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Task Force weighs in on the 5-year plan

By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
(Email Renee)

Nearly two years after Bishop R. Walker Nickless formed a Strategic Planning Task Force in the Diocese of Sioux City, he has officially promulgated a five-year plan.

The four-member Strategic Planning Task Force said that much research, input and time went into formulating the plan.

Members of the task force are Msgr. R. Mark Duchaine, vicar general of the diocese and pastor at St. Mary Church in Mapleton and Oto; Father Armand Bertrand, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Cherokee and Holy Name Church in Marcus; Father William Schreiber, pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Spencer and Msgr. Kenneth Seifried, former pastor at St. Joseph Church in Milford, who retired in July. Msgr. Duchaine serves as the chair of the task force.

Based on model from Wisconsin
According to Father Bertrand, the plan is based on a model from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and centers on the formation of parish centers and liturgical sites with some parishes going to church building status.

Parish centers ultimately will have the rectory, administrative offices, catechetical classes, weekend and weekday liturgies. Liturgical sites will be a Sunday liturgical and sacramental site as well as optional catechetical site and optional weekday Mass site. A church building can be used as a sacramental site for things such as a funeral or wedding and as an optional weekday Mass site but has no regular weekend liturgies.

Within five years, the plan calls for the establishment of 51 parish centers and 60 liturgical sites. Another six parishes remain in question as to whether they will be liturgical sites or will go to church building status. One parish is slated for church building status and yet another has already closed.

While Bishop Nickless officially endorsed the plan at the September meeting of the Presbyteral Council, Father Bertrand noted that initial portions of the plan went into effect with the July priest assignments. The plan will continue to gradually unfold and take effect with priest personnel changes – some coming within a year or two, others not until five years from now.

Task force reaction to plan
Members of the task force are pleased with the plan.

“In truth, I am exceedingly pleased,” Msgr. Duchaine said. “Although we weren't able to do everything that we had wished, we accomplished to the best of our abilities the goals set forth by Bishop Nickless when this process began: we saved as many parishes as possible, we tried to keep the priests' workload to a manageable level, and we have begun the process of streamlining parish administration. I wish to publicly thank my colleagues, Msgr. Seifried, Father Bertrand and Father Schreiber for all of the time, energy and effort they put into this process; its success is largely due to them.”

Father Schreiber said he liked the fact that they were able to seek and obtain feedback about the process and plan from so many people – priests and laity.

“We received a wide range of thoughts and ideas before we came up with this final product that the bishop has promulgated,” he said. “The plan has to be literally from the bottom up. We can’t ‘dictate’ a plan like this from the top, down.”

Father Bertrand said he is not only pleased with the overall plan but also with the reaction and support of the priests who have long expressed a need for such a plan due to the decreasing number of priests.

“The ideal is one priest for one parish,” he said. “But we have to live with the lesser ideal because we have no option – so pray for vocations to the priesthood.”

Msgr. Seifried said he would like families to speak favorably about the vocation of priesthood, promoting it as an admirable way of life and praying for new vocations.

He agreed that there was a need to have a plan in place, that way the lay people as well as the priests have a good idea as to what the future holds rather than seeing what happens on a yearly basis when assignments are made.

Work continues on 10-year plan
The diocese continues to work on its 10-year plan, but Father Bertrand said it will no doubt bring even more linkages. In 10 years, it is estimated that there will be 40 priests of the diocese who are under 70 years old.

Presently, there are over 70 priests serving in full-time ministry and in five years time the number will drop to just over 50. The number of priests who will actually be serving in full-time ministry will depend on various factors such as if the clergy remains healthy and if some opt to serve beyond the age of 70.

“The plans are really being driven by the number of priests we have,” noted Msgr. Seifried, who is hopeful that the workload of the priests who remain in full-time ministry will not be too great. “Some priests have mentioned that two parishes weren’t so bad, but three is a real challenge.”

With this model, which centralizes administrative efforts, he said it should help matters. However the priests and people, Msgr. Seifried added, will have to learn a new way of doing things.

“I am really impressed with the goodness of the people in this diocese,” said Msgr. Seifried, who mentioned how well parishioners have even reacted when their parish has closed. “People have been very good; there have been very few complaints. Most people just want to hang onto their parish, even if they are aligned with two or three others.”

It was the concern over priest numbers that got the ball rolling on the formation of a strategic plan in the first place.

“In November of 2007, I raised the issue at a Presbyteral Council meeting,” said Father Bertrand, who noted that at that meeting, he gave the bishop some facts. “I asked him if we wanted to deal with the situation we will be facing in the next several years proactively or reactively.”

From there, the task force formed and team members began to research not only the parishes’ vital stats numbers but community and county demographics, as well as strategic planning models from other dioceses.

Father Bertrand found the model on which this diocese’s plan has been based.

“I took it and adapted it to our diocese and that was the first draft,” he said. “I then took it to the committee and we agreed it was a good model that would work well for our diocese with some modifications. Then as a committee, we sat down and tweaked it into the form that is now being promulgated.”

Msgr. Duchaine said it made sense to base the plan on the one from La Crosse.

“That diocese is much like our own: not too many larger communities and mega-parishes, many rural areas of small towns and small parishes,” he noted. “It fit our profile almost exactly and made our work that much easier.”

As the diocese moves forward, Msgr. Duchaine said he hopes the people will keep in mind that this is a work in progress.

“Although we anticipate no changes in the way that the plan will unfold, there are always contingencies that we haven't taken into consideration, and which could possibly change the outcome in a given place and situation,” he said.

Much input went into process
Father Schreiber said the task force has worked hard to keep parishioners informed about the long-range planning process through articles in The Catholic Globe and by information disseminated through parishes.

“I would hope that people will be open and know that we tried to do the best we possibly could with the resources that we have,” he said. “The bottom line is, we simply do not have the number of priests that we once did.”

Just as Msgr. Seifried mentioned, Father Schreiber said he believes that priests are happy to have a plan in place – something they can work with.

He said the priests have been very open to this process and have responded very positively to the plan.

“I hope our brother priests will remember that, in putting this plan together, we sought their input and advice throughout the process and did our best to incorporate into the final plan all that felt felt was necessary,” Msgr. Duchaine said.

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