Special Report: Pastoral visits aim to build bridges

In the coming months, representatives from the diocese’s 29 area Catholic communities will have the opportunity to meet with one another and with Bishop Patrick Neary.

Story by Dianne Towalski

Pictured are groups from ACCs across the diocese gathered ACC Pastoral Council Formation Day sponsored by Bridgebuilders for a Thriving Mission at Saint John’s University June 4, 2022. (Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Starting in November, three to four ACCs will be invited to attend a day-long Area Catholic Community pastoral visit with Bishop Neary at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.

The goals for this initiative are to build bridges across the parishes in our ACCs, to develop them as learning communities and to offer radical hospitality to nurture relationships between Bishop Neary and the ACC pastoral leadership, according to Brenda Kresky, director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

The pastor or pastors of each community will be asked to bring eight to 10 people, with at least one representative from each parish in the ACC. 

The visits will begin at 9:30 a.m. with social time followed by a talk from Bishop Neary and a short video about the Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission Initiative, which is funding the visits through a grant. 

The group will celebrate Mass together before a catered lunch and finish out the day with 15-minute presentations from each ACC. 

The Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission Initiative, directed by Barbara Sutton, former director of field education and ministerial formation at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, in collaboration with the diocesan offices, is funding the visits because it fits the organization’s mission. One of the goals of the BBTM initiative is to develop ACCs.

Sutton’s idea for these pastoral visits is based on something similar that she was a part of in another diocese. She was looking for a way to engage every parish and ACC to get them talking and sharing what they’re up to, she said.

“These visits provide an opportunity for parishes within ACCs to grow together and also present themselves as a whole to Bishop Neary,” Sutton said. “And it provides a learning opportunity for three to four ACCs to learn from each other towards developing a thriving mission.”

A couple of years ago, the diocese created ACC Care Teams, comprised of one or more diocesan staff that act as funnels of information between the diocese and the ACCS. Care teams will play an important role in the pastoral visits, supporting pastors and ACC representatives in the parishes. 

“The care teams were created shortly after the ACCs were created,” Kresky said. “Members of the diocesan staff invest some of their time to be connected to our ACCs, attending meetings, reading the bulletin and praying for the priests and people in that particular ACC.”

To prepare for their presentations the ACCs will meet at least twice with their care teams. They will be asked to consider a number of questions when they prepare their presentations, including what has been the biggest struggle in bringing parishes together to form an Area Catholic Community, and what has gone well.

“They’ll describe their mission,” Sutton said. “And I think one of the big things we want to hear is how the ACC development is going, what’s worked and where they need help.”

The care team also will attend the pastoral visit to listen and provide feedback.


Heard around the ACCs 

Diocesan staff are part of ACC Care Teams that regularly check in with ACCs to collect feedback and act as liaisons for information sharing. Here is a snapshot of some things overheard in meetings and encounters with ACC teams around the diocese. 


  • We have a combined directory
  • Getting to know others (connecting with people we hadn’t seen for years)
  • Agreeing on financial formula for combined salaries of ACC positions
  • “People make the parish, it’s not the building.”
  • Masses are full with people from other parishes
  • Most ministries that can be shared are
    being shared
  • Faith formation is done together
  • KCs are one council and working together
  • It has been fun to have more combined events
  • “I feel like I belong to all three parishes.” 
  • Included all-age faith formation events across ACC, moving to a common curricula
  • ACC council is gathering regularly
  • Sharing a deacon; seeing deacons working together
  • Parishes are in a good place financially, and with attendance 
  • Feeling that people are listened to
  • Catholic school is thriving
  • Everyone has a voice and feels part of the family
  • Strides in planning and working together


  • Parishes feel a loss of identity
  • Sacramental availability is low 
  • “We feel disconnected with pastor and/or parish.”
  • Understanding how to better share different activities that happen in other parishes
  • Geographical challenges 
  • “People are hesitant to sign up for liturgical ministries if they don’t know which church they’ll be at.”
  • All parishes having the same religious ed. program
  • It’s harder to get attendance at events other than those in people’s home parishes.
  • Weaker sense of community: people don’t attend Mass if not at “their” church
  • Was virtual Mass “too comfortable” so people are not returning to church?
  • Some parishes have lost musicians during/since pandemic
  • People help and donate but have said they don’t want to be members
  • Difficult to please everyone regarding Mass times
  • Outreach — how do we welcome people?
  • “Let’s be intentional about hospitality.”
  • More participation of laypeople
  • Getting younger families to attend
  • More people involved in Mass ministries, especially youth
  • Promoting vocations
  • Trying to be less parochial
  • Rotating Mass makes it hard for some to be involved
  • Encouraging non-attenders

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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