And so we begin: a reflection by Deacon Marty Eisert, chair of the Pastoral Planning Committee
Thank you for your interest in the Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring in the Diocese of Erie. The feedback period is now closed.
Merging and Partnering: A visual illustration
Prayer Resources for Parishes during Planning
The Liturgical Commission and the Office of Worship of the Diocese of Erie have prepared a series of prayers and prayer services designed to be helpful in the coming weeks and months as parishes work on restructuring.
A great deal of information was considered by the Parish Listening Task Force in making its recommendations for the Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring. Many criteria are listed in the PowerPoint also accessible through this website. The Comparison of Mass Attendance to Registered Households offers a parish-by-parish look at numbers that will be useful to parishioners interested in the plan.
At the meetings held in each of the three vicariates of the Diocese of Erie the week of April 11, 2016, information was presented with the support of a PowerPoint, now available to the public.
Excerpts from the bishop
Excerpts from the reflection offered by Bishop Lawrence Persico during the announcement of parish restructuring in each vicariate of the diocese.
Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring in the
Diocese of Erie unveiled
In the first of a three-part announcement to be released in as many days this week, the
Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring in the Diocese of Erie was announced at a gathering of clergy and parish leaders held at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Erie Tuesday evening.
The first announcement includes changes for parishes in the Northern Vicariate of the diocese, which covers Erie, Forest and Warren counties. On Wednesday, the diocese will meet with parishioners in the Eastern Vicariate, comprising Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean and Potter counties, and on Thursday, parishioners in the Western Vicariate will see the plan for parishes in Clarion, Crawford, Mercer and Venango counties.
The plan calls for two parish models: the stand-alone parish and the partnered parish.
In addition, a number of parishes will be merged into other parishes, creating either new stand-alone parishes or new partnered parishes. In the Northern Vicariate, four parishes will be “subsumed,” or merged, into existing parishes; two additional parishes will be merged while their church buildings become “secondary mission churches”; three sets of parishes will be partnered; and 23 parishes will remain as either stand-alone parishes or stand-alone parishes that already have secondary mission churches.
“The best pastoral and spiritual care of souls” was cited several times as the driving
force behind pastoral planning, when the changes were announced. To that end, among the main goals of both merging and partnering parishes are:
—creating vibrant parishes with enhanced opportunities for worship
—pooling resources for more effective evangelization and outreach
—ensuring optimum utilization of clergy
—creating efficiencies in operation.
The dwindling number of priests and the rise in their age was a factor in the decision making process, and the plan for the Northern Vicariate alone means nine fewer priests will be needed as pastors. This is essential for planning, as more priests are reaching retirement age, facing health issues or dying.
The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie, chose not to officially close any church buildings in the diocese. “I believe strongly that the final decision to close a church building needs to come from within each parish community,” he said. Parishes that are being merged into other parishes will still have access to their original church buildings for weddings, funerals and select liturgies such as their annual feast day. “Over time, after parishes merge, they may decide it no longer makes sense to maintain additional church buildings,” the bishop said. “They may find they don’t have the resources to keep it up.” At that point, the parish can request that the bishop consider closing their secondary church building.
Despite his conviction concerning the importance of the restructuring plan, Bishop Persico acknowledged that change would be difficult for many. “We all must recognize that change is demanding,” he said. “It disrupts our routine and takes us out of our comfort zone. There may even be feelings of grief as we let go of what we’ve known and loved.” The bishop encouraged patience with the process and said the diocesan Office of Worship is preparing rituals and prayer services parishes can use as they go through this time of transition. Bishop Persico also said he has “every confidence we are responding to what the Lord is asking of us, and we can rely on the graces and guidance we need at this moment.”
The announcement, which addresses one of the five major initiatives of the Pastoral Plan for the Diocese of Erie, is the culmination of more than two years of work. The initiatives include:
—Strengthening Catholic education (Building in Truth and Love, the pastoral plan for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Erie was finalized in February, 2016.)
—Invigorating parishes (The Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring in the Diocese of Erie addresses this initiative.)
—Increasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life (A full-time director of vocations has been named, and numerous recommendations by the task force for this initiative are being implemented.
—Expanding faith formation (Task forces are working on recommendations for the final two initiatives.)
—Realigning organizational structure.
A Parish Listening Task Force, under the leadership of Msgr. Richard Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in DuBois, and retired business leader Rosemary Carnovale, of Holy Rosary Parish in Johnsonburg, made the parish restructuring recommendations to Bishop Persico. They relied on considerable demographic data collected from both the government and parishes. Among the key factors:
—The overall population in the diocese of Erie has shrunk by 6.7 percent in the last decade.
—The number of households registered in Catholic parishes has decreased by 19 percent, from 71,491 in 2004 to 59,692 in 2014.
—Mass attendance has decreased 26 percent, from 65,858 in 2006 to 48,696 in 2014.
—Infant baptisms have declined every year for more than a decade. In 2014, there were 768 baptisms, 43 percent fewer than in 2004.
