By Barb Arland-Fye
For the past two months The Catholic Messenger has published examples of collaboration occurring between parishes in the six regions of the Davenport Diocese. The stories served as a point-up to a series of meetings which begin in mid-September that are focused on helping parishes plan for a future with far fewer priests. Diocesan projections show that by 2020 just 41 priests will be available to serve the 80 parishes of the diocese compared with 59 priests today. Retirements have outpaced ordination of priests for some time. The parishes profiled in The Catholic Messenger series demonstrate how collaborative efforts have helped them to survive and even thrive.
These parishes’ experiences can be helpful to other parishes in the diocese as they embark on the planning process:
• In the Grinnell Deanery, Catholics in Pella and Oskaloosa have shared a staff position, held joint Masses, retreats and social events, and shared operational strategies and advice.
• In the Clinton County Deanery, the Lost Nation, Toronto and Oxford Junction parishes share a bookkeeper, a housekeeper and a priest. They have separate pastoral councils, but come together several times a year for a tri-parish council meeting.
• In the Davenport Deanery, youth ministers in parishes covering Scott County and Muscatine and Columbus Junction collaborate to organize faith and fellowship events called “The Party’s Here” for sixth- through eighth-graders.
• In the Iowa City Deanery, youth ministry unites Catholics from St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. By pooling resources, they hired a full-time youth minister and fostered identity as clustered congregations. The three parishes also share a pastor.
• In the Ottumwa Deanery, collaboration between the two parishes began with religious education more than a decade ago. In addition to sharing a Catholic school and religious education, St. Mary of the Visitation and St. Patrick parishes also collaborate on Latino ministry. St. Patrick and St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Bloomfield also share a pastor.
• In the Keokuk Deanery, collaboration began out of necessity 14 years ago in Des Moines County because of a pastor’s early retirement, and has become a way of life. The three parishes collaborate on the Regional Parish Council, adult faith formation, ministry to the sick and elderly and the funeral choir, among other things.
Bishop Martin Amos said further collaboration is imperative for parishes to fulfill their mission of ministry to God’s people. The bishop established a special Diocesan Parish Planning Commission in January 2009 to create and oversee the process for preparing for the future. The commission’s project continues the Living the Faith Task Force study of 2005, according to Father Jim Vrba, a co-chair of the planning commission.
Seven area meetings, beginning Sept. 19, will be held throughout the diocese to present the planning process to pastors, parish life administrators and parish leaders. All parish leaders are asked to attend one of meetings, which are approximately two hours long.
Meeting dates, locations and times:
• Sunday, Sept. 19, St. Mary Parish, Solon, 4:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 19, Holy Trinity Parish, Richmond, 7 p.m.
• Monday, Sept. 20, St. Mary Parish, Albia, 7 p.m.
• Tuesday, Sept. 21, St. Alphonsus Parish, Mount Pleasant, 7 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 26, St. Mary Parish, Pella, 5 p.m.
• Sunday, Oct. 3, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport, 3 p.m.
• Sunday, Oct. 3, St. Joseph Parish, DeWitt, 5 p.m.
“No one better knows the situation of local communities than the people who live in them. The local knowledge and wisdom of parishioners is vital to work out various scenarios of inter-parish cooperation,” Fr. Vrba said. “It will be the responsibility of local leadership, guided by the planning process, to prayerfully construct the best possible plan to present to the bishop in Advent 2011.”