Originally published May 20, 2010
In the 19 years Franciscan Sister Katarina Schuth has been teaching at St. Paul Seminary, she’s noticed a growing interest among her students in multi-parish pastoring.
It’s now a permanent part of the syllabus for her class “Pastoral Ministry in American Culture,” which she teaches to first-year seminarians.
It’s also the topic of a book she authored in 2006, “Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes.”
Sister Katarina — who has a doctoral degree in cultural geography and a Licentiate in sacred theology — decided to research and write about the growing phenomenon when she found there was little published on the topic.
It’s a topic that may already be on the minds of archdiocesan priests and parishioners as they prepare for Archbishop John Nienstedt to announce the recommendations of the comprehensive archdiocesan parish planning process in October.
He has said these recommendations may include parishes merging, clustering or closing.
Varying diocesan needs
Since St. Paul Seminary educates men from several dioceses, Sister Katarina’s students bring varied experiences of parish life into her classroom. Each year, she asks her students to complete a project of interest to their dioceses.
“As they go through the seminary, the idea is that they’re preparing for a particular kind of ministry,” she said.
Sister Katarina organizes the course into three over-arching themes: the church universal, her students’ dioceses, and parish life.
“They can look forward to what they should know, how they should be able to interact with people, [and] what their responsibilities should be,” she said.
Seminarians are assigned to teaching parishes in their first year at St. Paul Seminary, so they need to know some “basic pastoral practices” from the beginning, she added.
To research her most recent book, Sister Katarina and her assistant Catherine Slight used the Official Catholic Directory and other diocesan directories to record what every priest in the United States was doing. She also visited several U.S. dioceses to survey and interview priests about their current assignments before compiling her findings into a volume.
Sister Katarina’s course weaves her research throughout the classes, tailoring it to the dioceses for which the students are studying. Some of her findings include:
- 44 percent of U.S. Roman Rite parishes are served by a priest with multiple parishes.
- 90 percent of priests reported receiving no preparation for their multiple parish service.
- 23 percent of priests travel more than 1,000 miles per month for their ministry.
-62 percent of U.S. priests report being “very satisfied” with their relationship to parishioners, and 33 percent report being “somewhat satisfied”; only 0.4 percent report being “very dissatisfied.”
Sister Katarina’s research prompts class discussion about the role of a priest in the parish, the responsibilities of a lay person, and the importance of seeking support from parishioners, other priests and the local bishop.
Looking to collaborate
Seminarians today are more eager to collaborate with others than those two decades ago, Sister Katarina said.
“The interest is in how to do collaboration more effectively, and, in the midst of that, how to deal with conflict, which, of course, comes when you share authority,” she said.
They’re also more interested and better prepared to minister in a multi-cultural parish. In the archdiocese, seminarians learn to speak Spanish and serve in a Spanish-speaking parish before their priestly ordination.
As more dioceses have undertaken regional or comprehensive planning, more seminarians may have experienced multi-parish life firsthand.
Before entering seminary, Deacon Paul Kubista, 41, worked at IBM in Rochester and attended Mass at a tri-parish cluster that included St. Michael in Kenyon, St. Paul in Zumbrota and St. Michael in Pine Island. (Today, that cluster has been re-configured.)
“I think it’s so important that we as a church really work together,” he said. “It’s not ‘my church,’ it’s our church. So, how do we make it so it’s good for all of us?”
Seminarians with work experience are also able to apply their business skills to priesthood.
Before leaving IBM to enter seminary, Deacon Kubista was a team leader in designing the PlayStation 3 processor. His business experience taught him how to pull together a group, a skill he expects to transfer well to a parish situation, he said.
“When I was working with people [at IBM], just the communication, just making sure that we’re all together, that we’re all working together [was important],” he said.
“We were all working for a common goal, a common purpose,” he added. “In the church, we’re all working for a common thing as well. We’re all working to help each other get to heaven.”
Changing church landscape
Facing a changing church landscape doesn’t make Deacon Alex Carlson, 26, think differently about being a priest, he said. “We’re the church. We’re the universal church — universal and local. I’m here to serve the church.”
If he ever is required to usher a parish through a change, Deacon Carlson hopes he can help parishioners see that God has a plan, he said.
Most of the soon-to-be-ordained haven’t given much thought to the particulars of the current plan for parishes; they simply expect to live out their priesthood in whatever parish situations they’re called, several seminarians told The Catholic Spirit.
As excited as Deacon Carlson is about his May 29 ordination, it’s June 16 that makes him smile every morning, he said.
That’s the first day of his parish assignment. Catholic Spirit