Diocesan Pastoral Council devoted to ‘Church, diocesan and parish life’

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — In 2012 Bishop George W. Coleman, in accordance with Canon 511 of the Code of Canon Law that states, “In each diocese, so far as pastoral circumstances suggest, a pastoral council is to be established. Its function, under the authority of the bishop, is to study and weigh those matters which concern the pastoral works of the diocese and to propose practical conclusions concerning them,” assembled the current Diocesan Pastoral Council, which became effective Dec. 1, 2012.

Since then, the 19-member council has worked diligently with and for diocesan priests and parishes making recommendations to enliven and enrich parish life and to assist Bishop Coleman in fulfilling the pastoral needs of the diocese.

“Over the last 18 months, the Diocesan Parish Council has been very active in fulfilling its obligations,” Father Michael K. McManus, diocesan Moderator of the Curia and Ex Officio member of the DPC told The Anchor. “This is a great group of people who are very involved and very concerned about Church, diocesan and parish life.”

Just recently, the DPC took part in a joint meeting with the diocesan Presbyteral Council, another of the three consulting bodies of the bishop (the other is the College of Consultors). It was the first known collaborative meeting of the two groups.

Father James H. Morse, a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese, facilitated the meeting that took place at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth. The purpose of the meeting was to “share and process information of ways the Pastoral Council could assist the parish priests in improving the vitality of parish life,” said Father McManus.

The first meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council was a great success,” Father Morse told The Anchor. “The planning team that put the agenda together did an excellent job. They were clear and focused on the purpose of the meeting namely, to share and process information of ways the Diocesan Pastoral Council could assist the parish priests in improving the vitality of parish life. They also identified three concrete desired outcomes by which they could measure the meeting’s success. These were all communicated to the participants before they arrived. So everyone was focused and ready to work. A critical skill in any working meeting is the ability of the participants to listen to one another. Among jazz musicians they refer to this as having ‘big ears’ so they can connect their response to the music of the rest of the group and together create music greater than the sum of all their individual talents. The listening was respectful, responsive and critical.”

The request to have the two groups grew out of the discussions that arose in the several meetings the DPC has held over the last year-and-a-half.

Prior to the recent joint meeting, the DPC comprised a list to be discussed when they got together: characteristics of a vibrant parish and obstacles to a vibrant parish.

During the meeting the councils selected three priorities from each of the categories to be worked on in the future by a sub-committee comprised of members from each council.

“I was very pleased when Bishop Coleman agreed to get the DPC and the Presbyteral Council together as a group,” Diane Morris, a parishioner of St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, and a DPC member told The Anchor. “It is a good first step in trying to see what the priests’ perspectives on the issues are and to see how we, as lay people, can work with and help priests to perhaps change our image into a more positive and inviting image. When we did meet, it was again a productive and insightful discussion. I look forward to future discussions. We know the process will be ongoing but it’s encouraging to know that there are lay people and ordained who care enough to fight for our Church!”

Other topics were discussed as well and most attendees found the session very fruitful.

“Our Diocesan Pastoral Council is a very determined group,” added Father McManus.

When Bishop Coleman addressed the need for a new Diocesan Pastoral Council in 2012, potential candidates had to have certain qualities to be considered.

Some of the qualities included that the candidate be an active member of the parish who regularly worships, and if married, in a Marriage recognized by the Catholic Church; have more than a basic understanding of the faith; have an appreciation of the diocesan Church; be open to new approaches to parish configuration; have a deep understanding and appreciation for the Eucharist and its centrality in the life of the Church; have a sense of ecclesiology; realize the importance of evangelizing families, including those who have a minimal understanding and/or connection to the faith, lapsed Catholics, and those who have been lured by other denominations; recognize the need to do all one can to energize the parish and worship opportunities; and have a Spiritual life, seeking daily to deepen one’s relationship with God.

Names of candidates for the council were submitted to a consultative group comprised of priests and lay people for consideration.

The hope was to put together a diverse group, a mix of ages, experiences, and backgrounds of faithful from across the five diocesan deaneries.

The current Diocesan Pastoral Council approved by Bishop Coleman is comprised of, from the Attleboro Deanery: Margaret Keenan from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, and Richard Palanza from St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield.

From the Taunton Deanery: Kathleen Graziano from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Taunton, and Peter Marshall from St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham.

From the Fall River Deanery: Nicholas Christ, Holy Name Parish, Fall River; Breda McCarty, St. Thomas More Parish, Somerset; Kathleen St. Laurent, St. Thomas More Parish, Somerset; and Philip Silvia Jr., Holy Name Parish, Fall River.

