Paschal Mystery at Heart of Pastoral Planning Initiative

Second of Two Parts


Making All Things New, the pastoral planning initiative of the Archdiocese of New York, will enter a new phase Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 24 and 25, as members of parish core teams attend evening training sessions across the archdiocese.


Members of a working group of archdiocesan leaders and John Reid, of The Reid Group, which is offering guidance to the archdiocese through the planning process, were interviewed this summer by John Woods, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic New York. 


Is there a suggested number of members on each of the parish core teams?


John Reid: It’s the pastor plus four. One of those four is one of the trustees of the parish. The other three are at the pastor’s discretion. We suggest that one of them could be off of a parish council or a finance council. It could be a parishioner at large, an elder or longtime person.


There are (a number of) core responsibilities. One is to lead the parish through the process. Second, to be responsible for the parish’s self-evaluation…Then, they participate in the cluster planning in December, with five or six parishes…Ultimately, by next March, they will be preparing their suggestions about the future. Those will then be responded to by the Archdiocesan Planning Advisory Group at a preliminary recommendation.


Is there a website currently being developed?


Joe Zwilling, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of New York: We’re gathering material to put on the website. It’s currently part of the Archdiocese of New York’s website (, but it will be highlighted as a separate section for Making All Things New, including articles where they appeared, resource material, anything that would be a benefit to the people and to the parishes by having it available.


John Reid: That creates a level of confidence in the process. This planning guide will be there. People who work on core teams can read it. It communicates that this is not a secretive process for a few. It will affect everybody in the archdiocese.


All the way through, as questions emerge, we will have a chance to capture them and then respond to them.


Who are the members of the Archdiocesan Planning Advisory Group?


Father John O’Hara, Director of Strategic Pastoral Planning, Archdiocese of New York: Right now, we are in the process of selecting those people, with His Eminence’s approval.


Reid: They won’t meet until Sept. 23.


At the outset, we want to focus on what will create the vibrant parishes in your part of the archdiocese, what will create the strongest presence of the Church and the ministry, what is going to help the strongest lifelong faith formation and Catholic schools. We want them to say your work right now is parish self-evaluation. 


The work beginning in December is the cluster. Once they’ve looked at each individual parish’s evaluation, the forms say: What are our strengths? What are we doing really well as a cluster? Where are our limitations? We ask them: What are your strengths? Where do you want to improve? But the third question is most critical: What is your preferred future?


They take those conversations in each of the criteria areas: sacramental life, evangelization, lifelong faith formation, Catholic schools, outreach and so on, and then they form a suggestion about the future and a rationale…


Have the cluster groups ever worked together before this process?


Father O’Hara: Not that I know in this archdiocese.


This idea of clustering is going to be a novel impression. (The members of the cluster groups) are going to have to sit down with the parishes in the neighboring community and discuss things such as Mass schedules, programs, what kind of services are being offered, what is your attendance like, what are the finances like?


This is not something that’s a one-shot deal…Bishop (Dennis) Sullivan, (the former vicar general of the archdiocese and current Bishop of Camden, N.J.) used to speak about the culture of planning. That isn’t just for this particular process. This is like the beginning…It has to be an ongoing thing that looks far into the future, so that planning is always going to be part of the culture of the archdiocese.


Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo, Chancellor of the Archdiocese: I think we’ve gotten (parishes) ready for it through the school plan because the pastors and the lay people of the regions have been working together. We’re starting to make a little bit of headway with getting the pastors and the faithful to come together on particular issues and collaborate together. It won’t be totally new to them.


Is a process like this different in New York because of size or history? Why does it call for the involvement of the Reid Group?


Father O’Hara: I can answer the second question. The reason we selected Reid and wanted to work with them was because their emphasis was on the Paschal Mystery and renewing parish life and renewing the lives of our people through the power of that Paschal Mystery. It was not just a data-driven process where we are dealing with figures and numbers. It was something that was rooted in the Gospel mandate, which Pope Francis is talking about right now, mission and going out and spreading the Good News. That’s what attracted me to them in my conversations with them…


Without that, we are spinning our wheels and we are going nowhere fast.


John Reid: That is the first assumption of the process. That not only is the Paschal Mystery central to our faith as Catholics, but it’s central to this process. Just as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the primary journey that we all take and renew and deepen our commitment to, that’s also true for every parish. Every parish’s life is sacred. Every parish’s change and struggles and deaths and losses are sacred. The new life that comes from that is the new life promised to us in our faith…


We really ask people to engage their faith in the process. The people who have been through it will say, “This was so much more than a planning process. It was a spiritual renewal, personally and for the diocese.”


To answer your first question…every diocese says it, but this archdiocese is unique in a number of ways. No question the size of the archdiocese, the geographic diversity from the tip of Manhattan to Staten Island to up in Sullivan and Orange counties…When I think of it, I think of 39 languages spoken, 10 counties, 19 vicariates. I have lived in Westchester, so I feel I know Westchester and Rockland probably best, but it’s a world apart from the Bronx and Manhattan in some ways. And yet it’s one faith.


Making All Things New, to be relevant here, cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. And that’s why we actually have teams to focus on certain areas. We’re not saying we’re going to look at a conversation in Rockland County exactly the same way as the multiple languages that may be spoken in the Bronx or Manhattan.


What is the same is a passion about faith that makes a difference, a desire for Church to be more relevant in the lives of her people. I find that true across the country…People want faith to matter…A process like this, at its best, is intended to build Church.


That’s why I loved the cardinal’s words. This is about responding to the needs and the desires of the people in this archdiocese. That’s all that should matter.


         The first part of the series on Making All Things New, which appeared in the Sept. 5 issue, may be found at