I have been a bishop for just over six months now and it has been quite the adventure as I settle into an entirely new role. I have thoroughly enjoyed traveling across the 16 counties of the diocese getting to know so many of you. I think that as your shepherd, I’m starting to ‘smell of the sheep,’ as Pope Francis has called on the world’s priests to do to be close to their flock.
Recently I gave a presentation to the members of our pastoral team about my priorities as the new bishop of St. Cloud. The six priorities are: the well-being, support, and enrichment of our Pastoral Team; care for the priests of the diocese; seeing synodality as the model for the Church and the diocese; the Eucharistic Revival in the diocese; the Latino presence in the diocese; strategic planning for the next phase of our Area Catholic Communities. What follows is a brief observation about these priorities:
We have an impressive pastoral team, primarily comprised of lay people, who are intelligent, faith-filled and zealous. We want to do more faith-based enrichment and find new ways to collaborate between our many offices to offer more resources to our schools and parishes. They are a fun group to be around and we laugh a lot together.
I have spent my Fridays traveling to interview my brother priests so I can get to know them better. We currently have 62 active priests and 39 retired priests. When I visit with them, I simply ask them where they grew up, the sports they played in their youth, their hobbies and how they discerned a call to the priesthood. I love hearing their stories. I do worry that they are being overworked and we need to explore ways to reduce the pressure on them.
The synodal process that Pope Francis introduced to the universal Church isn’t a new program but a way of being Church that was inspired by Vatican II. It basically means to encounter the Lord in one another, to listen to others, and to discern with them how we must change in order to live life more abundantly. This is the model of being Church that we hope to follow at all levels of the diocese.
I’m happy to announce that as we initiate the parish year of the Eucharistic Revival we will have a new pastoral letter on the Eucharist, with a study guide, coming out in time for Advent. I hope we can appreciate that the sacrament of the Eucharist is about mission and invites us to become missionaries who each day are called to carry Christ to others.
I am concerned that we are losing Latino Catholics in increasing numbers. I would like to see us take the synodal process to them, in the towns where they are located in our diocese, to become aware of their hopes, dreams and concerns.
Last but not least, would be the next phase of planning for our Area Catholic Communities. The invitation before us is to use the synodal process to listen to those in leadership in the ACCs to understand the wisdom on the ground, to encounter, to listen and to discern the way forward.
Though I’m only a “baby bishop,” as some jokingly call it, I feel excited as I look towards the future. How blessed I feel that Christ called me to serve as his shepherd of the Diocese of St. Cloud. May St. Cloud intercede for all of us, that God’s will be done!
Yours in Christ,
+ Bishop Patrick Neary, C.S.C., is the 10th bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.