Originally Published June 1, 2010
When Highland Catholic Community in St. Paul was transitioning from three parishes — St. Gregory, St. Therese and St. Leo — into one, its pastor, Father John Bauer, outlined eight “rules of behavior” for the parishioners to follow.
The rules, he told them, were inspired by those that his sister, a teacher, established in her classroom. Among them, per student suggestion: no spitting.
“Let’s agree that as we talk about your future we won’t pillory those with whom we disagree, or engage in conversations that aren’t rooted in mutual respect and grounded in the virtue of charity,” he wrote.
Today, Highland Catholic Community has successfully become one parish, Lumen Christi, pastored by Father Paul Feela.
The eight “rules” didn’t necessarily take away the pain that accompanies the transition, but they did establish a framework for talking about it respectfully, Father Bauer recently told The Catholic Spirit.
Father Bauer is now the rector of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. He’s also the co-chair, along with moderator of the curia Father Peter Laird, of the archdiocesan Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning.
When Archbishop John Nienstedt announced the planning process in March 2009, he outlined seven principles the process would follow. The last one stated that the process would include “respect, patience and honesty in all discussions to build on strengths.”
These three values were emphasized in each of the 130-plus Parish Services Team-led meetings held during the past 14 months. Attendees were given opportunities to voice their ideas, both in small- and large-group settings.
Catholics were also invited to share their ideas and concerns through voice mail, e-mail and postal mail. All responses have been presented to the archbishop-appointed, 16-member task force as they prepare their planning recommendations, which are expected to be presented to Archbishop Nienstedt by June 30.
The initial response to the plan must be pastoral, not organizational, said Jim Lundholm-Eades, a task forcemember and director of the Parish Services Team.
“We can’t expect everybody to agree with everything or even to like everything, but what we want people to know is that we respected enough to ask them,” he said.
In the months ahead, parishes are encouraged to identify the strengths that they would take into the future no matter what the plan requires.
Parish leaders are also asked to see “the bigger picture” — what’s good for the whole of the archdiocese, not just what’s good for their parish, Lundholm-Eades added.
However, any kind of change or transition involves pain, Father Bauer said.
“We didn’t try to minimize it or dismiss it, but continue to acknowledge it,” he said of his experience with Lumen Christi.
Father Bauer expects the changes prescribed through the Archdiocesan Plan for Parishes and Schools also to cause pain, but people should distinguish between “hurt” and “anger,” he said. Hurt is appropriate, but expressing that hurt with anger is not, he said.
“We need to tell people that we expect the best of them, and we have to keep reminding people of that,” he said.
Prayer for the process and for Catholics in the archdiocese is also important, Father Bauer added.
Prayer was important as three parishes consolidated in Faribault, said Father Kevin Finnegan, pastor of Divine Mercy in Faribault and task force member. St. Lawrence, Sacred Heart and Immaculate Conception became Divine Mercy in 2002.
“It’s always good to pray,” he said. “In that, to be able to pray in a way that says we’re going to be open to what the Spirit wants, we’re open to listening to one another, [and] we’re going to be open to sharing my perspective.”
Father Finnegan said the most important part of his parishioners’ process was that they loved one another, he said.
“What we’re about is the mission of the the church, and doing the ministry of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Everything we have has to fit into that, and all of our structures have to support that.”
Looking ahead to the plan
Archbishop John Nienstedt plans to announce the framework of the Archdiocesan Plan for Parishes at weekend Masses Oct. 16-17, although major changes are not likely to be implemented until early 2011.
The archbishop-appointed, 16-member Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning expects to present its recommendations to Archbishop Nienstedt by June 30. The archbishop will finalize the plan in August and September.
The Parish Services Team has been holding seven meetings for parish leaders in May and June to provide information about the scope of the expected changes for parishes and schools, and to prepare leaders to help their parishioners transition once the plan is implemented.
Task Force member and Parish Services Team director Jim Lundholm-Eades emphasized that no decisions have been made and no changes are predetermined.
The week before the October announcement, Archbishop Nienstedt will meet with members of the Presbyteral Council, the archdiocesan Finance Council, and all of the clergy to inform them of the plan and provide an opportunity to talk about its impact.
A printed copy of the plan will be available at Masses Oct. 16-17 . It will also be available online. In the parishes most significantly affected by the plan, an archdiocesan staff member will be available at the weekend Masses to answer questions and address concerns.
Additionally, within weeks of the plan’s announcement, archdiocesan staff will meet with members of the pastoral and finance councils at significantly affected parishes. They will also be available as resources in their areas of expertise, such as legal counsel, faith formation and finances.
The plan will also include an appeals process, in which parishes can ask for a reevaluation of a part of the plan if they have new information that was not considered during the planning process, and if they can offer a feasible alternative solution.
“We know that not everybody will agree with or like . . . aspects of the plan, but what we’re offering them is an opportunity to understand it,” Lundholm-Eades said.