Parish planning initiative seeks input from faithful


The archdiocese is preparing for the next step in the pastoral planning initiative outlined by Archbishop Dolan last November, and the parishes will be significantly involved.

“Our focus in all of this is on the parish,” said Auxiliary Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, vicar general, at a planning meeting that he led at St. Joseph’s Seminary Jan. 20. He added, “The archbishop wants, and is encouraging, the collaboration of all the faithful in the archdiocese.”

The meeting was one of seven that have taken place for priests and lay parish representatives who will help to gather information and relay it to archdiocesan leaders.

“What you tell us will be heard,” Bishop Sullivan said at the meeting, “and it will go into the mix as we develop this process. We need to hear from you.”

The planning initiative has been named “Making All Things New.” Each parish has been asked to form a three-person committee to assist with the initiative. The members of those parish committees attended the meetings for the various vicariates. At each meeting, archdiocesan administrators presented aspects of the initiative. Participants had an opportunity to ask questions.

The Jan. 20 meeting brought together representatives from three vicariates: South Shore, Northern Westchester and Putnam, and Rockland County.

Bishop Sullivan, as moderator, introduced the speakers. They were Msgr. Douglas Mathers, vice chancellor; Sister Eileen Clifford, O.P., vice chancellor; Father Thomas Devery, director of Priest Personnel; Sister Joan Curtin, C.N.D., director of the Catechetical Office; William Whiston, chief financial officer of the archdiocese; and Frank Napolitano of the Office of Parish Finance.

A key theme at the meeting was the importance of the planning initiative as a way to put the resources of the Church and its people to the best and wisest use as a means of strengthening the local Church and the life of faith in the archdiocese.

Among the issues discussed by the speakers is the continuing decrease in the number of priests in the archdiocese. The priests have been asked for their thoughts regarding the planning initiative, and Bishop Sullivan remarked at the meeting that they have said it is important to consider new ways of carrying out parish ministry.

One of the topics discussed was the survey to be distributed to the faithful in all of the parishes of the archdiocese. Members of the parish committees will assist in distributing the surveys, and will tabulate the responses and return them to the archdiocese.

Surveys are to be returned by Feb. 25.

Bishop Sullivan said that the process will be “very, very transparent,” and that comments are welcome from everyone.

“We want to have a wide conversation,” he said.

Msgr. Mathers is the pastor of St. John the Evangelist parish in Manhattan. In his presentation, he noted that one of the goals of the Making All Things New initiative is “to spiritually renew and energize the parishes.” He discussed the importance of two criteria, “vitality and viability,” in determining how well a parish is carrying out its mission to serve the faithful and how it needs to plan for the future.

He said that the planning initiative is “very much a work in progress.”

“That’s why we’ve been consulting with as many people as we can,” he said.

Sister Joan, discussing catechesis, noted its importance for Catholics of all ages—not just children, but adults as well. The aim of catechesis, she said, is to help each Catholic to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bishop Sullivan pointed out that the work of catechesis is very much rooted in the parish and is part of “pastoring” the people of God.

Discussing the planning initiative itself, the bishop said that it will require patience on everyone’s part, “because we will disagree.”

“Change is never easy,” he said.

Some sobering statistics were presented at the meeting, including the declining number of clergy and lower numbers for Mass attendance, baptisms and marriages. But the overall tone of the meeting was positive, with a focus on serving the Catholic faithful, supporting those who serve them and finding ways to make the Church stronger in the next decade.

Among those attending was Madeline Bonnici of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Mount Vernon. Ms. Bonnici is executive director of Franciscan Mission Associates in Mount Vernon, but was attending in her role as part of the Making All Things New committee at her parish.

She acknowledged that with fewer priests and other statistical changes, planning is necessary for the continuation of vital parish life.

“We hope we get the cooperation of all parishioners,” she said, “but I think we all saw this coming.”

Charlie Arduini, a parishioner at St. Gregory Barbarigo in Garnerville, acknowledged the realities but had a positive take.

“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re not ignoring the challenges that are ahead,” he said, “and this was a good start.”


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