Guest voice | By Dan Hurley
Over a year ago, I approached Msgr. Neal Quartier, the rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with the idea of interviewing a Cathedral parishioner or family each week, and including their profile, along with a picture, in our Sunday bulletin. I thought this personal approach might just resonate.
Some 60 profiles later, our Cathedral family may have a better appreciation for and a connection to the parishioners in the next pew. We find ourselves nodding and smiling at the stories and sharing in their life and faith journeys.
Through this project, we gained valuable insight about the Cathedral community specifically, and also, I suspect, the communities that make up parishes across our diocese. These profiles revealed the following:
1. People are drawn to the Cathedral for four big reasons.
We expected 60 individual answers, but instead most of them focused on the beauty of our space, the relevance of the homilies, the magnificence of the music, and a personal connection to a beloved former rector. One of our interviewed parishioners said when she walked through the door she felt, “This is it!” when she entered our sacred space. Another stated she had trepidations because of the size and formality of the Cathedral that goes along with it being the home of the bishop. Instead, she and a friend entered and found “a homily which spoke directly to them.” Almost all cited the beautiful music. Many were married here and decided to stay. A surprising number of RCIA graduates join the cradle Catholics in our pews.
2. People are hungry for homilies that feed their spiritual needs.
Many cited powerful homilies that apply to their lives. From the contemporary references of Msgr. Quartier to the traditional and warm message of Father Bill Jones and the “We have here…” opening of Father John Schopfer, and the diverse messages from Deacons Paul Biermann and Bob Burke, the Cathedral has an abundance of gifted speakers to spread God’s word.
3. People like to be asked to serve. Many who were interviewed said they were invited to participate in ministry. Some are lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, others ushers. In all cases they can tell you who asked them or told them and made it look like their idea. We are pretty confident that no one ever said no to our late Rector Msgr. Joseph Champlin or Sister Maureen D’Onofrio.
4. People want to offer to serve.
Not long after joining the Cathedral, many sought out ways to make a difference. For example, this writer and Andrea Brown research and write the profiles. Others provide bibs for baptisms, teach religious education, beautify our space, count our collections, participate in our Christmas Programs, videotape our homilies or help in dozens of other ways. Still others are active in outside ministries.
5. Our parish is eclectic.
Like any family, we like to appreciate the talents of our special blend of parishioners and our outreach ministries, such as our primary care and dental clinic. Our parishioners find ways to take our turn at The Samaritan Center meal program. We are diverse and take pride that our doors and hearts are open for all sacraments and support. Members of our growing young adult and downtown population are here to stay. Everyone agreed that they enjoy being personally greeted each week and more than a few were struck by Father Bill’s ability to remember so many names.
6. The Cathedral is not always close to home, and that is OK.
We have parishioners and families who travel from various suburbs to worship and participate in Faith Formation each weekend. Many acknowledged a bit of “church shopping” before deciding on the Cathedral. This has shown us that if you create and nurture community, time and distance are easily overcome.
7. We evangelize by example.
I’ve come away convinced that the most powerful evangelization tool the church has is the example we set in our lives. Our interviews found inspirational, devout, hard-working, busy, and yes, imperfect people, who reflect a certainty and love of their faith and are passing that on to family and friends. Diocesan Chancellor Danielle Cummings said it best when she stated, We want to lead generous, faith-filled lives so that others look at us and say, “I want some of that.”
Ultimately, our parish profiles follow a long story-telling tradition. One at a time, they knit us together with our shared history, experience and humanity. They take one of our diocese most grandiose buildings and show how we are parish and community. Every parish has these stories. Call someone… sit with someone… and these stories will follow. For us it has illustrated that, yes, there ARE saints among us.
Dan Hurley is a parishioner and volunteers at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. He is a member of the Catholic Sun’s board of directors. He recently retired from SUNY Upstate Medical University after a 42-year career as public affairs practitioner, lobbyist, and journalist.