Bishop Persico also consulted with the diocesan Priests Council, which voted on each recommendation, parish by parish. The council overwhelmingly approved the recommended changes. Retired Erie Insurance executive Deacon Marty Eisert, who has been spearheading the pastoral planning effort for the diocese, is participating in the presentations this week. “We can't change reality,” he said, “but we can learn to operate within the reality.” He said the success of the plan would require change on many levels, including the way Catholics think of their parishes and schools. He noted that fully one–third of parishes in the United States are now consolidated or linked, and that 27 percent share a pastor with at least one other parish.
Deacon Eisert also pointed out that 49 (mostly small) parishes in the Diocese of Erie already share a pastor with at least one other parish. Prior to implementing the plan, the diocese has 116 parishes. The Preliminary Plan for Parish Restructuring in the Diocese of Erie will go through the same process that was used for Building in Truth and Love, the pastoral plan for Catholic schools in the diocese. Individuals and parishes are being invited to provide feedback through a form which will be available on the diocesan website beginning April 15. The deadline for participation is May 20. Meetings will be held in each of the ten deaneries of the diocese by the end of April, to gather additional initial feedback and to help parishes prepare for meaningful participation in the process.
Over the summer, Bishop Persico, the pastoral planning team and the Priests Council will analyze the feedback and make appropriate adjustments. They will coordinate efforts with the Priest Personnel Board, which handles parish assignments for priests. The hope is to announce Bishop Persico’s final decisions on the plan in mid-September. Using guides tailored for the purpose, parishes will then work through a variety of processes depending on if they are merging, partnering or remaining as stand-alone parishes. “We are all in this together,” the bishop said, pointing to the Parish Snapshots each parish completed last year. “They revealed we all have room for improvement and growth.”
Bishop Persico said he expects every parish, even those that are remaining as stand-alone parishes with no changes for now, to participate in the feedback sessions. The bishop also said the process that has been developed will be used for years to come, as demographics and cultur-al trends continue to impact the life of the Catholic Church in northwest Pennsylvania. “Planning needs to be part of our mindset,” he said. “Change shows we are alive and responding to the needs of our time.”
Feedback forms will be available on this web site beginning Friday, April 15.
Building in Truth and Love
Diocese unveils Building in Truth and Love, final plan for Catholic schools
The Diocese of Erie today unveiled Building in Truth and Love, the highly anticipated final plan for Catholic schools throughout the 13-county Diocese of Erie. The blueprint is part of the most comprehensive pastoral planning effort the diocese has undergone in several decades.
“I believe parents in northwest Pennsylvania, and particularly in the Erie area, will be very happy with the final plan,” said the Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie. “It is built on a solid foundation of data, but also incorporates imagination and inspiration. Catholic education is a crucial asset in our community, and the plan ensures families will be able to take full advantage of its benefits for generations to come.”
The final plan contains observations, goals and strategies for Mission and Catholic Identity; Governance and Leadership; Academic Excellence; and Operational Vitality. Unlike the preliminary plan proposed last year—sixth through eighth-graders now will remain embedded within the PreK-8 buildings.
“We asked for feedback from the community, and the community responded with great passion,” said Father Nicholas Rouch, vicar for Education. “The deep desire voiced by so many people who value the PREK-8 system gave us reason to re-evaluate this aspect of the plan.”
“In light of the feedback, we went back to the research,” Father Rouch said. “Ultimately, we felt we could accomplish our overall goals of academic excellence in a faith-based environment while keeping all our students in PreK-8 buildings. We are deeply committed to system-wide, age-appropriate opportunities for middle school students. We are designing a more focused approach for students in grades six to eight, increasing academic rigor, emphasizing high school preparedness and expanding offerings ranging from spiritual experiences to international languages.”
A separate document released today enumerates key features of the plan for sixth through eighth-grade students, and outlines the strategies that will be used to accomplish specific goals. Among the highlights of middle-school education in Catholic schools in the greater Erie area:
- a campus minister to develop age-appropriate spiritual experiences for middle school students
- competitive and intramural sports programs
- focus on science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) across the curriculum through new science labs, improved access to technology, an emphasis on problem-solving and teamwork
- emphasis on debate and public-speaking skills
- a middle-school-specific code of conduct
- career education and exploration
- wellness programs
- professional development for middle school teachers
- opportunities for students from multiple campuses to meet for educational activities focused on the arts
- readiness for a smooth transition into Catholic high school.
The final plan calls for the creation of a new Catholic school system in the Erie area: the Erie Catholic School System, replacing the current array of independent, parish-based schools. The Erie Catholic School System will be similar to the approach already successfully established in three areas of the diocese—DuBois, the Shenango Valley and Elk County. The new system, which is expected to open in September 2017, will comprise six campuses: Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Peace, Our Lady’s Christian, St. George, St. James and St. Luke. Two other schools, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and St. Boniface School, will close after the 2016-17 academic year. Opportunities to develop Holy Family School into a separately incorporated diocesan school with philanthropic support from the wider community are being discussed. An exploratory commit-tee will soon be appointed for this purpose.
