Planning has always been an on-going process in the Diocese of Ogdensburg but, particularly since 1987 under Bishop Stanislaus J. Brzana, there has been a concerted effort to look to and plan for the future pastoral care of the faithful of the Diocese in light of a declining number of priests (See Planning Video 1987). It was Bishop Paul Loverde who initiated the most recent planning process in 1998 with Jennifer Votraw, SSJ, serving as Director of Planning. At that time there were 92 pastors residing in parishes (as opposed to 44 resident pastors in 2020). A Planning Committee was established under the direction of Sister Jennifer consisting of the Deans of the Diocese, the Vicar for Clergy, and religious and lay representatives. After extensive consultation with pastors and parishioners the Planning Committee submitted a restructuring plan which was approved in 2003 by Bishop Gerald Barbarito. With the implementation of the plan there have been significant changes and adjustments made in terms of parish configurations.
“Find Your Home In Christ” Pastoral Letter:
Out of necessity, the Planning Committee has continued to evaluate the diocesan reality recommending to our Bishop changes which have gone well beyond the original recommendations made in 2003. In April of 2014 with the proclamation of Bishop Terry LaValley’s Pastoral Letter, “Find Your Home in Christ”, the planning process took another huge step forward. One of the priorities highlighted in the Bishop’s letter was to “Build Parishes with Living Stones” with a goal of establishing a “Living Stones Planning Committee” (LSPC) with a clear mission and broad representation by September 1, 2014. This goal has been met.
The LSPC, building on the good work of the previous planning committee, has continued to move forward presenting to Bishop LaValley a new plan of parish configuration in August of 2016. This plan included suggestions for the linking or merging of certain parishes with some churches being reduced to the status of oratory. Closure of a parish would be a last resort. This plan is not the final word but simply made recommendations to Bishop LaValley and is subject to on-going consultation taking into consideration the particular circumstances of the parish (es) involved.
Challenges in planning:
Because of the nature of our Diocese covering such a large area, one of the major challenges facing our Bishop and the LSPC is to assure that our communities have a pastoral presence. Although all parishes will have a pastor with access to a Sunday Mass, not all communities will have a pastor in residence or a Mass in their church building. In those situations where a priest is not in residence, it is important to have someone who can attend to pastoral needs through ministry that is not directly reserved to priests. The primary concern is to do what is best for the church, both clergy and laity, and place our priests where they are most needed. In some cases a deacon or a pastoral associate may fill this role of pastoral presence and in some particular situations a parish life coordinator may be assigned. The aim in planning is to utilize the gifts of all the baptized who are the “Living Stones” of our church.
Looking to the Future with Vibrant Parish Life:
Consistent with one of the goals of the LSPC, that of developing lay leadership, Bishop LaValley appointed Dr. William Amoriell as chairperson of the committee in 2019. Under Dr. Amoriell’s leadership, Phase I of the LSPC, involving the submission and assessment of parish plans, has been largely completed. Phase II of the LSPC process involves parishes developing plans over the next several years to address the needs identified in their plans. Toward this end, each parish has been asked to establish committees to determine three priority needs leading to greater vibrancy. This would be part of their long-range planning, an on-going process which would continually be evaluated.