By Connie Berry
Sometimes survey results provoke thoughtful consideration. The diocese recently took a close look at parishes’ perception of the HOPE Appeal and its ministries — including The Catholic Sun. At the Nov. 19 Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) meeting, the results were revealed and explained by Dr. Eileen Ziobrowski, an independent consultant who helped the diocese conduct the study. Ziobrowski earned her doctorate in education from the University at Albany with a specialization in program evaluation and is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, where she teaches faith formation.
The purpose of the study was to see how parishes perceive the value and effectiveness of programs and ministries supported by the HOPE Appeal. The questionnaire was a simple paper and pencil format mailed to pastors in 141 parishes. There were seven questions asked with 309 usable surveys received from 92 parishes across the diocese as the basis of the study. The survey listed approximately 30 ministries supported by the HOPE Appeal.
Ziobrowski revealed those ministries listed as most important to parishes as follows in order of importance: faith formation, hospital chaplains, Catholic Charities, young adult and youth ministry, faith formation resource centers and respect life. The ministries listed as most important to pastors were: hospital chaplains, marriage tribunal and Catholic Charities. The ministries receiving HOPE Appeal funds which were considered most used by parishes were: faith formation, The Catholic Sun, faith formation resource centers, Catholic Charities and hospital chaplains. Most effective ministries listed were Newman Centers, hospital chaplains, Christ the King Retreat Center and the Cathedral. The survey also asked respondents to make suggestions as to how the ministries could be more helpful and what the diocese could do better to meet the needs of their parishes. Some of the responses were: to lower parish assessments, reduce or eliminate Catholic school subsidies, reduce HOPE Appeal goals, more clarity on how money is used, better communication, continued and increased support for faith formation, more youth ministry leadership in the regions, help with evangelization and young people and other suggestions.
Ziobrowski suggested more open communication with deliberate efforts to reduce people’s frustration. “There were lots of people who didn’t know about these ministries,” Ziobrowski said. “We need to list them and tell people who they need to contact. Some parishes were more connected to the ministries than others. We need dialogue where the diocese asks, ‘What can we do for you?’ We need to look at what our role is in serving parishes.”
There was also a survey regarding the relevance of the DPC. Almost 44 percent of the respondents listed the DPC as somewhat important, with 27 percent saying it is very important and only 12 percent responding that it is not important. Some of the comments surrounding the DPC were: DPC keeps us informed and unites us; it ties us to all other parishes and keeps us up to date; it keeps us aware of other parishes; it helps us stay connected to the rest of the diocese; it gives the diocesan view; restructure the DPC to really be a dialogue with the bishop/chancery; appoint representative of cultural apostolate to DPC; and the DPC appears to be a facade with no real function.
Another portion of the DPC gathering focused on faith formation. Representatives explained the faith formation programs at their parishes. Cathy Cornue, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation introduced the presentations and gave an overview of the diocese’s position on faith formation.
“Faith formation is for children and for adults,” Cornue said. “It’s about forming disciples, putting people in intimacy and communion with Jesus Christ.”
Cornue said that the faith formation programs in the diocese receive support from pastors allowing the programs flexibility and the integration of parents into the process. She explained that the majority of catechists in the diocese are well-formed and their own faith formation is on-going.
Maria Kirk from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Binghamton explained her parish’s programs, stressing that they are offered for both youth and adults. She also said it is important for those in faith formation to attend Mass as a foundation. “Go to Mass,” Kirk stressed, “if you have that relationship with Christ, that relationship with the Eucharist, if you do those steps, faith formation is an easy next step.”
Her parish offers a “Question of the Week” regarding the Gospel. The question is posed for all age levels so it can be discussed throughout the week. The children in faith formation classes are allowed to take their books home so the parents can look at them and see the lessons. The parish also offers regular events for youngsters and adults. A movie night is offered and a book club is available for adults.
Julie Sheridan from Most Holy Rosary Parish in Syracuse spoke about her parish. She thanked her pastor, Father Fred Mannara, for his support and positive approach to faith formation. Sheridan also said Rosary’s faith formation classes are planned to take place between the Sunday Masses to encourage family attendance at Mass. “Parents make every effort to drop their children off at class on time but fall short in attending Mass as a family,” she said. Her parish includes bulletin inserts about class topics and whole community catechesis. The senior high school students get to choose three out of four faith formation sessions to attend, giving them some flexibility and choice, Sheridan explained. There is mandatory confirmation preparation and the sacraments are intertwined with faith formation classes. Most Holy Rosary’s faith formation programs draw students from many different areas and suburbs of the city of Syracuse, Sheridan said. The program helps build community. There is a Bridges program that helps keep young people connected after they make their confirmation. Cheryl Smith from the Church of the Annunciation in Clark Mills talked about her online faith formation program, Power of 1, displaying aspects of the website during the DPC meeting. She talked about the success her parish has experienced by using the internet to promote faith formation. Smith’s pastor, Father Kevin Bunger, was open to trying different methods of educating parishioners regarding faith formation. She explains the program to parishioners at Masses, inviting them to explore the website, http://powerofone2010.blogspot.com/.