By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Parishes desire that the Davenport Diocese clearly communicate its vision of and expectations for marriage and family ministry at the parish level. Marianne Agnoli shared that message with the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) during a presentation Nov. 8 in her new role as diocesan coordinator for Family Formation/Lay Ministry Formation.
Her presentation took center stage at the DPC’s fall meeting, which also included election of new officers, new-member orientation by Bishop Martin Amos, and reports on parish challenges and cooperation.
Newly elected officers are Chairman Ken Miller of St. John Vianney Parish, Bettendorf; Vice-Chair Patti McTaggart of St. Mary Parish, Iowa City; and Secretary Sheri Benson (re-elected), Sacred Heart Parish, Newton.
Agnoli told the DPC she has been traveling throughout the Davenport Diocese to gain parishes’ input, and she aims to have a contact from each parish/cluster on marriage and family ministry. At the same time, the former religion teacher from Assumption High School, Davenport, has been researching resources — from Pope Francis’ writings and the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage.
The latter resource offers “Eight Building Blocks of a Marriage-Building Parish,” which Agnoli outlined as a potential approach to marriage and family ministry. The eight building blocks focus on building leadership, forming youths and young adults, preparing for sacramental marriage, creating a culture of life, strengthening the married, pastoral caring for couples in need, divorce healing for family members, and worshipping and prayer.
Earlier this fall, the Davenport Diocese hosted a 50th anniversary Mass at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine for couples from throughout the diocese married 50 years or longer. The following week the diocese held a marriage preparation program at the Muscatine parish.
Agnoli said the example of the long-married couples was helpful to share with couples preparing to begin the marital journey. Both groups received the same prayer book for married couples because prayer is essential at every point on the journey. Of those preparing to enter the sacrament of marriage, “We need to welcome them where they are at,” Agnoli observed. She referred to the concept of graduality, which came up in the Synod of Bishops on the Family in regards to couples who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or living together outside of marriage. The Church seeks to offer them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them.
Agnoli plans to distribute a questionnaire to parishes to help assess, analyze and prioritize needs. She envisions resource sharing among parishes and other dioceses.
In addition to effective communication, she learned that parishes also desire updated training for administration of marriage preparation assessment tools, sponsor couple training and Natural Family Planning (NFP) development.
DPC member Nancy Robertson sees a need for assistance for parishes as they minister to people married to non-Catholics, non-Christians, or individuals from a different culture.
Agnoli said that means being sensitive in designing programs pertaining to marriage and family life. Bishop Amos said it’s important to get Miguel Moreno involved, as diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministry.
Patti McTaggart pointed out that families tend to “pop up” at the church for milestones – to receive first Communion or the sacrament of confirmation, for example. “How do we stress the importance of sacramental prep?”
Getting families engaged in the parish and attending Mass on a consistent basis is a concern, Agnoli agreed. She showed a video which underscored the point that patterns set in the home are vitally important in passing on the faith.
DPC member Clarenc Darrow suggested that parishes need to do “little subtle things” to encourage Mass attendance, such as the priest recognizing couples during Mass who have been married for 10 years. “We need to get people into the Church … they won’t be involved in a whole program (to start with).”
Robertson, a lifelong member of the Muscatine parish, sees hope. “The kids who grew up in our parish are taking leadership. Be encouraged,” she said.
Miller offered a recommendation to all members: “Let’s at least go back to our parishes and implement something little, even if it’s something in prayers of the faithful.”
Make-up of the Diocesan Pastoral Council
The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) is an advisory board that acts as the authentic representative voice of the people of the Diocese of Davenport to Bishop Martin Amos and serves as a forum for open communication throughout the diocese. It aims to initiate and support with Bishop Amos positive action for the common good of the Church, of other religious bodies and the civil community. DPC membership is geographical, representing the six deaneries (regions) and 79 parishes of the 22-county diocese. “This group is more visionary, to explore what is going on in the diocese and parishes,” Bishop Marin Amos said at the Nov. 8 DPC fall meeting.
DPC members are: Sheri Benson; Conna Bral; Mary Bright Hingst; Kenny Cadden; Janice Crall; Clarence Darrow; Kathryn Davis; Suanne Dickey; Carol Kaalberg; Diane Lannan; Gary Low; Michael McLaughlin; Patti McTaggart; Mark Meek; Christine Meyer; Ken Miller; Tom Palen; Mike Panther; Bob Pontious; Nancy Robertson; Robert Thys; Verna Turnis; T Waldmann-Williams; ex-officio members: Bishop Martin Amos, Msgr. John Hyland and Father Ken Kuntz; staff: Sister Laura Goedken, O.P.; Deacon David Montgomery; Miguel Moreno.
Parish challenges and opportunities for collaboration
Bishop Martin Amos told the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) that parishes need to work together as they look ahead to priest retirements. That’s a real concern for five parishes in her deanery, said Janice Crall of St. Mary Parish, Albia. “We have three pastors for five parishes in the two counties. With two pastors nearing retirement, we may be down to one (pastor) for five parishes,” she observed.
“We’ve already gone through the clustering … we need to keep the presence in those rural parishes,” said Mary Bright Hingst, who noted that rural churches are full. “What are the urban parishes doing?”
Bishop Amos said the urban parishes are “definitely on the radar,” but he also pointed out that some of the urban parishes are in densely populated areas. He agreed that some rural parishes do have high attendance, but some are very small with low attendance. Sister Laura Goedken, O.P., the diocese’s development director, said 12 parishes have fewer than 100 households. Bright Hingst said she believes the diocese needs to make a commitment to ensure the presence of a priest in every county it serves. She noted that she recently attended Mass at St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass, which was standing-room only. “They do have a strong community,” the bishop said.
But, “If I lose four priests (to retirement) in 2016, that’s a lot. What am I going to do?” The diocese has 14 seminarians, and more candidates are being considered. “We have to continue to work at vocations,” the bishop said, “but it’s a long process.”
Miller said the DPC has “the ability to be a presence, with strong leadership among us. We need to keep beefing that up. Make sure you’re visiting with the priests and deacons in the clusters,” he advised DPC members.
DPC member Mike Panther stressed the importance of the Internet and social media in keeping in touch with parishioners and other parishes. DPC member Carol Kaalberg told of 10 parishes in multiple communities working collaboratively. They call themselves “Ten that Can.” The partners will host an event at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, in which Sister Margaret Wick of the Archdiocese of Dubuque will share her wisdom about rural parishes, Kaalberg said. “We’re trying to make a difference.”