Changing realities prompt new approach to planning
By Sue Schulzetenberg
The number of priests serving in the St. Cloud Diocese is expected to decline by 32 percent within the next seven years.
With some priests already responsible for four or five parishes, four parishes currently without a pastor, and changing demographics across the diocese, Bishop John Kinney has recognized the need for a new planning approach.
He has charged the Planning Advisory Council, which consists of representatives from throughout the diocese, to develop the new approach, a plan or planning process, by spring 2012.
“As a eucharistic church, we must examine various ways to preserve that eucharistic community while maintaining a strong Catholic presence throughout the 16 counties,” said Bishop Kinney.
The Planning Council will not only look at projections regarding the number of priests but also other dynamics in the diocese, such as the number of Catholics, Mass attendance, parish vibrancy and growing opportunities for lay leadership. One of their parameters is that no priest should be responsible for more than three liturgies each weekend.
The council is in the very early stages of developing an approach. At its January meeting, the council established four committees: vibrancy, statistics, communication and formation of lay leaders. Committees shared information they gathered on their topics with the council in March.
“What we do know is that what we have is changing rapidly, and we have to adjust with that change, we have to grow with that change, we have to be open to that change,” said Father Michael Kellogg, chairman of the Planning Council and pastor of the parishes in Bowlus, Elmdale, St. Francis and Upsala.
In addition to the decreasing number of priests, there are other changes happening in the diocese. The number of registered Catholics dropped from 147,047 in 2000 to 139,501 in 2010. Mass attendance dipped from 54 percent of registered Catholics in 2001 to 45 percent in 2010.
Populations shifted. According to the U.S. Census, counties in the western part of the diocese are seeing declining populations while more people are living in the eastern part. For example, Wilkin County decreased in population from 7,138 in 2000 to 6,576 in 2010. Meanwhile, Sherburne County has increased from 64,417 people to 88,499 in the same time frame.
Planning Council member Franciscan Sister Clara Stang said it is important to think about how to enliven the faith across the diocese and to recognize, support and educate more lay leaders.
“We need to not focus on downsizing. We need to focus on uplifting talents and supporting people,” Sister Clara said. “It is my experience that the gifts are there; they just need to be recognized and supported — financially and through saying ‘yeah, we can help you.’ ”
Looking at the whole picture
Many people in the diocese are in formal training for ministry in the church. About 20 people participated in the first year of the certificate in Youth Ministries Study Program sponsored by the diocesan Catholic Education Ministries office.
Next month, five men will be ordained as permanent deacons, bringing the number of active deacons to around 50. The St. Cloud Diocese has 19 seminarians; two will be ordained as priests in June.
In designing the plan, the Planning Council will think about the entire diocese. For example, even if the population in the west is decreasing, there is still a need for a Catholic presence in that area, said Father Kellogg. Large parishes are not exempt from changes.
“We have to look at the whole picture,” Father Kellogg said. “If we’re going to grow as a diocese, if we’re going to transform as a diocese, we have to look at everything, and that deals with parishes, that deals with Catholic schools, that deals with religious education programs, that deals with youth ministry, that deals with the offices in our diocese. How can we best serve the people that we have?”
He said it will be especially important to keep in mind the mission of the diocese.
“We have to look at it as a diocese, the diocesan church — how is this diocese going to move forward, how are we going to not only survive but be life-giving with the mission of Christ?” he said.
Father Michael Kellogg, chairman of the diocesan planning advisory council and pastor of parishes in Bowlus, Elmdale, St. Francis and Upsala, celebrates Mass May 10 at St. Mary Church in Upsala. Father Kellogg is working with other members of the planning council to establish a new plan for the diocese. Photo by Sue Schulzetenberg/The Visitor
For council members, planning always ‘work in progress’
By Sue Schulzetenberg
Helping to develop a pastoral plan for the St. Cloud Diocese is something the Diocesan Planning Advisory Council has done before. And, as before, re-evaluations and revisions will likely happen even after a new plan is written.
“It seems to me that any planning, whether for an individual parish or for the diocese, is ongoing because we always need to look at what is in the best interest of the church,” said Jane Marrin, director of the diocesan Planning Office. “It’s a living organism, so there’s constant change. As change occurs, we have to continue to plan.”
The Planning Council was established in 1997, the same year the diocese appointed its first full-time director of pastoral planning, Thomas Keaveny. The council serves as an advisory board to the Planning Office and the bishop. Its major projects were helping with the “to 2010 and Beyond” plan completed in 2000, designing the regional planning process and developing a self-evaluation tool for parishes.
Meeting five times a year, the Planning Council consists of 15 people from across the diocese. Groups represented on the council include priests, deacons, parish life coordinators, religious communities, St. John’s School of Theology and lay people. Members are appointed by the bishop and serve three-year terms.
Serving as a blueprint
Early on, council members served as advisors for the “to 2010 and Beyond” plan, a comprehensive look at parishes in the diocese and how to serve its people in light of a diminishing number of priests, shifting demographics and growing numbers of qualified lay people willing to serve in the church.
The “to 2010 and Beyond” plan was not written in stone, but it did serve as a blueprint to work from, Marrin said.
Some parts of “to 2010 and Beyond” were implemented but other parts were not. Pieces of the plan acted upon include the closing of St. Isidore Parish in Moran and St. Anthony Parish in Padua.
Recommendations of “to 2010 and Beyond” that were not implemented included twinning St. Stephen Parish in St. Stephen and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Sartell and the closing of St. James Parish in Jacobs Prairie. Many of the parishes that the plan recommended remain stand-alone parishes have since been clustered, especially parishes in the St. Cloud metro area.
The Planning Council’s next major undertaking was to develop a planning method that would involve lay people living in the regions affected by the planning. This method became known as “regional planning.” Regional planning was conducted in the Albany area, St. Cloud metro area, Sherburne County, southwestern Stearns County and Otter Tail County. It is currently under way in western Morrison County and the eastern-most counties in the diocese.
For each regional planning area, a planning group is assembled with priests and lay representatives from each of the parishes in the region. After numerous meetings, including open parish meetings, the regional planning groups present proposals to Bishop John Kinney who decides whether or not the proposals should be implemented.
Some proposals already implemented include clustering parishes in the St. Cloud metro area, reconfiguring clusters in the northern part of the diocese and merging parishes in Princeton and Zimmerman.
The Planning Council was also responsible for developing the self-evaluation tool. This resource, made available in 2006, is a guide for parishes to see how they measure up to the seven elements of a viable parish. The tool has since been revised, with the new version currently being piloted in parishes. The revised version will likely be available this fall.
Moving forward with their charge to write a new plan or planning process for the diocese by spring 2012, Planning Council members are approaching the task with realism, knowing their plan could be changed.
Father Michael Kellogg, director of the council and pastor of the parishes in Bowlus, Elmdale, St. Francis and Upsala, said that in 10 years, their to-be-written plan and what actually happens might be very different because of changing realities.
“It’s always a work in progress, but if we know where our mission is, then we’re able to aim for it. If we know what goal we’re going for, then we’re able to focus in that direction,” he said.