Most people believe that change is good - for someone else. This might be especially true of people in institutions with a reputation for stability. Interesting that the Catholic Church has always changed in response to signs of the times. But significant changes may be felt as a breakdown, before appreciating the breakthrough.
An example of this change was signaled three years ago, when Bishop Richard J. Malone approved the ministry of pastoral administrators to lead a parish in place of a resident priest pastor. Pastoral administrators have been employed in this diocese, serving parishes for years in conjunction with a priest as moderator and as sacramental ministers. Signs of breakthrough in the parishes where this approach was embraced are now being reported.
People at St. Andrew Parish in Sloan reported that the new pastoral administrator made the transition easy. According to Pat Noga, parish secretary, Deacon David Clabeaux is applying his considerable skills from managing a medical practice. He has already gained a reputation for being a most responsive and caring leader. Deacon Clabeaux and his wife, Kay, are well versed in parish leadership from previous assignments at their home parish.
Paul Ruda, a parish trustee reported that the arrival of Deacon Clabeaux "brought a sigh of relief" to a parish worried about closure or merger.
"His spiritual leadership was inviting and wide ranging," Ruda said. "Working with the parish staff and the finance committee, he provided a fresh set of eyes to review our short-term and long-term financial situation. He also provided suggestions for solutions to address our needs."
Noga suggested that "priests seem more available to us now, since they are no longer expected to do everything at the parish. Instead, they do what they do best. We are not lacking for anything here at St. Andrew's."
Deacon Frank Pasquale has served for many years at two parishes in Allegany County - St. Mary in Bolivar and Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Belmont. Joe Hollister, a parishioner at St. Mary in Bolivar, suggests that for a small parish, the biggest advantage of having a pastoral administrator like him is his availability and familiarity with the people. Hollister believes that if a small parish shared a pastor with other small parishes, that priest would be exhausted, going from one Mass to another and unable to stick around long to get to know people.
Patricia Whitney has worked with Deacon Pasquale for eight years.
"The pastoral administrator goes beyond the financial business to ensure the parishioners have visits for the sick and the home bound, preparing and meeting with the families before, during and after funerals, addressing parishioners concerns from building and grounds to religious education," Whitney said. "It is a necessity to have them and a necessity for it to be the right person who will fit into the community."
Whitney sees in Deacon Pasquale a genuine and dedicated leader that parishioners know they can confide in and count upon.
Deacon David Velasquez serves at St. Anthony Parish in Lackawanna. He gratefully acknowledged the importance of excellent staff when he arrived.
"He is knowledgeable about all the right things and he is fitting right in," said Luz Concepción, parish secretary.
In each of his assignments, Deacon Velasquez witnessed how much people love their parish, and how gracious they were to him when he arrived.
"I've been assigned to four unique parishes," Concepción said. "At each one, people have stepped forward. I begin each assignment by actively listening to parishioners and seeking ways to further empower all parishioners and give them a sense of ownership for their parish. Sometimes people are just waiting to be asked. While it is difficult moving away from having a resident priest as pastor, having a pastoral administrator can enliven the community through increased input. Parishioners are more needed as active members."
Priests who serve in these parishes are equally pleased. In the next few years, it is likely that the role of a pastor will continue to expand dramatically while the number of active priests may dwindle just as dramatically. At the same time, it is hoped a new cadre of motivated, competent and experienced deacons, religious and other lay Catholics will be equipped to assist.
Recent reports in participating parishes from priests, who are themselves gifted and committed to collaborative leadership, are already quite positive. Parishes have reported considerable satisfaction with a collaborative approach that empowers priests and parishioners to contribute what they most enjoy for the good of the parish.
Currently, candidates who already have experience in pastoral leadership and who have completed a master's degree in a related field of study are invited to participate in a full year orientation program.
For more information about the ministry of parish pastoral administrator or to register for the program contact Dennis Mahaney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 716-847-8393.