Since Disciples in Mission is the pastoral plan for the archdiocese, it makes sense that attention is given not only to priests currently serving in parishes, but to the men now in the seminary, preparing for ordination.
The Disciples in Mission website (www.disciplesinmission.com) has a section called "Advanced Preparation." There, parishes can find simple, easy to implement, ideas to prepare parishioners for collaboration -- whether the parish will go into a collaborative in 2017 or 2023. Disciples in Mission promotes evangelization, encourages discipleship, asks a renewed emphasis on priestly vocations, and introduces a new model of leadership. The appointed team -- pastor, parochial vicar, permanent deacon -- is assisted by the leadership team -- lay professionals who are credentialed in a specific area of expertise. Collaborative parish staffs and key volunteers complete the leadership picture. All of these people participate in formation and training workshops to help them navigate the choppy waters of collaboration and grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Leadership is important. For priests, preparation for collaboration begins even before these workshops. The importance of the pastor as shepherd and leader of a parish, or parishes, cannot be exaggerated. Not only is he the canonical head of the parish, he is also the spiritual father. The pastor sets the tone. Since Disciples in Mission is the pastoral plan for the archdiocese, it makes sense that attention is given not only to priests currently serving in parishes, but to the men now in the seminary, preparing for ordination. Most of the seminarians ordained for the Church in Boston will begin their priestly ministry serving in a collaborative.
Over the past few years, both Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary and St. John's Seminary have participated in information sessions and presentations by the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) and the Pastoral Planning and Parish Support and Training offices. These are meant to lay the groundwork for serving in a collaborative. In addition to this, St. John's Seminary provides other opportunities for leadership formation. Last month, 15 seminarians and 10 priests attended workshops on parish management with representatives from the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. Seminary Rector Msgr. James Moroney wrote in his blog, "I have been longing for this moment, a new and annual part of our seminary curriculum, where we might listen to good and competent lay persons who love the Church and learn something about the principles of governance and Church management, which has been or will be placed in our hands."
Later in the month, priests from the St. Peter Favre Center for Formators to the Priesthood and Religious Life at the Gregorian University in Rome, arrived at St. John's Seminary to conduct three days of workshops on priestly formation for members of the faculty who were joined by faculty from religious houses and other seminaries, including Pope St. John XXIII.
And, in the waning days of August, CLI and the Evangelization team from the Pastoral Center returned to St. John's to meet with six seminarians. Some entered the seminary before Disciples in Mission was promulgated; most will be assigned to a collaborative upon ordination. There was somewhat of an "unknown factor" surrounding Disciples in Mission, but presenters felt that the men came to the sessions with open minds and hearts, with questions, to be sure, but without preconceived notions about collaboration.
Evaluations indicate that they have a real sense of the challenges ahead. One voiced concern about recruiting "good management leadership" and finding resources to pay salaries. This is a real worry. Noting that Boston is a multicultural Church, one evaluation mentioned the need to "include other communities and their realities." Evaluations also showed a genuine willingness to engage people and assist them on their faith journey. Father Paul Soper commented that the seminarians "jumped right into discussion about parish evangelization," and quickly grasped the importance of personal witness in the parish. This was evident by one comment, "I believe that witness is the key to evangelization. Who is Christ? What has he done for me? And how can he speak to you?"
When asked to list three things that they are excited to implement in their diaconal and priestly ministry, several cited the opportunity to interact with people at Gateway moments, particularly infant baptisms, but also "spontaneous interactions, like at airports or BBQs." Another wrote that he looks forward to showing "joy and care for the people"; yet another, "working hard to make the Sacred Liturgy attractive and accessible to parishioners."
The seminarians wrote that the workshops were good, intense, useful, exhausting, gave concrete suggestions but there's more to discuss. We pray for these men in formation and that others will be open to hear God's voice calling them to consider a priestly vocation. The Church -- the people of God -- need good priests.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.