The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council strongly encouraged diocesan Bishops to convene a Diocesan Pastoral Council of clergy, religious, and laity. Their charge—to investigate and consider matters relating to pastoral activity and to formulate practical conclusions. The composition of the Council should truly reflect the make-up of the individual diocese.
In 2005, I convened our own Diocesan Pastoral Council with the goal of creating a pastoral plan to help guide the diocese, select pastoral priorities and apportion fiscal and human resources over the next five years.
I cautioned the Diocesan PastoralCouncil that our endeavors together were not designed to overshadow the activity of true reform; that is, our common call to holiness, the primacy of prayer, the centrality of Eucharist and the need for full conscious and active participation of the laity as we together further the mission of the Church.
At the same time, pastoral planning, I told them, is indispensible as we move forward in the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Sacraments, outreach to the poor and the evangelization of culture and society in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard.
Fourteen hundred people participated in the listening sessions across the diocese. The process was positive, productive and ambitious. Thanks to the careful guidance of Sister Rita McGinnis, SCL, men, women and young people from across the Diocese were provided ample opportunity to voice their concerns and identify pastoral needs and issues that eventually would become part of our pastoral plan. On Feb. 2, 2007, I promulgated our pastoral plan, Come to the Light. It has guided our efforts since then.
The late Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, former Bishop of Great Falls-Billings and Archbishop of Seattle, was wont to say that “we can’t do every good thing,” but what we opt to do, we will do well, with vigor and intentionality.
I wish to provide you with a brief progress report on the work of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the priorities we selected together, most of which are works in progress.
Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Across the diocese and in every parish, pastors and laity alike asked for assistance in creating and supporting dynamic youth and young adult ministry. Their common concerns underscore the high premium we place on the young people in the Diocese of Helena.
In response to that concern, the diocese hired Doug Tooke, a remarkable, energetic, visionary leader in youth and young adult ministry.
For the past four years, Doug has served as an inspiration and catalyst for the youth of the diocese and as a resource for our pastors and youth ministers. His work has built upon the legacy of the past, and energized the Catholic Youth Coalition, the Junior High Rally, World Youth Day, parish-based youth activity, Bible study, prayer groups, dialogue evenings with the Bishop and other efforts across the Diocese. In every way, Doug and the young people who advise him have helped transform and raise up youth and young adult ministry in every deanery.
The Guatemala Mission, founded in 1963, is a response to the clarion call of the Second Vatican Council for Dioceses to share clergy and resources with mission peoples in need. The intrepid Father Jim Hazelton has faithfully served the Guatemalan people since the mid-1960s. He has created nearly 50 mission communities across the rural countryside of northwest Guatemala, and on his watch the Clinica Maxeña and La Asunción School have been created.
The Guatemala Mission is an endeavor in transition. The Diocesan Pastoral Council has strongly recognized the value of the Guatemala commitment to the Diocese of Helena, which helps raise up for our own parishioners the universal nature of the Church. Our mission people, for over four decades, have inspired and strengthened the faith of everyone who has visited this remarkable mission complex.
Together with the Guatemala bishops and Father Hazelton, we are looking for ways to ensure stability and continuity into the future. Our school is educating 550 students, our clinic treats 15,000 to 20, 000 patients annually and the parish of Santo Tomas and its related missions reach thousands of parishioners scattered through the Guatemala countryside.
The DPC has correctly underscored the import and impact of this amazing undertaking and has selected the Guatemala Mission as a life-giving commitment for the Diocese of Helena now and into the future. I have assigned the Guatemala Mission effort as a major part of Mark Frei’s job description, and he has enthusiastically responded to the challenge of this life-giving and complex mission endeavor.
How will we provide quality pastoral care for the 57 parishes and 39 missions in the Diocese of Helena, spread across 52,000 square miles? The Living Stones project is under way across the diocese and is designed to ask hard questions and ensure the equitable distribution of priests to serve our people. Like the DPC process itself, the Living Stones project taps meaningfully into the thoughts, concerns and advice of the local parish, and eventually will result in recommendations born at the local level. This project has been built and implemented by Sister Rita McGinnis in the Office of Pastoral Planning Services.
A keystone of the Living Stones project is a commitment to Vocations Awareness—the recruitment, formation and retention of candidates for the priesthood. Another component is the substantial formation of lay leaders, and the possible realignment of parish structures. In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of the Bishop to select and apply recommendations that come from this comprehensive planning process.
In 2008, a new group of men, accompanied by their wives, began training toward eventual ordination as permanent deacons. Chancellor Father John Robertson is directing the deacon candidates’ formation.
Formation and Education
The Diocesan Pastoral Council members heard the call of parishioners across the diocese for opportunities in faith formation and education. The presence of John Fencik has been a great blessing for us, as John builds upon the firm foundation created by Jim Tucker Sr., who, among other responsibilities, was instrumental in shaping and expanding the vision of the Program of Formation for Lay Ministry over the past 13 years.
