With final recommendations in the Making All Things New pastoral planning process due later this month, cluster teams from around the archdiocese this week submitted “their best thinking” on the subject, said Father John O’Hara, director of strategic pastoral planning for the archdiocese.
The suggestions for parishes in 75 clusters throughout the archdiocese were due on Pentecost Sunday, June 8. They were in response to the preliminary recommendations made by the Archdiocesan Advisory Group earlier this spring. Cluster teams had the opportunity to affirm, amend or offer a new suggestion to the Advisory Group for the future of their parishes and the ministries therein.
The 40-member Advisory Group, consisting of priests, deacons, religious and lay people from across the archdiocese, will return to Maryknoll in Ossining on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 24 and 25, to evaluate the cluster suggestions and plan their final recommendations.
Those recommendations will be considered at an extraordinary three-day session of the Archdiocesan Priests’ Council—which Cardinal Dolan will attend—that is to take place from Monday, June 30 to Wednesday, July 2, said Father O’Hara in an interview June 9 in his office at the New York Catholic Center.
Father O’Hara said the Priests’ Council would vote on the recommendations and that Cardinal Dolan would prayerfully review the recommendations during the summer before announcing his final decisions in September.
Implementation of the cardinal’s decision, which is expected to be “ongoing,” said Father O’Hara, will begin sometime next year.
Although Father O’Hara refused to speculate on what may happen at specific parishes as the process moves toward its conclusion, some parishioners have already begun letter-writing campaigns and other protests.
Archdiocesan spokesman Joe Zwilling told CNY that when churches are closed, the “default position” is to find other uses for the property.
When properties are sold, any monies from the sales will be put into endowments created “to support important initiatives of the archdiocese that you have told us we need,” Cardinal Dolan wrote in a pastoral letter published in CNY last October.
“For instance, we will establish an endowment for Catholic schools, an endowment for religious education, and an endowment for new projects, like the Sheen Center, the Gianna Center for Women’s Health, and FOCUS, a university-based apostolate,” the cardinal said.
Sister Patricia Anastasio, P.B.V.M., president of the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary in New Windsor, is a member of the Archdiocesan Advisory Group that will review the final recommendations of each of the cluster teams before making their own final recommendations later this month.
In a phone interview with CNY Tuesday morning, she said the next few weeks will be “a difficult time” for the archdiocese and its parishes and parishioners, as final recommendations are considered and made.
As someone who had been an active member of a parish before taking on a leadership role in her religious congregation, Sister Patricia said she would personally “bring a great deal of prayer and concern in these next few weeks.”
“I know people love their parishes,” she said. “Each parish is the heart of the church in the archdiocese. People love their parishes and identify with their parishes.”
Speaking of her service as a member of the 40-person Advisory Board consisting of priests, deacons, religious and lay people from across the archdiocese, Sister Patricia called it “a very prayerful experience…filled with great sensitivity and care for the parishioners of each parish while balancing the needs of the archdiocese.”
The three-day meeting in late March at Maryknoll in Ossining, during which the Advisory Group and cluster committee members met to discuss the suggestions of the latter group before the Advisory Group formulated its preliminary recommendations, was marked by a spirit of genuine cooperation, Sister Patricia said.
“It was not at all contentious,” she said.
“People were working together very diligently to bring about the best resolution in meeting the needs of the archdiocese while being concerned about the parishioners and their love for their individual parishes,” she said.
Careful study went into the statistics provided by each parish in the cluster as well as the overall recommendations made by the cluster teams. “It’s a delicate balance,” Sister Patricia said.
Also serving with distinction throughout the Making All Things New pastoral planning process have been members of the cluster teams.
Jim Cowan, chairman of Cluster 2 on Staten Island, applied his strategic planning skills to the cluster planning work.
Cowan, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on Staten Island, is a retired managing director of a Fortune 500 insurance brokerage firm headquartered in Manhattan.
Other committee members have contributed their own skill sets as well, Cowan said. He cited as examples the secretary, an attorney, who asked probative questions and collated commentary, and the statistical analysis professor who was instrumental in crafting and studying a survey.
Cowan said committee members have been straightforward since the beginning. “We didn’t have to prompt and prod people.”
He said, “They’re passionate about their Church and they’re really looking beyond the boundaries of their parish to see what we need to do.”
The number of people in the pews at Mass was central to their discussions. “Attendance is down across every generation,” Cowan said. “How do we improve that? That’s the question that’s facing the cardinal, the bishops, the pastors.”
Cowan recalled what one priest said of the Mass, to which all are invited: “Every day we have a party here, and we celebrate with God. Come on back.”