SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Pastoral Planning: renewing old, building new friendships in the name of Jesus Christ
Diocesan parishes are going through many changes. Through the pastoral planning process, parishes have worked more cooperatively today than in the past. Churches which once were joined only by their geographic proximity, now share parishioners and one pastor.
Father James Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes and director of pastoral planning, said the relationships formed through the process are healthy and a movement toward the future.
“We want the pastoral care areas to be recommending what they want to do, but in some cases, the acceleration is faster than the consultation. We have a rapidly aging priesthood and we need to move ahead,” Father Lang said. “We are developing new sets of relationships. We are bringing people together to accomplish the mission of the church. Church is about people, not buildings.”
In the Northern Region, historic changes are taking place. St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pulaski and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Lacona will become one parish community with one pastor and two worship sites. In Fulton, Holy Family Parish and St. Michael’s Parish will follow the same path, under pastor Father Richard Thompson.
“They were already two parishes with one pastor and they needed to administrate as one parish,” Father Lang said. “The growth and cooperation between these parishes has been quite remarkable.”
Father John Hogan, pastor of St. John’s and St. Frances’ Churches, is very happy about the people’s decision to bring the parishes together as one. “We will have two church buildings, but a brand new name for our faith communities. Maybe we will have a new church down the road, but this is a big step for us to come together,” Father Hogan said. “It’s a great step. It’s been a good process and the people have a sense that they are one.”
When Father Hogan became pastor in 1995, he knew there was a lot of work to do to bring these two parishes in relationship with one another. One of first things Father Hogan did to help the situation was to hire Bill Flynn as director of religious education for both churches.
“It helped when I hired Bill Flynn to oversee religious education. It built in some continuity within the church. I had been thinking, ‘How do I make this work?’ We began to share ceremonies and I brought the two parish councils together. We had common discussions on evangelization and ministry,” Father Hogan said. “I had a sense one day that I would have to look at these parishes as one. It was hard to maintain them as separate. We had two of everything, but more and more we were becoming financially intertwined.”
But still each parish had its own identity, history and buildings. When Father Hogan became pastor, parishioners feared St. Frances might be left out.
“Because they are small, they fear they might close. But I love their little parish. I treat my parishes like twins. I didn’t force things. My style and personality have been helpful,” Father Hogan explained. “I respect them as separate.” It was at discussions within the pastoral care cluster that many parishioners began to feel that being one church was a possibility.
“St. John’s and St. Frances’ took up the northern part of the cluster while St. Mary’s in Mexico and St. Anne’s in Parish took up the southern part. They recognized we could have one new parish with two worship sites. Then we could have one of everything rather than two. They had a real openness to that,” Father Hogan said. “Everything has evolved naturally. Just a year ago, we started having a common bulletin. There were so many positive signals. Once the parish councils and trustees decided to merge, we thought during Lent we would bring it to the greater community.”
Informational sessions were held in both Lacona and Pulaski to explain the historical significance of each two parishes and how merging them was the logical next step. Father Hogan said good feedback was given by the people.
“The sessions were for anyone with questions or concerns. But everyone was very positive and we had a vote there and it was unanimous. So we decided to follow-up with a public vote at Mass. I told both parishes the proposal and only one person voted against it,” Father Hogan said. “I was so happy but proud of them. They had the same vision and they were unified.”
The joining of St. John’s and St. Frances’ parishes has been great for all people involved.
“It’s like a marriage. It’s a happy occasion, not a death,” Father Hogan said. “I think they have a sense they are church and they are not wedded to church buildings in Oswego County. This is not for ourselves, but they are thinking about the next generation. This gives them a sense of history.”
Being able to create history has helped some people to break their hold on their church buildings.
“I can’t say there isn’t sentiment to those churches. Even I have some. But you can’t get stuck in sentimentality. Merging is new, good and vital. The main thing is how are the people of this area being served,” Father Hogan said. “We just do the best we can with what we have.”
The whole pastoral planning experience has been positive and life-changing for the people of Lacona and Pulaski, but for the better.
“Our people took the charge of the bishop and Father Lang and came up with a plan. I am very pleased that the bishop accepted our proposal,” Father Hogan said. “It’s a great testimony to them, their faith, their commitment to the Lord and their church. They live out the Gospel and they saw the most important thing — to be vital and keep growing.” Having the task of coming up with a new parish name is a fun and exciting one. Father Hogan is very enthusiastic about his parishes.
“I have a great amount of happiness. I feel the people of my parishes are happy people, very generous people and very good to me. They have always been supportive,” he said. “It’s nice for me to go places and be proud of my parishes. I do it because I am. This has been seven years with a lot of work. This is good and wholesome. The Spirit is guiding us.” Three new relationships are being formed with two parishes sharing a pastor. In Syracuse, St. Andrew the Apostle Parish and St. Lucy’s Parish will be served by Father Jim Mathews. In Rome, Father Philip Hearn will serve both St. Peter’s Parish and St. Mary of the Assumption Parish. Also in Syracuse, Our Lady of Solace Parish and St. Therese of the Little Flower of Jesus Parish will have Father William Jones as pastor.
