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Parishes work together to maintain vibrant faith life, ministries

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a multi-part series on the Vibrant Churches project, an ongoing effort to mitigate the decline in the number of available priests for assignments as pastors on the parishes of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The first installment examined efforts to mitigate the impact of the shortage of priests and prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead. This installment will provide background information on the Vibrant Churches project some of the process involved with pastoral region planning and note how some parishes are already working together and looking toward the future. 

By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph 

Planning for the future is nothing new in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For many years, the archdiocese has been planning, praying and discerning how to live the mission of Jesus Christ using available personnel, programs and finances as effectively as possible amid changing demographics.

The reality of this planning was the “clustering” of the archdiocese’s more than 200 parishes into approximately 100 pastoral regions. For administrative purposes, parishes of the archdiocese are grouped together geographically into deaneries, each led by a dean, a priest appointed by the archbishop. Deans work with the parishes of their deaneries to determine the pastoral regions, using the most appropriate process for their area. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk approved the formation of these pastoral regions in October 2005 as part of the Futures Project.

Among the regions already implemented and where the pastor, staffs and members are living out their vocation to foster a vibrant church is the Dayton Pastoral Region, which includes St. Paul, St. Rita and Precious Blood. The collaborative group of parishes officially came together July 1, 2012, under the leadership of Precious Blood Fathers Tom Seibert, pastor for the region, and Tim Knepper, associate. Precious Blood Parish serves approximately 1,300 families, St. Paul 420 and St. Rita 400, said Father Seibert. Mother Brunner Catholic School was founded in 2010 through the consolidation of Precious Blood and St. Rita schools.

Implementation of the Dayton Pastoral Region was largely very smooth, Father Seibert believes, due of open communication, a gradual process, the efforts of a planning committee comprised of representatives from each parish and a general spirit of faith, cooperation and prayerfulness among parishioners.

With that solid foundation, the parishes have already found a variety of ways to come together, including a monthly regional Mass, which rotates from parish to parish every four months and involves members of each parish as ministers during the liturgy. It has been a wonderful opportunity for everyone to “get to know other people, minister with him or her and worship with him or her,” Father Seibert said.

Other community building activities have included a joint Mardi Gras and a regional parish mission. Plans are underway for a single bulletin for all three parishes, in addition to a regional pictorial directory, Father Seibert noted.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said of his parishes. “We have a good group of people who are looking at the bigger picture. They understand this is what we have to do.”

“When you’re a pastor of multiple parishes, you have to think about how you can best pastor everyone. The pastor is only one person,” he added. “You have to be very open to sharing responsibility, to encouraging lay people to step up and share their gifts. That’s what has been happening here.”

Two parishes that are already working together and planning for a future with fewer priests are All Saints and St. Vincent Ferrer. Both are vibrant and healthy faith communities located just a couple of miles apart from each other. For the past several years, the parishes have collaborated on a number of significant, shared ministries, according to Father George Kunkel, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer, including RCIA, the annual parish mission, youth ministry and the Summer Parish Religious Education Program. Building on that the relationship says Father Kunkel and Father Dennis Jaspers, pastor of All Saints, the parishes will move forward.

“Our parishes work well together,” Father Kunkel said. “We’ll continue do it because it’s working so well and makes sense.”?

Last fall, Father Len Wenke, director of the Pastoral Services Office, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer met with staff members and parish council members from both parishes to discuss how the reality of a future with fewer priests will affect them. In addition, a joint parish meeting was held at Archbishop Moeller High School. The goal, explained Father Kunkel, has been to maintain open and clear communication with parishioners and to keep them informed and listen to them.

Looking to the future, Father Kunkel emphasized that there are no plans for either parish school to close. As it stands now, he said, the plan is for Father Jaspers to remain as pastor of All Saints until his retirement in a few years, at which time a parochial administrator would be appointed. Father Kunkel, currently in second term at St. Vincent Ferrer, will serve out his remaining five years there. At that time, a new pastor will be appointed for both parishes.

“We have plan, but no date for now,” Father Jaspers said. “Personally, I love my parish, my parishioners and my work as pastor. Since we have a priest shortage, I am willing to be of service as long as the Lord is willing and the bishops approve.”

In subsequent stories on this topic, The Catholic Telegraph will examine success stories, struggles and misunderstandings some parishes have navigated this transition, headed by Father Len Wenke, director of the archdiocesan Pastoral Services Office, moves towards this goal.

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