From the New Bedford Deanery: Debora Brum, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, New Bedford (representing the Portuguese community); Norma Colon, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at St. James, New Bedford (representing the Hispanic community); and Barbara Parnell, St. Julie Billiart Parish, North Dartmouth. (There is currently one vacancy in the New Bedford Deanery contingent because of an illness.)

From the Cape Cod Deanery: John Dellamorte, Corpus Christi Parish, East Sandwich; Diane Morris, St. Pius X Parish, South Yarmouth; and Brian Wall, Holy Trinity Parish, West Harwich.

Representing the diaconate community is Deacon Frank Fantasia from Christ the King Parish in Mashpee.

Bishop Coleman is the Ex Officio president; and Ex Officio members include Father McManus; diocesan Vicar General Father Gregory Mathias, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown; and Msgr. Edmund Fitzgerald, former chairman of the Presbyteral Council, and pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Somerset.

“The Diocesan Pastoral Council is a wonderfully diverse group of people who have generously devoted themselves to an extended reflection on the vitality of parishes,” Father Mathias told The Anchor. “It didn’t take long for us to arrive at this topic — maybe two or three meetings — because I think we recognize that this is where the Church is encountered by the majority of people, and the culture in which we are now living has proven to be a sharp challenge to the most common expressions of parish life.”

The group meets every two or three months at regional sites to prevent members from having a long commute each time. So far meetings have occurred at St. Julie Billiart in North Dartmouth, St. John Neumann in East Freetown, and Corpus Christi in East Sandwich.

During their time together the DPC has selected a few sources from which to garner ideas and guidance. One of which was the book “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter,” by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran. According to the book’s website, “Drawing on the wisdom gleaned from thriving mega-churches and innovative business leaders while anchoring their vision in the Eucharistic center of Catholic faith, Father Michael White and lay associate Tom Corcoran present the compelling and inspiring story to how they brought their parish back to life.”

“Most of our conversations have been guided by some of the reflections of Father Michael White and Mr. Tom Corcoran in their book ‘Rebuilt,’” added Father Mathias. “The key issue identified in that volume was the need to challenge the consciousness of ordinary, active Catholics such that they see themselves, not as consumers of what the parish has to offer, but co-workers tasked with responsibility for the parish mission of drawing others to Christ. Concretely, such responsibility takes many forms, from simply being hospitable to newcomers, to participating in a variety of parish ministries of service and evangelization. I suppose this consciousness could be summed up by certain questions pastors and parishioners ask themselves: ‘Do we really believe that our faith is essential for every person? If so, how can we better invite, share and bear witness to it? How can I better do this as an individual person and how can we as a parish family?’  The pluralism which is so characteristic of our secular culture has had the bad side effect of weakening the sense that the way of Christ that we profess and in which we believe, is ‘the Way,’ rather than just one way among many other possible ways. If we are convinced that it is ‘the Way’ then we will want to proclaim it boldly and unambiguously. This represents a significant shift in the current consciousness.”

Another reference material for the council is a pastoral letter by Bishop David Ricken from the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., titled, “Parishes: Called to be Holy, Fully Engaged, Fully Alive.”

The DPC is meant to reflect the entire portion of the people of God who constitute the diocese. “I feel that the council is very important for our parishes,” Norma Colon of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at St. James in New Bedford told The Anchor. “We learn from each other’s opinions or suggestions; what is working right for the parishes and how we can improve our weaknesses. It is very interesting to share the ideas with others. I said yes [to becoming a member of the DPC] because I love and enjoy so much from the bottom of my heart to serve my Church. It has been a beautiful experience to be part of this council.”

“When my pastor, Father George Bellenoit, asked if I would be on the DPC I had to give it a lot of thought,” added Morris. “I agreed to become a member because I felt I was fairly representative of an age group that is slowly drifting away from the Church and that perhaps I could add some insight (mid-50s with two grown, married children). I have truly enjoyed our meetings as we have very robust discussions regarding what we as a group have identified as some of the obstacles that the Church faces today.”

The council works with priests and parish pastoral councils, making recommendations and exchanging ideas, but it only has a consultative vote, and the practical conclusions of the DPC are not binding. Canon 514 states the diocesan bishop alone, “has the right to make public the matters dealt with in the council.”

“Bishop Coleman, when he was pastor at Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich relied on a very vibrant parish council there,” said Father McManus. 

Similar to those productive meetings with his parish council, Bishop Coleman also thinks highly of the work and dedication of the current Diocesan Pastoral Council.

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