June 24, 2005


Staffing our parishes—always a challenge

For the past three weeks, The Criterion has been reporting on future parish staffing recommendations that, over the next seven years, are likely to affect every Catholic in the archdiocese in one way or another.

The recommendations are the result of a meticulous process carried out over a two-year period from October 2002 to October 2004, calling on the input of 700 pastors, parish life coordinators and other parish leaders who were led by a nine-person committee of the Archdio­cesan Strategic Planning Task Force. In all, 33 meetings—three in each deanery—were held to generate the recommendations. We commend the committee and the participants in the study for a difficult job very well done.

The basic thrust of the recommendations calls for the clustering of various parishes. Clustering allows the parishes involved to maintain their separate identities, but to share a pastor and other resources. In many ways, this is nothing new for this Church in central and southern Indiana. Clusters or other forms of shared ministries (and there have been numerous variations from time to time) have existed since the beginning of our archdiocese in 1834. Our first bishop, Simon Bruté, had only three priests when he was named bishop—and one of those was on loan from the Diocese of St. Louis. Our pioneer Church could teach us a lot about sharing priests!

The recommendations also call for the possible conversion of four parishes into chapels, where the church building will be maintained and used for special sacramental celebrations, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals.

We imagine that these four recommendations were particularly difficult to make, but, again, this has happened before—most recently in the cases of St. Cecilia of Rome Parish in Oak Forest and Assumption Parish in Indianapolis. Interestingly, in both cases, these parishes have taken on new life. St. Cecilia is now the site of monthly Latin Tridentine Masses and Assump­tion’s church is now the home of St. Athanasius the Great Parish, of the Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) Rite.

For those who regard the conversion of a parish church to a chapel as a closing, we can again say that parish closings are nothing new to Catholics in central and southern Indiana. Records show that as early as 1850—just 16 years after the establishment of our diocese—a St. James Parish in Jennings County was closed.

The point here is that we’ve “been there and done that.” The Church always responds to present circumstances in order to continue to carry out its mission and ministries.

The more important fact in all this—the reality of the circumstances that have caused this series of recommendations to be formulated—is the projected growth of our Church (nearly 14 percent by 2012, which is good news) and the continuing decline in the number of priests available to serve the Church (22 percent fewer priests by 2012, which is a cause for great concern). This fact demands our attention and our prayer.

While the number of our seminarians continues to increase (we will have 29 in formation in September), projections indicate that this number of seminarians is not large enough to keep pace with the growth in the Catholic population.

So until enough young men hear God’s call to a life of self-sacrifice and service to others as priests, we will make the adjustments necessary to continue the Church’s mission and ministries.

Those adjustments may mean a more generous sharing of our priests on each of our parts. It may mean fewer but larger church buildings. It may mean driving a few more miles down the road to a “new” parish. It will certainly mean more ministry carried out by members of the laity and by deacons.

But the Church will survive. The face of Jesus will continue to be revealed to those who hunger to see him. The Good News will continue to be shared. And the poor will continue to be served.

And that, perhaps, helps put much of our near-term inconveniences into proper perspective. †

—William R. Bruns

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