By Katherine Long | Editor
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) met March 21 at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. The DPC is composed of pastoral council and ministry representatives from across the diocese and meets regularly throughout the year. The day’s agenda included vocation promotion initiatives, pastoral care updates, and remarks from Bishop Douglas J. Lucia. Father Jason Hage’s presentation on vocation promotion was detailed in last week’s issue; coverage of the pastoral planning presentation and Bishop Lucia’s comments appear here.
Pastoral planning overview
Msgr. James Lang, Vicar for Parishes, and Dr. Marybeth McCall, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Rosary in New Hartford, spoke about “Pastoral Planning in a Time of Pandemic.”
Msgr. Lang began by providing a snapshot of clergy numbers and priest ages. He also outlined parish configurations and highlighted several diocesan faith communities that recently merged or linked. Msgr. Lang provided updated data for this story; see boxes at right.
“Obviously we’re no longer working with the numbers or designs in the Northeastern United States that we had in 1974,” Msgr. Lang said. “But what we’re going to be as a vital, dynamic church is very much within our conversational ability.”
Conversation has been a part of the diocesan pastoral planning process since it began in 1983, Msgr. Lang noted.
“The PCAs [pastoral care areas; see below] are meant to promote dialogue, not limit it. And we certainly hope that there’s no one out there that’s saying, ‘They already know what they’re going to do so why should I participate?” he said. “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do. We do need to hear the voices of folks who are the living disciples of Jesus Christ in this diocese.
“That’s an important dynamic — not to suggest for a moment that the inputs that are shared with us from throughout the diocese are anything other than listened to and tested. And sometimes it comes down to a question of resources, and every one of us who is a householder understands the challenge of it coming down to the resources that we have available to us.”
The pastoral planning process has yielded several lessons.
One, “if we’re going to plan for the future, we have to get ourselves out of the way. That’s very difficult, because you’re making a plan but you’re making a plan for a future that is not your own,” Msgr. Lang said.
Two, “we need to be about encouraging intentional collaboration among parishes…. If we’re going to have a vibrant diocese marching forward we need to figure out how to get people into one another’s churches, and enjoy one another’s programs, and share one another’s Christmas cookies,” he said.
A third lesson is the need to “deal with the question of facilities,” Msgr. Lang said. A parish’s pastor, trustees, pastoral council chair, and finance chair should act as a steering committee “ensuring that the documentation that is needed for a just and clear process of making those decisions is based in fact and not on opinion. And that will mean a financial study, a physical plant study, architecture reviews, and … the information cannot be secret. We’re a family. We’re a community.”
A fourth lesson is the need to identify and focus on priorities. Dr. McCall offered her experience with this lesson in New Hartford.
The parish teams of PCA-7 — Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Trinity, Utica College Campus Ministry, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute Campus Ministry in Utica; Our Lady of the Rosary; Sacred Heart-St.Mary in New York Mills; and St. Paul in Whitesboro — met quarterly until the onset of the pandemic. They have since resumed meeting, now including the teams from neighboring PCA-6 — St. Peter, St. Mark, Historic Old St. John, St. Joseph-St. Patrick, St. Mary of Mount Carmel-Blessed Sacrament, St. Anthony, and St. Agnes parishes in Utica — and PCA-8 — St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s in Chadwicks, Annunciation in Clark Mills, St. Mary and Hamilton College Campus Ministry in Clinton, and St. John the Evangelist and St. Thomas in New Hartford.
“We realized that what we needed to do was to get to know each other again. We needed to reach out, we needed to learn about each other,” McCall said. The teams “re-grouped and re-met” and “talked about what was great about our parish and the vibrancy of our activities,” she said. They established priorities — access to the Sacraments, lay leadership, outreach, catechesis, community, spiritual counsel, and future sustainability — and reviewed parish buildings, employees, and personnel, she noted.
“We’re back at planning, but we’re not planning as one little PCA of five parishes. We’re planning as the greater Utica area,” McCall said.
“We don’t have any answers. We don’t have a written plan. We are just really talking to each other, being positive and open, and knowing that, with God’s help, we can do anything.”
Msgr. Lang closed with points of consideration for all parishioners as the pastoral planning process continues to unfold:
In areas with multiple parishes and PCAs, “the dialogue will be widened so that we’re talking about caring for the whole area. The PCAs have been a great blessing for us, but we owe it to the future to take a look at the way that we strategize the location of parishes in our more condensed areas.”
Given that, “virtually every parish is going to enjoy life with at least one of its neighbors.”
“The Mass schedule is the least of our challenges. The vitality of our parishes and the need to focus those efforts toward evangelization to continue the mission of Jesus — that’s our critical issue.”