Father Mathews said he has met with both parish councils and is looking forward to being pastor at St. Lucy’s and St. Andrew’s.
“There are people I’ve known for years from St. Andrew’s,” Father Mathews said. “It will be a wonderful blending. Both have a lot to offer each other. We will take a look at the situation as we go along.”
This summer, Father Mathews will receive the help of some local Jesuit priests to handle the current Mass schedule. “Our initial plan is to keep the Mass schedule as is for now. Nancy Ring, from St. Andrew’s, lined up Jesuits to cover St. Andrew’s and St. Lucy’s when I’m not there,” Father Mathews said. “We will evaluate everything after it happens. Nothing is set in stone right now.”
Father Jones said although both parishes will remain separate entities, he hopes they will begin to share ministry together. “There are many areas we will be working together, including RCIA, ministry to seniors, ecumenical ministry, religious education, confirmation, peace and justice, and youth ministry,” Father Jones said. “We didn’t think it was the time to merge. We just want to come together in those areas to share resources and some personnel. The agenda would be too big. We have been working together on a new Mass schedule for daily Mass and the weekends and for the sacrament of reconciliation.”
Ron DeLuca, parish council president for St. Therese’s Church, said he is thrilled about the potential for the two parishes. “I’m very excited about it. We are going to learn a lot from what Our Lady of Solace does to cut costs and hopefully, they will learn from us,” DeLuca said.
Father Jones will replace Father Edward Reimer at St. Therese. Father Jones said the two were classmates in seminary. “Father Reimer said he wasn’t worried about St. Therese,” Father Jones said.
Marilyn Moore, parish minister for liturgy and worship at St. Therese, said Father Reimer allowed parishioners to go to Formation for Ministry and that has paid off for the future of the parish.
“Father Reimer didn’t let us just sit. We have different ministers for each type of job and we could take right over. We could put together a funeral very fast, from going to see the family to plan the liturgy to going to the cemetery to say a prayer, everything is in place,” Moore said.
Father Jones said Gary Smith, lay pastor associate at St. Therese who leads the youth group, will be an important part of both parishes’ growth in the future.
“We will join our youth groups. That is one of the major areas,” Father Jones said. “There is great potential. I am honored and privileged to get a chance to work with two great staffs. I’ve already met with them and the people will make all of this happen. It’s about them, not me. I have the support.”
Both parishes can be mutually helpful to one another, DeLuca said.
“The more the merrier. The more people we have, the more we have to get excited about,” DeLuca said. “Our Lady of Solace is involved in the Fellowship of Congregations and we have so much to learn from that interfaith community. We can learn and have a better understanding to serve our parishes.”
Angie Venditti, parish trustee at Our Lady of Solace Church, has been a member for 34 years. She said Our Lady of Solace and St. Therese were built at the same time and have always been close. “We are very happy about it. We have had a relationship with St. Therese before this. Some people go there for daily Mass, but it will be good.”
Mary Dougherty, a member of the staff at Our Lady of Solace, agreed.
“When I became a member of Our Lady of Solace in 1980, I got such a warm feeling. That’s an important part of the church. It’s wonderful meeting with the St. Therese parishioners. We will all benefit a great deal. Father Bill has a tremendous workload, but he will carry it well.”
Father Jones said two Masses had to be eliminated because of scheduling conflicts. People in both parishes are not happy with those decisions.
“We will make a special appeal to have these people go to Mass at the same time, but at the other church,” Father Jones said. “Both places will make that effort.”
People, for the most part, are looking forward to this chapter in each parish’s history.
“We are very optimistic,” Dougherty said.
In Binghamton, the Franciscan community has made a proposal to begin collaboration and idea sharing with the First Ward Catholic community, made up of St. Ann’s Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church. Father Canice Connors, OFM Conv., minister provincial for the Conventual Franciscan community, offered a proposal of a new Franciscan presence in the First Ward Catholic Community that would have Franciscans as the shepherds of the community and collaborating with other religious, Father Lang explained.
“In the historic First Ward, there are different ethnic parishes within a few miles of each other. The population changed and it’s very much older,” Father Lang explained. “The Franciscans said, ‘Let us lead the conversation.’ You can never wait to develop new relationships.”
Brother Edward Falsey, OFM Conv., has been asked to lead the discernment process with the Franciscan community and the First Ward Catholic Community. Father Lang said the conversations will be evaluated by Bishop James Moynihan before any final decisions are made on the pastoral care of the First Ward.
In his letter to the First Ward parishioners, Bishop Moynihan said he hopes these parishes will face the challenges of the changing church head-on.
“This is a time of excitement and exploration,” Bishop Moynihan wrote. “I ask your prayers that the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom might guide us as we discern the future together.