By Katherine Long
The Diocesan Pastoral Council gathered Nov. 4 at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse for its final meeting of 2017. The DPC is composed of pastoral council and ministry representatives from across the diocese; parish trustees were also present for the meeting. This issue will cover the first session of the meeting, focusing on ministerial and operational implementation of the diocesan strategic plan; look for coverage of the second session now at thecatholicsun.com and in print in the next issue of the Sun.
Danielle Cummings, Chancellor and Director of Communications, and John Barsanti, diocesan Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, offered an update on implementation of the diocese’s strategic plan.
Many changes have occurred and are occurring in our churches, Cummings noted. “Our churches are different — who attends our churches, why they attend our church, we may be seeing fewer people, we may be seeing a different composition of families. For the diocese, operationally and ministerially, we needed to take a look at that. And that is what this is all about,” she said.
At the core of the plan is the diocese’s mission: evangelization. The goal is “to form missionary disciples who live the mission of Jesus in the Church and the world.” The diocese is working to reach a consensus on the process of evangelization, Cummings said, which will be shared with parishes and used to achieve the overall goal.
The first step in carrying out the diocese’s mission was moving from a dollar-driven approach to a mission-focused one, Cummings explained. Barsanti, his team, and more than 100 volunteers offering expertise on various diocesan committees “helped us clean up our operations, rethink how we are structured financially, and in doing that first, we had the strength and the foundation to even have this conversation about mission…. You have to have a strong financial structure in place in order to support the mission,” Cummings said.
Ministries and offices are being asked to develop ways to support parishes and pastoral care areas in the process of evangelization, Cummings noted, and budget “planning now must take into account the current realities and have financial support to carry out the objectives.”
A diocesan strategic planning committee composed of 12 pastors from across the diocese is responsible for overseeing implementation of the strategic plan. Their charge, Cummings outlined, is to invest in programs that support the PCA and the parish process, stop funding non-value-added programs, refocus and restructure programs needed but not properly executed, and encourage and support change.
Cummings then highlighted several areas of results and success to date: succession planning for hospital ministry, Family Life ministry, and other diocesan ministries; creating the Office of Pastoral Leadership; implementing a study on Faith Formation; initiating a pilot process of parish renewal; and restoring the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
She also acknowledged challenges still facing the diocese, offering some facts and figures: In the year 2000, there were 8,058 students in high school faith formation; in 2015, there were 4,925. In 2000, 5,689 baptisms; in 2015, 2,612. In 2000, 2,083 marriages; in 2015, 769.
“Those are stark numbers,” Cummings said, “But they’re not numbers to lower our heads and say, ‘We’re dying on the vine,’ because we’re not. This is our reality. That’s why we have to change.”
In addition to internal efforts, the diocese has also adopted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ strategic plan. The plan’s priority areas are evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom (further details can be found at usccb.org).
“It’s a lot of work,” Cummings said. “But I ask for your prayers, I ask for your involvement, and I ask for your joyful witness, to join us in meeting the overall mission of evangelization.”
Barsanti addressed implementation from the operational side. At the diocese and in parishes, every decision needs to be focused on evangelization, he said, and “every decision that we make, we need to look at it from an allocation of resources.”
The goal is “to strengthen the operational and financial positions of all entities in the diocese to achieve positive margins that can be reinvested in evangelization programs,” his presentation stated.
“How do we get there? We get there through you,” Barsanti said, by establishing each entity with a board of directors, trustees, or pastoral council responsible for the operational and strategic execution of the strategic plan.
From there, he explained, the PCA needs a plan, taking into account its mission and vision, organizational structure, the current and future state of the PCA, and developing a facility plan, action plans, and a financial model.
Barsanti outlined key steps in developing a PCA as an operational organization, including improving productivity and reporting and reducing the administrative tasks of the pastor. He discussed taking advantage of revenue generating programs, including evangelization programs, increased offering programs, capital campaigns, diocesan McDevitt and Heritage Grants, and sale of excess property. He offered options for streamlining administration: consolidate functions and facilities, outsource bookkeeping when appropriate, and move management of restricted gifts to the diocesan Foundation.
There are opportunities for PCAs, Barsanti noted, such as reaching out to and welcoming the 65 percent of Catholics in the diocese who are not active, increasing youth and young adult participation, taking advantage of technology and shared services, and seeing the transition from individual parishes to 26 PCAs as a positive. He also acknowledged that risks come with change, but stressed that communication within the parish and PCAs is key to success.
After highlighting operational successes to date, including the high school decentralization plan and the Cathedral restoration, Barsanti also addressed some “elephants in the room.” Catholic schools are a critical part of the evangelization strategy, he affirmed, but the assessment on parishes does need to be reduced. After decentralizing and recruiting boards, “it is a significant positive,” Barsanti said. “Last year, the four high schools in [the Diocese of] Syracuse were cash flow positive. Enrollment is up when you look at the high schools, and they have a plan where they’re going to become self-sufficient in the next three to five years.” Elementary schools should be seen as an evangelization strategy in each PCA, Barsanti said. “Our youth [are] the future of the Catholic Church,” he said. “We cannot allow our Catholic elementary schools to close.”
HOPE Appeal has been restructured so that a committee of pastors, along with the bishop, approves the allocation of funds, Barsanti explained. Progress is being made on the unfunded liability in the lay pension plan, he noted, and already 20 parishes have contributed $1.5 million to pay off their unfunded liabilities. Finally, facilities. Make a plan within the PCA for what to do with them, Barsanti advised. “It’s your asset. It’s cash that you can use. If it’s a non-value-added asset, you should sell it and reinvest it into your PCA process.”
Barsanti closed by underlining the importance of the PCA. “We all need to work together to move the diocese forward,” he said. “We are only one team. We don’t need to be fragmented. We need to be working together in moving forward.
“The success of the strategic plan is a growing diocese. I am as excited as Danielle about the opportunities in front of us. If we execute, we will be there. To not succeed is not an option.”