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Archives Committee charged with implementing a plan to meet the pastoral needs of the diocese
Building Parishes with Living Stones

Feb. 11, 2015

By Father Jay Seymour
Chair, Living Stones Planning Committeeliving stones

It has been almost a year now since Bishop LaValley issued and proclaimed our mutually shared vision for the Diocese with his Pastoral Letter, “Find Your Home in Christ.”  Although sometimes quietly, since its official proclamation the priorities and goals set forth within the diocesan vision have been and continue to be actively addressed.  

One of the priorities highlighted in the Bishop’s letter was “Building Parishes with Living Stones” and one of the goals set for this priority was to establish a “Living Stones Planning Committee.”

Committee members
That goal has been realized with the new committee having recently completed its second meeting in January.  Members of the committee are:  Father Jay Seymour (Chairperson), Dr. William Amoriell, Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Frances Barnes, St. Joseph Sister Mary Ellen Brett, Deacon Patrick Donahue, Kelly Donnelly, Msgr. Dennis Duprey, Patrick Jank, Father Thomas Kornmeyer, Father Joseph Morgan, Father Kevin O’Brien, Frank Palumbo, Cathy Romano, Shelly Rosteck, Maria Stitt, Father Howard Venette, Deacon James Chaufty, and Father Thomas Higman. 

The committee, which reflects broad representation from across the diocese with a mix of clergy, religious and laity, has been charged with a clear mission.  Its primary responsibility is to develop and implement a plan to meet the present and future pastoral needs of the people of the Diocese.

To review data, current strategies
In the development of this plan the committee will:  review relevant data and existing strategies for planning both from within and outside the diocese, look to ways of increasing lay leadership, research and review best practices for ministry and develop a financial plan to support the planning process. 

Prior to presenting a plan to Bishop LaValley, which will include recommendations for placement of pastors or other personnel and the consequent merger, linkage and/or closure of certain parishes, it is expected that there will be adequate and active consultation with pastors and parishioners.

Once the plan is completed and implemented, it will be necessary to make some adjustments as needs are made known and conditions change and it will be the responsibility of the committee members to monitor such input and do further consultation so as to keep the bishop informed about on-going planning issues prior to any decision- making.

Although it is still early in the process, the Living Stones Planning Committee is off to a good start.  In our first meeting Father Kevin O’Brien helped us to get to know each other a little better with a team building exercise indicating our individual leadership styles.

In ten years: 35 priests
At that first meeting Information was also provided pertaining to the recent history of pastoral planning in the diocese while introducing members to terminology and data that could prove helpful as we move forward. 

Among other things, the committee looked at the Catholic population of the diocese, at the number of parishes and the number of priests.  Regarding the latter statistic, it is eye-opening to realize that in 2001 we had 104 active diocesan priests.  Today we have 59 active diocesan priests and, according to current projections, within ten years we expect to have only 35. The historical background and the data which was provided helped to ground the committee in the current reality of the church in the North Country highlighting the need for a planning group such as ours. 

Some encouraging signs
Regarding some of the previously cited data, although some may find the priest numbers unsettling, there are also some very encouraging numbers and signs that give us great hope for the future of the Church of Ogdensburg.  For example, currently there are approximately 1,100 Commissioned Lay Ministers in the Diocese.  Not all are active but a great many are and they are proving to be a tremendous help to parishes.

Because the needs of the Diocese are quite different than when the lay ministry program first started, Deacon Patrick Donahue, Coordinator of the Formation for Ministry Program, and Sister Jennifer Votraw, Coordinator of Ministry to Lay Pastoral Leaders, are now collaborating to offer formation to a select group beyond the current two year program with an eye toward developing a pool of candidates who might serve as pastoral associates or even as Parish Life Coordinators in the Diocese.  

Parish Life Coordinators (PLC’s) are qualified individuals (deacons, religious, or lay) who are hired by the Bishop to administer a parish.  This would free up priests to concentrate on the sacramental ministry for which they were ordained. 

The idea behind on-going formation of the laity is to provide leadership and a pastoral presence in the parish to address the needs of parishioners in the absence of a resident pastor.  It is important here to note that even though the pastor may be residing elsewhere, every parish would have a pastor.  It is also worth noting that even though the celebration of Mass and the sacraments may not be in the same church building, it is the goal and expectation that all parishioners will have a vibrant parish church to attend which is capable of meeting their spiritual and other pastoral needs.

Parishes are about people
As I mentioned in a previous article on planning, parishes are not primarily about buildings and boundaries but about people.  Looking to the future of our church we are now seeing the need not only to be formed as Christians but to be formed as true Christian disciples and leaders.  This was a point found in one of the books recommended to the committee members, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.  

The author of this book  and we too are aware that our church is changing.  It always has because church is a living reality meant to reflect the living, vibrant Body of Christ. 

Although change is sometimes difficult and some can find it unsettling, change also means growth and that means we have exciting and hopeful times ahead of us.

Continuing to rely on the Holy Spirit as guide and our Blessed Mother for support, let us do our part to realize this grand, “mutually shared vision” which our Bishop has set before us.

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