Now that we have completed the celebration of the Christmas season, the parishes and Archdiocese are moving forward with some of the implementation details regarding the Beacons of Light pastoral planning initiative to adjust priest assignments and parish operations to prepare for the future. The initial changes for that will begin on July 1st of this year.
Most people don’t like change to be dropped on them unexpectedly so I am going to try to prepare the parishioners as much as possible regarding what is coming down the pike. Unfortunately, there is still a lot we don’t yet know. As of this writing, the new pastor and parochial vicar have not been announced. That should happen very soon, if it hasn’t already.
A parochial vicar, by the way, is a priest assigned by the Archbishop to assist a pastor in the priestly duties in his parishes. In the past, some parishes called them “associate pastors,” but that term is being phased out since the term vicar is more clearly defined in the Church’s law and tradition.
We do not yet have a name for our new parish region consisting of St. Thomas More Parish in Withamsville, St. Bernadette Parish in Amelia, St. Peter Parish in New Richmond, and St. Mary Parish in Bethel. The diocese has simply given the new regions, the “Families of Parishes” [FOPs], code names based on geography. Our new FOP is SE-6 (SE as in Southeast). For those interested in the “bigger picture,” you can see all of the new FOPs by going online to beaconsAOC.org.
Each of the FOPs has a pastor. Most have at least one parochial vicar assisting the pastor, but not all. Some pastors will have to go solo. For SE-6, we will have just one vicar assisting the pastor for all four parishes. Both priests will serve all four parishes, rather than dividing them up between them.
Once all the priests have been assigned, there are many pressing questions which will have to be worked out even before July 1st. For example, what will be the new Mass schedule? (That is limited by the number of priests assigned). Unless retired priests can help out on a regular basis, we will likely have only four Sunday Masses total each week, plus some Saturday vigils. But that has not been finalized.
Where will the new priests live? That has not yet been determined. It is up to them. Management of facilities with priests moving and some parish operations likely to be combined will be one of the more challenging tasks that the pastors and parish councils will have to address.
As time permits, I will continue to communicate plans for the transition and write up some more extensive “Q&As” based on the questions that come from parishioners and our parish council members. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly with any questions.
While there will be some benefits of the regional changes, I want to be realistic about the things parishioners may have to prepare to give up, or at least changes they will have to get used to. Here are a few to get started.
Sunday Mass times: It will not be possible to maintain the current Mass schedule for all four parishes with only two priests. Some Sunday Masses or Saturday Vigil Masses are likely to be eliminated.
Priest availability: Because some of our new parishes are larger than the current ones and because priests will have to travel a lot more back and forth between many parishes, it will likely be harder to catch a priest spontaneously (such as just dropping by the office). Parishioners will likely have to get used to interacting with them only by appointment. Currently our Mass schedule allows me to spend time with parishioners immediately after the Sunday Masses and I am grateful for that. Depending on how closely Mass times need to be scheduled, that may no longer be possible in the future.
Getting to know you: It will likely take longer for priests to get to know you personally. Remembering back to the “good old days” when I was able to serve as pastor of just one parish, even then it took me a while to get to know parishioners. When I took on this current assignment with two parishes, it took me a bit longer. That was especially the case at St. Mary before we changed the Mass schedule, when I was not here every week. In a four-parish region, depending on how the priests decide to rotate Masses, it may be weeks in between the time they see you. That makes it very challenging to get to know and remember the faithful. Please don’t be insulted if it takes them a while to remember your name! Don’t hesitate to remind them even if you’ve told them before.
As soon as the Archdiocese officially announces the priests who will be assigned to us, I will work with our parish councils and transition teams to lay out a plan to make this transition as smooth as possible. Please pray for the pastors who are moving into somewhat uncharted waters as we work through new ways to serve the parishes. I am certainly praying for the good people of St. Mary and St. Peter who have been patient with the upcoming changes. It has been a privilege to serve here for these last three and a half years.