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Final Report of Parish and Personnel Task Force Released
Culminating two and a half years of study and consultation with parishioners throughout the Diocese of Gaylord, the Parish and Personnel Task Force presented their Final Report of Long Term Recommendations to Bishop Patrick R. Cooney and nearly 250 parish and diocesan leaders at a special meeting on Monday, April 27. In his opening remarks, Bishop Cooney noted the Task Force has worked since late Fall of 2006 and expressed appreciation to Fr. Francis Murphy, Vicar General, for his service as Chair of the Task Force, as well as to the full membership of the committee for their dedication and commitment to the process. He also commended Kathy Lame from Charlevoix who facilitated the Task Force meetings and helped to oversee the process. In maintaining the spirit of openness and transparency which has been a hallmark of the process, Bishop Cooney received the report for the first time along with the Priests, Deacons, Parish Administrators, Chairpersons of Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils, members of the Diocesan Finance and Pastoral Councils, Catholic School Principals and Diocesan Staff. He explained he would take some time to study it, reflect upon it and consult with advisors before any decisions would ultimately be made regarding the recommendations. The Bishop promised that an update to the people would be made on or before June 1st. The report outlines the process undertaken by the Task Force to allow input from every parishioner throughout the diocese and includes 19 General Recommendations, a variety of Common Themes expressed by parishioners during the consultation process and Specific Recommendations for Parishes. The report also includes a brief Glossary of Terms, Frequently Asked Questions and samples of possible multi-parish cluster models. In a letter to Bishop Cooney which precedes the report, Fr. Murphy states, I assure you, as well the faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord that every comment and piece of correspondence received by the Task Force was thoughtfully and prayerfully considered. This report ultimately reflects our best efforts to propose recommendations to best serve the faithful in view of the challenges faced not only by our diocese, but other dioceses across the country .We hope the faithful laity and clergy alike will embrace this opportunity to minister even more collaboratively as we serve the Lord and our communities, and thereby more fully express Gods love and our shared Catholic faith. Among the General Recommendations suggested by the Task Force is a call for the collaborative ministry of all believers. Throughout the entire process, there was overwhelming support by both laity and clergy for further involvement by laity in parish pastoral ministry and administration, said Candace Neff, diocesan Director of Communications and spokesperson for the Task Force. Parishioners understand the challenges facing the Church and many expressed a willingness to take on more responsibility in areas of parish life. The report also calls for expanded education and formation programs to help prepare laity for leadership positions as well as to help parishes in areas of evangelization, shared programming and continued personal faith development for priests. The Task Force strongly supported Catholic school education and suggested that every parish in the region of a Catholic school should work collaboratively to support the school by providing both human and financial assistance. Further, the Task Force suggested the opportunity for diocesan-wide support be explored as well as a special committee be appointed to complete a thorough review of Catholic schools and seek ways to further enhance Catholic school education in the diocese. Within the specific recommendations, more parishes are linked to form clusters under the direction of one Pastor or a Pastor and Parochial Vicar (an additional priest who assists the Pastor). When the Task Force began its work over half of the parishes shared a Pastor. Some of those areas have expanded to include additional parishes. The Task Force recommended five of the 81 parishes of the diocese be closed. Those parishes include: St. Mary, Burt Lake; St. Ignatius, Good Hart; St. Monica, Afton; St. John Nepomucene, Praga; and St. Francis Solanus in Bayshore. In addition, the Task Force recommended an additional six parishes cease to have weekend Masses, but remain open for weekday masses, special liturgies or prayer services, education programs, outreach ministries and fellowship opportunities as long as a sustainable faith community exists. These parishes included: Jesus the Good Shepherd, Atlanta; St. Gabriel, Black River; St. James, Whittemore, St. Nicholas, Larks Lake; St. Rita-St. Joseph, Maple City; and St. Gertrude, Northport. Currently, there are no weekend Masses celebrated at St. Edward, Harrietta. The Task Force also recommended that once the priest serving St. Wenceslaus, Gills Pier and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Peshawbestown retires, weekend Masses should no longer be celebrated in those two parishes. Parishes without weekend Masses would have 18 months to determine if a sustainable faith community exists through a set of criteria outlined in the report. In the cities of Manistee and Alpena, the Task Force recommended that parishes work together with the ultimate goal of merging into one parish in each city over time. A formal merge would mean the parishes themselves would be suppressed and then a new parish established in accord with the processes called for in Canon Law. Merging a parish does not necessarily mean church buildings would be closed, but the parish would receive a new name. It is possible a merged parish might have more than one worship site and the Task Force did not make specific recommendations regarding existing structures, but suggested the Bishop, leadership and parishioners in the specific area would be best able to address local issues. In order to promote further collaboration, maximize resources, and exercise best stewardship of the human and other resources of the area, the Task Force recommended five Traverse City area parishes be clustered with one Pastor and three Parochial Vicars assigned. These parishes include: Immaculate Conception, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick in Traverse City along with St. Joseph, Mapleton and St. Mary, Hannah. Currently, each of these parishes has one Pastor assigned to it. It is really important that everyone understand that the report of the Task Force reflects information gleaned from the wide ranging consultative process undertaken and contains recommendations to the Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord, Neff said. It is now up to the Bishop to determine which recommendations will actually be implemented, how they might be implemented and any timeframes for implementation. He has just received the Final Report along with everyone else and he has committed to providing an update to the faithful by June 1st. The entire Parish and Personnel Task Force Report may be downloaded bly clicking on the link below. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader install on your computer to access the report.