Parishes cannot be effective “without inviting, training, and equipping new people for ministry. Our limited parish staffs are not capable of taking on the full load of our expectations.”
“There are 71 pastoral configurations that enjoy the ministry of 39 priests at 65 or older, and 38 at 64 or under. We join in rejoicing about the four men who are about to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Syracuse. We express our gratitude to those who are retiring. And we continue together on our pilgrimage. Our reality is just that: our reality.”
If the anticipated number of priests retire this year, “then that’s going to mean that this year, yes, there will be some modifications to parish structures.”
Bishop Lucia looks ahead
Reflecting on the example of his childhood pastor, Bishop Lucia recalled a man who was “vibrant. And he wanted people’s faith to be vibrant. Where he centered that most of all was the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist. And for me that’s what a vibrant parish is all about: that no matter what we do when it comes to parish planning, the vibrancy has to come from our celebration of the Eucharist and from our proclamation of God’s Word.”
Two key points in the bishop’s recent pastoral letter, “In the name of Jesus,” are kerygma, the proclamation of the Gospel, and prayer. “Of course for me, the center of prayer is the Eucharist,” Bishop Lucia said. “And as the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life…. So for me, that’s what has to make our parishes tick. No matter what configurations we come up with, it does involve our being able to gather for the Eucharist, because it’s here we receive food for the journey.”
“In the name of Jesus,” released in February, outlines the bishop’s vision for the diocese, focusing on parish and personal renewal and planning for the future. Bishop Lucia said he plans to “unpack” the pastoral in the coming months by holding listening sessions with priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, the DPC, and faithful in every region.
“The only thing I’m going to do is I’m going to listen…. to what you tell me about what you’re seeing, about your needs, about what concerns you, all those things,” he said.
Based on those sessions, “we’ll begin together to make a response, we’ll begin together to prepare for what you hear in this document is called the diocesan synod,” Bishop Lucia said. Slated to be held before the diocese’s 140th anniversary in 2026, the synod is a meeting of the local Church meant to help set a practical course of action and to build communion, the bishop explained.
“Communion doesn’t mean uniformity. But communion does mean working towards the same goal,” Bishop Lucia noted.
The meeting closed with a question-and-answer session with the bishop. The next meeting of the DPC will be May 22.
• 2 bishops
• 79 full-time diocesan priests
• 81 permanent deacons
• 8 diocesan priests currently ministering outside the diocese, on leave, or awaiting assignment
• 72 retired diocesan priests
Extern and religious order priests ministering in the diocese
• 10 Franciscans
• 18 Jesuits
• 12 priests from other dioceses or countries
Ages of full-time diocesan priests
• 46 priests age 60 or over
• 33 priests age 59 or under
Five pastors have full-time assignments in addition to their pastorates
Diocesan priests are eligible for retirement at age 70
26 diocesan priests are eligible for retirement July 1, 2021; at least 5 are anticipated to retire
*Data as of April 27
Catholics in the Diocese of Syracuse
• 1974: about 400,000
• 2021: about 228,000
Pastoral care areas
• A pastoral care area (PCA) is a group of collaborating parishes, generally geographically related
• There are 26 PCAs in the Diocese of Syracuse
Parishes by style
• 52 standalone parishes; 26 are led by pastors over the age of 70
• 27 multiple-parish pastorates; these comprise 65 parishes staffed by 27 priests
• 7 parishes have a mission community
• 8 oratories are counted as part of their mother parishes
Recent mergers and linkages
• Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Oswego: formed in 2020 through the merger of the parish territories of St. Joseph, St. Mary, St. Paul, St. Stephen, and St. Peter in Oswego and Sacred Heart Mission in Scriba. St. Mary’s Church was established as a personal parish and oratory.
• Epiphany Parish in Liverpool: formed by the 2019 merger of Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Joseph the Worker parishes in Liverpool
• St. Marianne Cope Parish in Solvay: formed by the 2019 merger of Our Lady of Peace in Lakeland and St. Cecilia in Solvay
• Spirit of Hope Catholic Community: St. Agatha in Canastota, St. Patrick in Oneida, St. Joseph in Oneida, St. Helena in Sherrill, Holy Family in Vernon, and St. Mary of the Lake in Verona Beach are served by one pastor and one parochial vicar as of September 2020
• Eastern Pastoral Care Area 4: St. Joan of Arc in Morrisville, St. Bernard in Waterville, St. Mary in Hamilton, and St. Joseph in Oriskany Falls are served by one pastor as of September 2020
This story has been updated to correct the establishment of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish and St. Mary personal parish and oratory.