April 6-12, 2006
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Photo submitted
Diocesan Pastoral Council Focuses on Changes within the Diocese
The future of Catholic schools and pastoral leadership were the issues of the day as the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) convened on March 25.
After an opening prayer led by Bill Flynn, superintendent of Catholic Schools Michael Colabufo gave a slide presentation on the Catholic school reconfiguration process. Colabufo said that beginning in 1995, parish schools began to examine their future through a number of studies. Under the Vision 2000 program, the schools set goals and standards for themselves. In an attempt to be proactive, Catholic School Management, a consulting firm, was engaged to work with the parish schools in 2002. The firm examined such issues as enrollment, curriculum, staffing and facilities. After that, a committee was formed in 2005 with the intention of taking Catholic schools from good to great. “We wanted to make sure we had a great program,” said Colabufo. “The summation of the studies is that the Catholic school ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse is healthy, but faces challenges ahead. The strategic long-range plan for Catholic school education has set a well-directed course for the future by establishing a vision, a clearly stated mission and a set of priorities for every school in the Diocese of Syracuse. It is now time to take action to ensure a strong future for Catholic schools in the diocese.”
During the process of reconfiguring the schools, six out of eight pastors in the South/Southwest corridor of the Western Region of the diocese recognized the urgency to address their parishes’ inability to continue the financial support for their schools. Bishop James Moynihan met with the pastors of those schools. Ahern, Murphy & Associates volunteered their services to facilitate the vision sessions that took place every two or three weeks at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse. Representatives of the group included pastors, principals, and parishioners from the South/Southwest corridor. They examined the issues of staffing, development, marketing and facilities.
Colabufo said the journey in the Western Region was a concurrent process. Plans of action were developed and presented to Bishop Moynihan, and on Jan. 25, the bishop announced his acceptance of the plans. Four new schools emerged from the eight schools involved. “Changing demographics was the key that the Visioning the Future Committee looked at,” Colabufo said. “In many parts of the Syracuse Catholic Diocese, we have areas where there is an abundance of schools but very few students that would be filling those classrooms. And then there are pockets in our community where we have many, many children but we don’t have any schools in those areas. So we need to take a good look at what we’re trying to do to consolidate and regionalize our facilities and to enhance our instructional and academic program, making sure that we have a Christ-centered environment.” Colabufo said that no further school closings are anticipated based on current enrollment.
Father James Lang, vicar for parishes for the diocese, then presented information about current trends and emerging models in pastoral planning in a changing church. Because of a declining number of priests — 366 in 1974 to an expected 100 by 2010 — a plan needs to be created to restructure the Syracuse Diocese. Bishop Moynihan said there needs to be a plan in writing by Thanksgiving. Father Lang explained that there are three basic elements involved in pastoral planning. The first is to determine God’s vision through careful and prayerful listening to the Spirit through prayer, Scripture, teachings and traditions of the church and through the Spirit present in the community of faith.
The second element involved in pastoral planning is to consider the current realities: with the eyes of faith, to consider where God has been present, what gifts are present in the community and what are the trends. Discerning and committing to plans is the third element in pastoral planning. Reconfiguration is happening in Catholic dioceses all over the country — not just in the Syracuse Diocese. The number of Catholics continues to increase by one to two percent annually. The number of priests available to minister to these people is declining. Father Lang said that in the U.S. more lay ministers are becoming engaged in ministry because of the shortage of priests and religious. He also mentioned that more deacons are involved in the leadership of the church. Also on the increase is the number of theologically trained parish life coordinators that have become involved to help lead the faith communities. Father Lang explained three strategies to cope with the priest availability issue. These strategies were identified in a recently released study entitled “Multiple Parish Pastoring Project” funded by the Lily Foundation
The first is to increase the number of priests through vocations recruitment, transferring priests from special ministries, recruiting from religious orders, recruiting from foreign-born priests and increasing the number of years a priest can serve. The second strategy is to expand the demands. Ways of doing this include increasing the size of parishes and assigning priests to more than one parish.
The third strategy is to decrease the demands by closing parishes, recruiting ministers, reducing the quantity and quality of ministry and reducing the availability of the Eucharist. Father Lang said, “Chances are, we’ll be able to handle the changes and shortages of priests. God is pushing us ahead by the miracle of faith, friendship, evangelization and ministry.”
After listening to the two presentations, Julienne Smith, parishioner of St. Peter’s Church in Oswego, said she felt full of hope. She feels prayer should play an important part during this time of transition. “Increasing prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament is the only answer,” Smith said.