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 Sister 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.
Mission: A mission church is a community of people who are under the care of a local pastor and parish. They may have their own worship site with regular Sunday Mass but are not a separate parish. All aspects of its administration are the responsibility of the pastor of the parish to which the mission is attached.
Oratory: Oratory status designates a church that is no longer a parish or mission and which no longer has regularly scheduled services, although the church building can be used for special liturgies such as a funeral of a long-time parishioner or to celebrate the oratory’s patronal feast. An oratory is the responsibility of the local parish.
Linked Parishes: This term reflects two or more parishes which remain independent parish corporations but who share a common pastor. This arrangement usually involves a consolidated Mass schedule and would require the assistance of other pastoral personnel such as pastoral associates, deacons, and/or parish life coordinators.
Clustered Parishes: This term reflects two or more parishes being served by more than one priest and where the staff work together to coordinate the different areas of parish ministry. Sometimes this type of joint activity may serve as a step towards the merging of the parishes involved.
Merged Parishes: A merger takes place when two or more parishes join together to form a new parish corporation. Usually this results with a new name for the parish with a consolidation of the assets and liabilities of the parishes involved. A merger may result in centering all parish activities at one site or two or more buildings may be used as a worship site for Mass or other parish activities.
Worship Site: This is a church site of a parish that has been merged but which continues to be used for the regular celebration Mass. Some worship sites are seasonal and are open only for certain months, such as to accommodate summer worshippers.
Pastoral Associate: This is a person hired by the pastor to assist in the various parish duties which are determined locally and according to diocesan guidelines. This person may be a deacon, religious sister or brother or a qualified lay person.
Parish Life Coordinator: This person, appointed by the Bishop, has the responsibility for providing the overall day-to-day pastoral care and administration of a parish. He/She may be a religious, deacon or lay person having the qualifications specified in diocesan guidelines. The Parish Life Coordinator (PLC) works in close collaboration with a local pastor and/or sacramental priest who is responsible for the celebration of Mass and sacraments for the parish.