Summer company from Dublin

For many people, the summer offers an opportunity to get away, see new things and meet new people. In diocesan pastoral planning work, summer is a time to welcome visitors who come to hear, first-hand, about the Boston plan, "Disciples in Mission."

The first guest to visit the Pastoral Center this summer was Father Richard Sheehy, a priest from the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, and a member of the Priests Council. He was referred to us by Father Thom Mahoney, pastor of the New Roads Catholic Community of St. Joseph and St. Luke Parishes, Belmont, a Phase I collaborative. Father Sheehy spent the morning with the staff of the Pastoral Planning Office and other Pastoral Center offices who work closely with collaboratives. In our planning process, Boston identified four core deficits: lack of priests, lack of certified, lay-ecclesial ministers, lack of money, and lack of people in the pews. Fixing the first three is impossible without fixing the final one. "Disciples in Mission" is a plan for growth, not a plan to downsize. This idea is still hard for some to understand, but the plan itself, training for clergy, staff, and councils, and ongoing support, all focus on evangelization. Stabilize the parish in order to evangelize.

Like Boston, the Archdiocese of Dublin examined a detailed analysis of their demographics to better assess future needs of the Catholic population. Because they share some of the same deficits as Boston, Father Sheehy is interested in how our pastoral plan is working. There are similarities, but there are also differences between Dublin and Boston. Not long into the inauguration of Phase I of "Disciples in Mission," it became clear that a collaborative of four parishes is just too big. This would not be the case in Dublin.

Last year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described their structure: "The Archdiocese of Dublin now has 13 team ministries, where three or more parishes work collaboratively with groups of priests, parish pastoral workers, deacons and religious. Another 26 parishes are grouped, sharing a Parish Priest or Administrator."

Father Sheey calls himself the "Moderator" of one of these groups. His group is made up of five parishes.

"Disciples in Mission" relies heavily on well-trained laypeople to be part of the collaborative leadership team working under the pastor. There are not many paid laypeople on parish staffs in Dublin, Father Sheehy reports. The practice of lay pastoral ministers is relatively new across Ireland.

Archbishop Martin references this: "Dublin was the first Irish Diocese to introduce a parish pastoral worker programme in 2008, training and employing lay men and women to work in parishes. There are now 27 Parish Pastoral workers in the Archdiocese."

Another major difference is in the living arrangements for priests. In Boston, priests in a collaborative are strongly encouraged to live in one rectory. This is not simply a matter of practicality and economics, more importantly, it provides the priests with companionship. Shared meals and shared prayer time are beneficial. Living alone can be lonely, and loneliness is not healthy. In Dublin, however, priests are accustomed to being the only one in the rectory. Communal living is relatively rare.

Archbishop Martin offers words of encouragement to his diocese that we can take to heart as well: "The overall religious culture in the diocese is continually changing and our pastoral responses must continually change. However, pastoral planning should not get bogged down in the mechanics of consultation and just in structures. An inward-looking Church will not change hearts and will not enthuse people... We have to reach out, as Pope Francis says, to those who are living on the margins of our society and on the margins of Church life. I am convinced that we can do it ... our Parish Pastoral Councils have shown that they want to move forward in this way and they want to do what is best for the Church."

Next week, a report on the visit from the Archdiocese of Baltimore team.