Parish futures revisited

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Written by BISHOP LEONARD P. BLAIR   
Saturday, 13 February 2010 00:00
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Recently, I shared with the priests of our diocese some information that I would now like to share with all of you.

As we celebrate the centenary year of the Diocese of Toledo, it is timely for us to take a look not only at our past, but also at the present and the future.

You will remember that when I became Bishop of Toledo I acted on a plan that had been in preparation for several years under Bishop James R. Hoffman. That plan, the Faith and Futures Consultation, led to significant changes in 2005 in the number of parishes and the assignment of pastoral care. Faith and Futures also established some parameters and principles for anticipated changes in the future.

What are some of these parameters and principles?

Significant among them was the fact that, over time, there would be fewer priests entering retirement. This is due to the simple fact that the large ordination classes of the 1950s and 1960s would already be deceased, retired or retiring. In the near term there will be a number of retirements, but this will be followed by far fewer.

Faith and Futures also envisioned that while the numbers might not be as strong as in the past, there would still be a steady stream of new priests. I am happy to report that although ordination numbers are uneven (five last year and only one this year), we are blessed with more than 20 seminarians, and I am confident about our future prospects. Remember the timeless saying of Jesus: “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Pray the harvest master to send out laborers into his harvest!”

Faith and Futures did not operate out of a model of further parish closings, but rather of additional parish “twinning” over time, based on the goal of no pastor having more than two parishes. (That is not to absolutely exclude the possibility of an individual parish being closed or merged given its particular circumstances.)

The appointment of pastoral leaders is also a possibility, that is, a resident leader who is not a priest, with a priest chaplain for priestly ministry, including the sacraments. I should also mention that “twinning” was originally meant to bring about the merging of the two parish councils, finance councils and other entities into one, but experience has shown that this is not always the case.

There are always unforeseen variables when it comes to the number of priests who will be needed to fill pastorate openings, especially because of health issues, in a given year. Right now, it appears that as of July 1, 2010, we will have nine priests leaving and potentially three priests entering the assignment pool.

Lest the Priests’ Personnel Board be caught short with regard to the assignment of priests in 2010, some months ago I asked Precious Blood Sister Joyce Lehman, secretariat leader for pastoral leadership, to revisit the earlier Faith and Futures scenarios for twinning. These were the result of the local consultations that led up to the changes in 2005. We will also have to take into account changing conditions and new considerations that have developed since then.

Once I had the benefit of this information, I recently called a meeting of the pastors of the 11 parishes that will be involved in some change, effective July 1. I should mention that almost all of these parishes have already experienced twinning in some way, either presently or at some time in their history. Nevertheless, no one likes change, and I am grateful for the understanding and cooperation of both the clergy and faithful for the sake of the common good.
Last Updated on Saturday, 13 February 2010 00:00