The diocese said it will need to make a multi-million dollar fundraising effort to support middle school education as well as diocesan-wide professional development opportunities for Catholic school personnel.
St. Gregory in North East will remain open, but participate in a new diocesan collaborative for parish-based schools (PBS). Eleven grade schools not connected to systems in the diocese will belong to the PBS Diocesan Collaborative, designed to strengthen and support the parish-based schools in smaller communities.
St. Joseph, the only Catholic school in Warren County, will be maintained as a PreK-5 parish school. A comprehensive strategic plan, including a feasibility study to expand the school to grade 6 in the short-term and to grade 8 long- term, will be initiated. The school will participate in the new diocesan collaborative for parish-based schools (PBS), as one of 11 grade schools not connected to systems in the diocese. The PBS Diocesan Collaborative is designed to strengthen and support the parish-based schools in smaller communities.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania have said they will continue to operate Villa Maria Elementary as a sponsored ministry. Six of the seven Catholic high schools in the diocese will remain open. Venango Catholic High School in Oil City will close at the end of the 2015-16 academic year. The challenges of declining enrollment and substantial infrastructure needs were too significant to overcome.
All parishes in the diocese will contribute to the financial support of Catholic schools. “Catholic education is an essential outreach,” Bishop Persico said. “By working together, we can ensure that students in northwest Pennsylvania have access to a rigorous, top-quality, Catholic education. We also recognize that we need to do everything possible to keep it affordable.” In addition to parish subsidies and parish-based endowments, the diocese plans to continue growing its scholarship funds.
All Catholic schools in the diocese will be under the leadership of the newly created position of superintendent of schools. Implementation of the plan calls for two new positions: a superintendent overseeing all Catholic elementary, middle and secondary schools, and a president for the Erie Catholic School System. Both are expected to be hired by this summer. A board also will be established for the system.
The hope is to implement many of the changes by the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year; some aspects could occur earlier and some later, depending on a number of factors.
The Erie Catholic School System will mean more collaboration and less competition among the Catholic elementary schools, ensuring consistency in everything from tuition rates to academic offerings. Sharing resources will create an economy of scale that will significantly improve the educational value.
The final plan was presented to clergy, principals and diocesan administrators earlier today. It is the result of more than 18 months of work under the leadership of the Catholic Education Task Force of the Pastoral Planning Committee, in concert with the Catholic Schools Office and the Wisconsin-based Meitler consulting firm. School officials contributed to the process at two major junctures in the process, and, of course, the public—including parents, grandparents, alumni and even students—weighed in after the preliminary plan was released last October.
The final plan draws significantly on the inspiration of a 2005 document from the U.S. Bishops titled, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. It states, “Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community…to strive toward the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class.”
In working on the plan, Bishop Persico said he felt “a great responsibility to the sisters and priests and families who came before us. They poured their lives into our Catholic schools. Now it’s our turn to assume that responsibility. We can do no less.”
Bishop Persico also said aspects of the plan will continue to evolve, but emphasized his confidence in “a very strong foundation for the future of Catholic schools in the region.”
Discussion about the need for a pastoral plan began less than a year after the arrival of Bishop Persico, who was installed as bishop in October 2012. In August 2014, the diocese engaged the nationally recognized consulting firm of Meitler. Based in Milwaukee, Meitler has worked with more than 120 dioceses and 2,000 Catholic and religious schools since 1971, with an emphasis on strategic planning, demographic and market research and enrollment management.
As part of the process, the diocese developed a listing of Key Indicators for a Healthy School, based on National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools published in 2012. They can be found in the menu on this web page.
To guide the development of the plan, a Catholic Education Task Force was established in the summer of 2014. Members reviewed data gathered by the Catholic Schools Office and Meitler. Officials visited every school in the diocese, engaging administrators who provided vital information. In addition, community demographics were collected and relevant parish data was compiled in order to create a complete picture of those trends affecting Catholic schools.
This information was shared in multiple forums, and used by the task force to develop the preliminary plan. Working subcommittees of the task force included Catholic identity, academic excellence and school finances.
In announcing the preliminary plan last October, officials at the Diocese of Erie asked people who will implement the plan and those affected by its recommendations to provide feedback. School administrators had access to a confidential online form developed for this purpose; approximately 1,200 individuals also submitted feedback.
The Catholic Schools Office analyzed the feedback that was received after the preliminary plan, and worked to shape the final plan. Bishop Persico consulted with numerous individuals associated with the pastoral planning process before approving the final plan.
In his letter at the beginning of Building in Truth and Love, Bishop Persico noted the plan is the fruit of intensive prayer, study, feedback and collaboration by parents, educators and pastors.
“We now have a roadmap for faith-based academic excellence which is supported by our parishes and affordable for our families,” he wrote, acknowledging there is still much work to do.
“I ask that you join me in wholeheartedly committing yourselves to these initiatives and to our children, who are our hope for the future.“