visiting the Web site, I found that it begins very simply with the parish's name, beneath which one immediately notices these four clickable categories of material: "church"; "calendar"; "school"; and "young adults." Obviously, then, young adults who visit the site won't be left hunting for the materials related to them. The young-adult materials cannot be missed!

When one clicks into the "young adults" section of the parish site, a veritable host of clickable categories related to young-adult life in the parish opens up, including:

-- A "welcome" section.

-- An "about us" section. ("The group is primarily made up of single, professional Catholics in their 20s and 30s, but all are welcome, including young married couples -- of which we have many. Our members cover the spectrum in how they define and practice their faith," it says.)

-- The "Monday events" section. (These events are "the foundation" of this young-adult community, every second and fourth Monday of the month, exploring faith and values together, getting details on upcoming activities, making new friends.)

-- A "social" section. (About bike trips, ski trips, parties, attending a sporting event together, etc.)

-- The "service" section. (Specific opportunities to serve others in the area are included.)

-- A "spiritual" section. (About Masses, retreats, small faith groups.)

-- An "FAQ" section.

-- The "leadership" section. (Opportunities to serve within the community as a leader are explained.)

-- "Links" to other Web sites young-adult Catholics may find of interest.

-- The "photo albums" section.

-- And "prayer postings." (Requesting prayers for family members, friends, etc.).

The Web site says, "Whether you go to church every week or haven't been to Mass in years, you are welcome to join us!" It also explains that "people become part of St. Vincent's young-adult community for various reasons.

"Some come for the social aspects and to meet others with similar backgrounds. Others have questions about their faith that they explore through our Monday night events. Some want to become more active in community service activities. Still others feel that in order to grow and be strong in their faith, they need to surround themselves and be active in a community of other Catholics like themselves. Whatever your reason, we invite you to join us at our next event."

Collaborating in Ministry With Someone Quite Different From You

One of the most compelling stories told in "Shaping Catholic Parishes" is that of Mercy Sister Justina Heneghan, pastoral administrator, and Father Philip Erickson, canonical minister, at St. John the Apostle Church in Brandenburg, Ky. It seems that the two are quite different from each other. Yet, Sister Heneghan says that when they began to talk to each other, they discovered "that we were both committed to the good of the people. This conviction became the basis for our relationship."

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, a clinical psychologist who contributed the book's chapter of commentary by a psychologist, spoke of Father Erickson and Sister Heneghan, and of how "a priest and woman religious with vastly different backgrounds and perspectives on pastoral care were able to transcend their differences because of their deep commitment to the people of the parish."

Sister Markham said that the ability of these two leaders "to engage in ongoing dialogue as a means of working through their differences was likely more significant for the life of that faith community than either of them could have imagined" - particularly in an age when "differences often escalate to silent standoffs or result in the formation of entrenched subgroups and factions."

Sister Markham believes it is possible for leaders to "connect people in a positive way so that parishioners who may have widely differing views about important matters realize that they are all invested in promoting the common goods of life, respect, mercy and forgiveness."

Priests and Laity

Something that came through in the stories of ministry and ministers told in "Shaping Catholic Parishes" was "the important role that high-quality pastoral leadership, in particular that of wise and visionary priests, played in the development of the vocations of some of these ministers and in the effectiveness of pastoral institutions," Sulpician Father Anthony Pogorelc said in his sociological commentary for the book.

Pogorelc said: "In these stories, no one sets lay ministry in opposition to priestly ministry. At this juncture in the history of the church, it is crucial that laity, clergy and hierarchy take one another seriously. That means talking with and listening to one another. Competition or mistrust between laity and clergy must not be allowed to fester."

Still, the challenges in the relationship of priests and laity in ministry might be identified as a theme or subtheme of the book's many chapters. The book includes numerous examples of people serving in parishes that don't have a resident priest. At least one minister wonders aloud what would happen to her if the diocese were at some point in the future to assign a resident priest there.

In his Foreword to the book, Bishop Cupich said that Father Pogorelc "rightly remarks that none of the participants sets lay ministry in opposition to ordained ministry, and in fact they value both. Yet the great enthusiasm for calling lay men and women to share their gifts in church ministry expressed here does not seem matched by a similar urge to invite young men to study for the priesthood."

Bishop Cupich added: "This is not to say that those interviewed are lukewarm or opposed to vocations to the priesthood. It does highlight an urgent need to promote in the church a sense of corporate responsibility for vocations and for addressing the serious shortage of priests. The church community is whole when Christians exercise their baptismal vocation and priests minister to them, in Christ's name, through their vocation to the ordained ministry." At the same time, the bishop said that "there is an authenticity to the acts recorded in this book that is compelling."

(For a discussion in this newsletter of Bishop Cupich's speech to the April ministry summit in Orlando, see the edition dated May 20.)

Commission Model

Franciscan Father Gregory Hartmayer, pastor at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Ga., discusses the commission model followed in that growing and very diverse parish in the Atlanta suburbs.

This priest is just one of those who speaks in the book about the kinds of steps taken by parishes to plan and evaluate their ministries. In fact, reading what all these others do to "make things work" -- others in situations that may resemble your own in important ways -- may be one of the best reasons to spend some time with this valuable new book.

Father Hartmayer says that St. Philip Benizi "is structured around the pastoral council and its five commissions. Every bona fide organization and ministry falls under one of the commissions. The commission model works well in a large church," he says.

What happens is that "the people bring to the appropriate commission things they see from the pew and items they perceive as needing action," Father Hartmayer says. He explains that "the commission model is a different way to run a parish, and it works well for us. Things get done because they are planned, talked about and acted upon by the people."

Father Hartmayer says: "I have been ordained 28 years, and over the past 12 years I am still learning about what it means to be a priest. And I am learning it from the people."