By Katherine Long
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), composed of pastoral council representatives from across the diocese, met at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse May 11 for its second meeting of the year. On the agenda for the meeting were discussions about religious vocations, the McDevitt grant process and pastoral planning. New DPC officers were also elected for the 2013 – 2015 term. Parish trustees were present for a separate breakout session facilitated by Msgr. James Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes, and John Barsanti, the diocese’s chief operating officer.
Brother Ed Falsey, OFM Conv.; Sister Maureen D’Ononfrio, CSJ; Sister Joana Baidoo, IHMMC; and Sister Caryn Crook, OSF comprised a panel that spoke to various aspects of life and ministry as members of religious orders.
Sister Caryn described her “later in life” call to religious life. “I entered [the order] when I was almost 40,” she said. “I keep telling the sisters they would not have wanted me when I was 20. I needed to do a lot of growing and self-reflection and to grow in my faith before I became a sister.” She credited her participation in the RENEW program at St. Mary’s Church in Cortland with leading her to think about religious life. Sister Caryn currently ministers in many capacities, including as Franciscan ecology coordinator at Alverna Heights in Fayetteville and co-minister for the FrancisCorps year-long service program in Syracuse; she is also a member of the Franciscan Action Network and the Franciscan Earth Corps.
Brother Ed also described his call to the Franciscan order. “When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a priest,” he said, but that feeling diminished during high school. “In my first year of college, I started struggling with what I was being called to. I realized I didn’t have to be a priest to be a man of community, prayer and service.” After looking at communities of religious brothers, he found the community of Conventual Franciscan Friars in Rensselaer, N.Y. to have “a great spirit,” he said. He applied and became part of the community one year later. Brother Ed is currently the associate director of the diocese’s Office of Pastoral Planning, having previously worked as a psychotherapist for more than 20 years.
Sister Joana, originally from Ghana, shared that she came to Syracuse in 2000 through the request of now-retired Bishop James M. Moynihan. While in the diocese, she has worked in a variety of ministries, serving at Our Lady of Solace Church in Syracuse and St. Ambrose Church in Endicott. Since 2004 she has worked with Sudanese immigrants at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse. A typical day in that ministry involves “whatever and whenever,” she said, smiling. “I am always busy. Very good people work with me. I find fulfillment in doing it.”
After addressing the various pros and cons of dressing or not dressing in habits, the panel discussed the rewards and challenges of living in community.
“I don’t know what I would do without the sisters that I live with,” Sister Caryn said. “Together we help each other grow in relationship with God. It provides an atmosphere of intentionality, of discussing the gospel, faith sharing. [Living in community] has helped me grow as a person.” Sisters Maureen and Joana agreed that community life is at the heart of their lives as sisters; Brother Ed, too, affirmed that community living is a very important part of his order’s charism.
The panel also spoke to the many negative messages about declining numbers of religious vocations in the U.S.
“We’ve survived 800 years through all kinds of changes in society and the church,” said Brother Ed. “We went through this great expansion in the 1940s to 60s in American culture and church. There’s no going back to where we were before the World Wars. Restructure and renewal reenergize the community, and I think that will attract people.”
Sister Caryn added that “it’s not a decrease, it’s a change.” “I’m here because God called me here, called me to this life. It’s exciting being part of something new. We don’t know how it’s going to be or how it’s going to look. It’s a change and a change in how we look at [vocations],” she said.
Andrea Marshall, assistant director of stewardship and development for the diocese, then addressed the DPC about the latest round of McDevitt grant applications. In 2008, the estate of Bob and Kay McDevitt made a bequest to the diocese that at the time totaled an estimated $30 million. A portion of that bequest was stipulated to support the purposes, objectives and goals of the diocesan HOPE Appeal. In 2010 Bishop Robert J. Cunningham approved use of these funds to support parish-level evangelization programs and food pantry programs.
In 2013, 50 evangelization grant applications and 36 food pantry grants were received, Marshall said. A committee composed of diocesan staff and other subject matter experts reviewed and ranked each grant based on its strength, innovativeness and ability to be replicated in other parishes. Marshall also explained that this year’s application process was more competitive; rather than awarding each application at least a portion of the requested funds, the committee fully funded the strongest proposals.
Marshall said that 32 evangelization grants and 25 food pantry grants were selected. All applicants would be notified about the status of their grant proposal by the end of May, she said. Application materials for the 2014 grant cycle will be available in January.
Msgr. Lang spoke briefly about upcoming pastoral care area meetings, which will “focus on the next round of pastoral planning,” he said.
“Parishes are more complex [today], pastoral care areas are more complex, and we need to convene ourselves intentionally around the issues and focus on what is going to bring vitality to our parishes,” he said.
Msgr. Lang said estimates indicate there will be about 80 priests between the ages of 25 and 75 in 2020, and that the current average age of parish lay ecclesial ministers is 59. Those figures suggest something proactive must be done, he said.
Msgr. Lang said parishes will be invited to perform a “self study” and then provided with a workbook to help them work through plans for the future.
“Dream big,” he advised. “Anything else isn’t worthy of us.”
Four new DPC officers were elected near the end of the session: Thomas Tynan of Saints John and Andrew Church in Binghamton was elected chairperson; Marysia Czachor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville was elected vice chairperson; Larry Hagan of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica was elected membership chairperson; and Joseph Stanton of St. Peter’s Church in Rome was elected secretary. Margi Lawrence was also recognized for her two years of service as chairperson.
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham closed the meeting with a brief address and a question-and-answer session. The next DPC meeting will be held in September.