John’s work emphasizes the need for the systematic formation of the laity, who are involved in many areas of parochial lay ministry, including catechesis of the young in our communities. In recent months, he has provided adult faith formation opportunities across the diocese, to meet and supplement parish needs.
John’s responsibility includes exploring opportunities for distance learning through technology, and consultation with the Office of the Academic Dean and the Theology Department at Carroll College as a means of providing faith formation for our people. He also is working in concert with Doug Tooke to provide the future vision for youth and young adults, including Legendary Lodge, campus ministry and diocesan and deanery events.
from Age to Age Campaign
Five years ago, the Diocese of Helena was facing fiscal insolvency and required the infusion of borrowed capital to meet our basic obligations. This fiscal crisis, which I have written about in the past, was the result of a number of antecedents, including sexual abuse settlements, an unfavorable market and the transition of bishops during the past decade. A capital campaign was needed desperately, but I felt that we must first set a firm foundation and create a strong pastoral plan if the capital campaign was to be successful.
In 2008 we initiated the from Age to Age campaign with a $12.6 million goal. To date we have received $11 million in cash and pledges, and the redemption rate has remained steady at over 95 percent. I am deeply indebted to the people of the Diocese of Helena for their generosity and the ongoing support of the diocese as reflected in their commitment of time, talent and treasure.
The DPC also called for a strengthening of our diocesan financial infrastructureswith greater attention to diocesan development efforts, greater reliance on technology, timely audits, fiscal transparency and support of the Foundation for the Diocese of Helena. All of these efforts, wrote the Diocesan Pastoral Council, must be undergirded by a strong theology of stewardship. In 2009, the Presbyteral Council/College of Consultors recommended renaming the old Diocesan Offertory Program (DOP) the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). The Diocese is blessed by the committed presence and competence of Pete McNamee, Glenda Seipp, Beth Yeakel and all those who support the various components of Financial Services, Stewardship Services and the Foundation for the Diocese of Helena.
In this high-tech era, the DPC recommended an outside evaluation of our communication efforts so that the diocese is better suited to communicate with our people and various publics across the vast diocesan terrain. Internet, intranet, the diocesan newspaper, the chancery monthly mailing, Twitter and Facebook are but a few of the methods that we presently use.
The findings of the communication audit, facilitated by Gallatin Public Affairs, indicated that the diocese is effectively communicating with our various constituents. The consultant also offered a number of practical suggestions to strengthen our initiatives. In the past few months, we’ve seen the new design of The Montana Catholic newspaper, as well as the redesigned and renovated diocesan website www.diocesehelena.org. Renée St. Martin Wizeman and her staff are highly competent and more familiar than their bishop with the various communication technologies.
I am deeply grateful to Renée, Susan Gallagher, Brooke Tierney and Eric Connolly for helping guide the diocese into the technological age.
A major undertaking in the future is the DPC’s selection of the New Evangelization as another ambitious project targeted for 2011-12. The late Pope John Paul II underscored the importance of every Catholic becoming an effective instrument of evangelization within his or her own circle of influence. So many Catholics have become separated from the Church for a wide variety of reasons. Other people have never heard the Word of God or encountered the person of Jesus Christ. The New Evangelization is a way to revitalize the local Church, inviting Catholics to come home and others to experience for the first time the Sacramental life of the Church.
At the same time, the New Evangelization process requires a firm foundation, if it is to be carried out effectively. The Diocesan Presbyteral Council will be the particular venue for the New Evangelization project to be planned and executed systematically and effectively over the next several years.
Other ongoing projects include Native American Ministry, to ensure that the Diocese is exploring new and creative ways to celebrate and enliven our appreciation of the Native American peoples, the first to invite the Word of God in the Northwest. Effective Native American Ministry has been well under way for years, most recently through the Jesuit presence among the Salish and Kootenai and through the newest arrivals to Native American Ministry, Sisters Margaret Hilary, OP, and Mary Stauder, OP. The Blackfeet receive the tender pastoral care of Father Ed Kohler, and De La Salle Blackfeet School recently was established under guidance of the De La Salle Christian Brothers.
Another commitment that we will embrace in the future is more effective presence and outreach to the various forms of Rural Ministry in this vast region of western Montana. I have asked Mark Frei from Diocesan Pastoral Services to serve as the catalyst for these conversations and to build upon some highly effective rural pastoral projects already under way in such communities as Valier, Power, West Yellowstone, Drummond and Philipsburg, to name a few.
On March 27, 2010, the Diocesan Pastoral Council held its final meeting and reviewed the extraordinary initiatives under way as a result of commitment to the people in the Diocese of Helena. I expressed to Council members, in your name, our profound gratitude for all they have accomplished in so short a time.
While I describe the initiatives of the Diocesan Pastoral Council as “works in progress,” we already are looking to the calling forth of a new pastoral council to create another five-year plan to carry us into the future at the conclusion of this planning period in 2012. Council efforts are testimony to our Diocesan commitment to the value of collaborative ministry among clergy, religious and laity working to further the mission and ministry of the Church we love so deeply.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 26, No. 4, April 16, 2010.