By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Among the greatest strengths of the Diocese of Davenport is its diocesan newspaper, members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council decided during a strategic planning process March 18. In fact, The Catholic Messenger ranked number one on a list of 13 strengths that the DPC identified in its SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that began Nov. 12.
Bishop Martin Amos asked the DPC to participate in the strategic planning exercise to prepare for a new bishop. While a successor has not been chosen yet, Bishop Amos believes in providing ahead of time what a new bishop needs to know about the diocese. The SWOT analysis is from the perspective of the 28-member DPC, an advisory council to the bishop that represents parishes and entities in the diocese’s 22 counties. The initial priorities list is being honed to prioritize and eliminate duplication.
In addition to the diocesan newspaper, the other top strengths are Iowa’s loyal, hardworking, good people; and active associations, such as the Knights of Columbus and the Altar & Rosary Society. Other strengths included strong and committed parish leadership/volunteers and involvement; diocesan structure/staff; enthusiastic Spanish prayer/support; and young priests.
Strengths and challenges
While The Catholic Messenger is viewed as a great strength for the diocese, parishes don’t know how to optimize that strength, DPC members said. They suggested providing parishes with ideas for optimal use of the diocesan newspaper. Bishop Amos recommended that the Messenger send a notice in September, inquiring about significant events happening in the parishes in the coming year. Father Tony Herold, the diocese’s vicar general and pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, suggested that parishes could offer small-group discussions on the newspaper’s content, such as end-of-life issues or Father Ron Rolheiser’s columns.
Some DPC members asked whether all families subscribe to the Messenger and wondered about the best approach to ensuring financial support of the newspaper through the parish. Fr. Herold pointed out that newspaper readership isn’t as strong as it used to be. He said he finds the online version of the Messenger easy to go through. (The Messenger offers an E-Edition, which is an exact replica of the newspaper, and a website, which provides local content.)
“The news industry is going through incredible change,” said DPC Chairman Ken Miller, who assists the Messenger in his position as a director of Systems Operations for Lee Enterprises Inc. “I think it’s important that we continue to do what we can to promote the newspaper.”
DPC member Clarence Darrow recommended that the Messenger maintain its “middle of the road” approach. Other DPC members said they appreciate the newspaper’s mix of local, diocesan, national and international news, along with the opinion page and the columns, such as Fr. Rolheiser’s.
The DPC identified clustering as a priority in the weaknesses category. Also of concern is a perceived lack of communication between the chancery and parish; and priests who aren’t good preachers, leaders, strategists, unifiers, collaborators. A decline in church attendance and more deaths than baptisms also ranked high on the weakness list.
Bishop Amos observed that parochialism remains a challenge in parishes. “The idea is that we need to work together,” he said. DPC member Carol Kaalberg noted that collaboration between parishes requires time and effort. The cluster she coordinates in Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols is committed to doing that. The emphasis has to be working together, she added. DPC members said finding commonality is important, and so is engaging the right leaders.
Topping the list of opportunities are sharing resources among parishes/faith communities; enhancing youth ministry; youth focus for engagement; creating more opportunity for adult education. DPC members agreed that engaging the diocese’s youth is essential.
Vocations — priest burnout and shortage — top the list of threats. Another threat high on the list: lack of liturgy enhancement — for example, music/social work involvement. Non-Catholic/other churches are perceived as more inviting. Aging congregations are another concern, along with planning for the future. “Good liturgy is very important. Our parish works very hard at that,” observed Miller, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. “That is the core of everything we do. From good liturgy comes good engagement.”
Darrow recommended that the DPC consider ways to respond to the SWOT analysis at the July meeting.
Bishop Amos noted that as of March 18, five U.S. dioceses are without a bishop and awaiting successors. “Six or seven of us are over the age of 75. I am now the fifth-oldest active bishop in the U.S., said Bishop Amos, who turned 75 on Dec. 8. He said he’s keeping tabs on Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson, Ariz., Diocese, who turned 75 in August. Bishops upon turning 75 must submit their resignation to the Vatican. Then the search for a successor begins. That process could take seven to eight months or longer, Bishop Amos said.
Synod on Young People
The bishop provided an update on preparations for the Synod of Bishops that Pope Francis will convene in October 2018 on the theme of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Bishop Amos said he will be in consultation with a wide variety of groups for input to the Vatican on this important issue. He will send his report the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in turn will report to the Vatican. Youths also will have an opportunity to participate in an online survey.
DPC member Kevin Strausbaugh reported that the parishes of Ss. John & Paul-Burlington and Ss. Mary & Patrick-West Burlington are merging and in the process of voting on a new name for the merged parish. The three top choices: Divine Mercy; St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Kolkata. The new name will be announced at Easter. No buildings will be closed.