A parochial vicar's perspective

Father Anthony Luongo, Father Tony, was ordained in 1987 and has served at parishes in West Roxbury, Norwood, and Stoneham. In 2013 he was assigned as Parochial Vicar in the Phase I Lynnfield Collaborative of St. Maria Goretti and Our Lady of the Assumption Parishes. Because of his prior assignments, he is comfortable serving in large, busy parishes and in parishes with schools. Lynnfield is a good fit. Father Tony is working with pastor Father Paul Ritt, Permanent Deacon Tom O'Shea, and a full pastoral staff. Together with faith-filled parishioners of both parishes he is living out the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission. The Lynnfield Catholic Collaborative is now in the second year of implementation, which is a good time to reflect on being one of the 12 collaborative pioneers.

Before Disciples in Mission was inaugurated Father Luongo really didn't have concrete expectations. He had a general idea of the goal and process of the pastoral plan, but until they actually began to operate as a collaborative, this was the great unknown. Understandably, his biggest concern was learning what to do and how to do it within a collaborative context. His service in single parishes provided Father Tony with extensive pastoral experience but he wanted to be sure he contributed to making the collaborative work. His biggest hope was to see "lots of lay involvement from parishioners in both St. Maria Goretti and Our Lady of the Assumption Parishes."

Assembling the right team for the task of collaborative ministry with a focus on evangelization was the first challenge. Hiring for new positions, deciding whether a position was full time or part time, writing and tailoring job descriptions were important and time consuming responsibilities. Father Tony gratefully acknowledges the work of Susan Delfeld, human resources consultant at the Pastoral Center for her assistance in this process.

For Father Tony, the fruit of this challenge is seen in what he names as the greatest blessing. Crediting the pastor, Father Paul Ritt, Father Tony says that forming the pastoral team with a single vision has been one of the most blessed -- and hopeful -- experiences of the past year. At the end of their first year they came together as a team and spent four days looking ahead. United in the shared vision, the team planned for the coming year by examining all aspects of parish life including faith formation, youth ministry, the sacramental life of the collaborative, and more. One year into the implementation of Disciples in Mission in this corner of the Lord's vineyard, Father Tony observes that the Lynnfield Collaborative "is in a better place." There will always be challenges but Father Tony confidently says that, "every problem is solvable. There is a light at the end of the tunnel." His fervent hope is that even more parishioners from both parishes will be engaged in the life of the collaborative.

Father Tony fielded one final question: Knowing what is involved in starting a collaborative, here bringing two parishes together with one leadership team, would he do it all over again, would he agree to serve as a parochial vicar in a collaborative?

His response: "Yes!"

In Phase One of Disciples in Mission approximately 40 priests moved or received new responsibilities. As Father Luongo notes, "You can't expect to move 40 men without glitches." But for him, serving in this collaborative is something that he would do again. Father Tony praised the pastoral care and commitment he sees every day in the leadership of Father Ritt, enthusiastically avowing that "a good leadership team is key." The parishioners of St. Maria Goretti and Our Lady of the Assumption Parishes and the team who serve them, make this a time of hope.

Setting up and working out of a collaborative model is hard, hard work. No one said that it would be easy. Something new is happening in the implementation of the pastoral plan and our response to the call of Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis to embrace the work of new evangelization. With all new things there is transition and challenge. With God's grace and continued prayer, the hard work will prosper. St. Paul describes the reality of the present day: "We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now." (Romans 8:22). St. Paul also assures us, "... in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us." (8:37)

Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.