SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) — A pastoral planning process — Ministry 2025 — has begun in the Diocese of Sioux City with the hope of using limited priestly resources as wisely as possible while creating and sustaining vibrant parishes.
According to Father Brent Lingle, diocesan director of pastoral planning, the diocese recently unveiled a draft pastoral plan that strives to create parishes “where the faith is lived out, grows and attracts people into it.”
Through data collection and research, the diocese has discovered that by 2025, only 31 priests will be available to serve as pastors. Currently, 58 priests are active in pastoral ministry.
Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless said it was important to take a pro-active approach in planning for the future of the diocese.
“As bishop, I have to be a good steward of our resources and one of the most important and valuable are our priests,” he said. “I need to take care of them.”
Many of the diocese’s active priests are baby boomers, reaching the age of retirement and the bishop said they deserve the chance to retire.
“There is a real lack of available priests. My responsibility is to take care of those who still are in full-time ministry — to keep them healthy, give them time for growth, holiness and not let them run themselves ragged,” said Bishop Nickless.
The bishop acknowledged there was a lack of vocations and a need for young men to enter the seminary. However, even if men enter in the next few years, it usually takes six to eight years before their formation is completed.
Father Ed Girres, pastor at St. Cecelia Parish in Algona and a member of the committee that did initial work with the pastoral plan, acknowledged the process of change will be painful.
“Yet, we call on the faith and wisdom of Catholics to work together to plan for the future in the best way we can,” he said. “It will never be perfect, but we need to help each other grow in our faith and be servants to the communities we belong to and to the world. We share Jesus’ mission to bring about the Kingdom of God in our world. We can’t lose sight of that mission. How best can we do that in our present time and situation?”
The draft, which was created with the input of diocesan priests and the help of the consulting firm TeamWorks International, also calls for 40 of the 108 diocesan parishes to go to oratory status.
“With oratory status the parish itself is suppressed. The church building becomes the oratory — a place of prayer. That means no Sunday Mass and all existing programs like religious education and faith formation become part of the assuming parish,” Father Lingle explained in an interview with The Catholic Globe, Sioux City’s diocesan newspaper. “The only thing that exists is the church building, which could be used for things like weddings, funerals and other special events.”
It will be up to the local community to come up with a plan as to how they will take care of the oratory. In some cases, the local communities may decide it is best to close.
Father Lingle acknowledged in some areas there are more parishes going to oratory status. However, he added, certain parts of the diocese have already gone through a significant amount of pastoral planning.
Another change outlined in the proposal is the realigning of parishes in Sioux City.
“While no church buildings are closing in Sioux City, the parishes are restructuring,” he said. “Presently there are eight canonical parishes and in the proposed reconfiguration, there would be four parishes.”
Under the proposed plan, two of the new parishes would receive names that reflect their schools names: Holy Cross Parish is to be made up of Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael’s, while Mater Dei Parish would include Nativity and Immaculate Conception. A third parish, Cathedral of the Epiphany, would combine the parishes of St. Joseph and St. Boniface with cathedral. Sacred Heart will remain a single parish.
“The proposal is based on a lot of feedback over the last six to nine months, knowing that as we move into this next phase where we are now, we are initiating another phase of feedback that will include the laity,” explained Father Lingle, who noted parish leaders will attend deanery meetings in April.
The lay leaders will take information back to their parish clusters and will receive feedback and input from fellow parishioners.
Father Girres and the bishop noted the proposal outlined in this edition is not final.
“No plan is perfect,” noted Bishop Nickless. “We have said all along that once people begin to talk about it, we want their help, guidance and ideas. We have a plan that we hope will work in terms of pastoral ministry, but it’s not in cement — it’s a draft plan.”
“I am confident that if all participate with the common good of all Catholics in the Diocese of Sioux City, we will have a good plan,” Father Girres said.
Father Lingle said he knows that parishioners who are experienced in parish life in everyday scenarios may have better suggestions or different ways to look at the proposed plan.
But, he insisted, what they are not open to is everything staying the same.
“We have a finite number of priests and we don’t have people everywhere we have parishes. That’s what the census data tells us, so we have to make choices based on data,” Father Lingle said.
Research shows that the demographics in northwest Iowa have changed and continue to change. Many of the diocesan parishes formed more than 100 years ago during the horse-and-buggy era, Father Lingle noted, so people would have easy access to the sacraments.
“We understand that society is now much more mobile,” Father Lingle said. “Our farms are larger. Our families are smaller and the populations of many of our small towns have dramatically changed to where there is no longer people where there once were.”
In some parishes, he added, only 50 to 60 people attend Mass on Sundays.
While buildings hold significant meaning in parishioners’ lives, Father Lingle said resources should be focused on ministry to people rather than on buildings.
“If we as priests are simply running around just celebrating Mass after Mass, we are often not able to put the energy into it to make it the kind of liturgy that is going to be life-giving and help perpetuate the faith,” Father Lingle said.
Through pastoral planning, Bishop Nickless said diocesan leaders want to have more vibrant parishes that are alive and inviting.
“Even if we have less, they should be more vibrant and more active. People can come together in a larger way and not be tied to a small group in a half-empty church,” said the bishop.