OF THE FAITHFUL, SEACOAST, MA AFFILIATE - "Parish
Life Without a Resident Priest/Pastor" - a presentation
by Sister Mary Mazza, C.N.D.
for the following recap by Eleanora Paciulan of Seacoast
planning a public meeting related to VOTF Goal # 3,
Structural Change, the Seacoast Affiliate of the Voice
of the Faithful explored innovative programs and discovered
that some dioceses in the United States have already
made Church-approved changes in response to the priest
shortage. These changes expand the role of other religious
and the laity. Pope John Paul II promulgated a revision
in Canon Law that included a new canon, Canon 517, which
addressed the shortage of priests in several regions
of the world. This canon reflects the concepts of team
ministry, collaboration, and pastoral service that have
roots in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
Canon 517.2 provides "official permission" to appoint
lay Catholics to lead parishes; the local Bishop has
the authority to decide whether and when to appoint
lay diocesan leaders. This means that the source of
the layperson's authority to lead a Catholic parish
rests entirely in the Bishop.
Bishop of Albany and other American bishops have appointed
qualified deacons, women religious, and lay people as
Parish Life Directors. Those selected must meet education
and experience standards and demonstrate personal and
professional skills and maturity, as well as a commitment
to grow spiritually and demonstrate a well-developed
sense of Church. Seacoast Affiliate Co-coordinator Mary
Fitzsimmons invited Sister Mary Mazza, Parish Life Director
at St. Patrick Parish in Athens, NY, to speak on the
topic "Parish Life without a Resident Priest/Pastor"
on Monday, January 31, 2005 at Church of the Nativity
Hall, Merrimac, MA. Sister Mary's presentation dealt
with her responsibilities that include all aspects of
pastoral care of a parish except performing the sacraments
and lay leadership and life in a parish without a priest-pastor.
This presentation had special relevance for members
of the five Seacoast parishes affected by the reconfiguration
process - they must make a recommendation to the Archdiocese
on how they would share two priests.
Mary's dynamic presentation included song, prayer, Scripture
reading and storytelling, as well as descriptions of
life in a parish without a resident pastor and the Parish
Life Director's role, which evoked many questions from
the audience. Sister Mary very quickly taught the fifty
attendees a song that invited God into our hearts that
was followed by a reading on the Beatitudes from Matthew's
Gospel. She stressed that Jesus' message is very simple:
believers will not be left orphans in any age; therefore
we need not be troubled or afraid. We exist as Church
to bring about the reign of God. As she described her
present position, which she has held since November
2003, Sister Mary demonstrated that she not only had
the professional qualifications, but also the intellect
and personal characteristics to be successful. Sister
is a multi-talented woman with an upbeat, enthusiastic
personality and superb interpersonal skills. She is
a well-prepared teacher who delivers her presentation
with humor, love and a deep and abiding faith.
has been a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame
for thirty-nine years and had served in many ministries
from Rhode Island to Montana before arriving at St Patrick
Parish in Athens, NY. She was sensitive to the needs
of her new parishioners who were mourning the sudden
death of their beloved pastor of twenty-eight years.
Because the parishioners realized that they were faced
with either the parish closing or accepting a Parish
Life Director, they graciously received Sister Mary.
She noted her two greatest challenges: there had been
no change in liturgical practices over many years and,
at the onset of her ministry, parishioners divided into
small, separate groups when they met with her. She met
with each group and after much listening, the parishioners
acknowledged their interdependency and committed themselves
to the community concept, Sister Mary took on the first
challenge, liturgical change, during the Lenten season.
Choir members, who had formerly only been required to
sing "Amazing Grace" before Mass and "How Great Thou
Art" at the end, practiced five hours each week to prepare
for Holy Week; at the present time about 40-50% of the
parishioners are involved as volunteers.
stated that the Bishop of Albany, Bishop Hubbard, is
a visionary who does not believe that one priest should
be the pastor of three to five parishes. In Athens,
two priests share a Sacramental ministry; one of them,
a prison chaplain comes to the parish three weekends
each month to celebrate Mass, and the second, the Diocesan
Advocate for Priests, comes on one weekend. Sister is
responsible for planning the liturgy for weekend Masses
as well as funerals and weddings; the sacraments of
initiation, Baptism and First Eucharist, are celebrated
with the community at weekend Mass. Decisions made by
the Pastoral Council are by consensus and a Finance
Council was recently established; prior to this, parish
volunteers with computer and accounting expertise set
up a database for the parish census and assisted with
parish finance matters. The only paid parish employee
is a part-time maintenance worker. Lay people have answered
Sister's call for help whenever she has asked, such
as roof repair and painting. The Chair of the Maintenance
Committee is an engineer and members of the Finance
Committee prepared the parish budget. She said these
are areas in which she lacks expertise.
is a cluster of three parishes within a 15-minute drive
working cooperatively on Advent, Lent, and Faith Formation
initiatives; they are working towards hiring a Religious
Education professional who will coordinate their joint
Mary opened the session for questions: Her responses
to some of the many questions asked were as follows:
does not do communion services during the week,
but does lead a prayer service, the Liturgy of the
Hours, every Thursday. St. Patrick Parish is the
middle parish of the cluster of three and the other
two have daily Mass; when a new pastor comes to
one of these churches in July, she hopes that there
will be a rotation of weekday Masses among the churches.
are 250 families registered in her parish, but she
thinks there are probably close to 400, indicating
there is a need for some evangelization. She described
Athens as having two sections, the village where
some families have lived since the 1700s, and the
town, which includes a lake and is developing more
rapidly than the village.
is a Discernment process. There has been a Catholic
presence in Athens since 1921 and when diocesan
personnel met with the parishioners they saw the
potential for development. Registered parishioners
have great participation.
she arrived, the role of liturgical ministers was
very limited. There is now ongoing training of future
ministry volunteer trainers. She said that she is
attempting to do forty years of liturgical renewal
in one year, an impossible but necessary task. The
parishioners are asking for training.
she honors the budget, especially her personal one,
she noted that the rectory had not been maintained
for twenty-eight years and was in need of a new
boiler and other capital improvements. Contingency
for unexpected expenses is part of the capital improvement
line item. She said that parishioners support much
the way New Englanders do - Sunday collection is
about $1,600 and this year's Christmas collection
was close to $4,000. In general, new people moving
in are better off than senior citizens and others
who live in the depressed section of the parish.
are seventeen Parish Life Directors (PLDs) in the
Diocese of Albany, which covers a large geographic
area. Although most PLDs serve in rural areas, Sister
said she saw no reason that they couldn't work in
urban areas. PLDs do administer the sacraments and
if someone in the parish is sick, Sister suggests
that the priest administer the Sacrament of the
Sick before death is imminent. She will journey
with those who are mortally ill in their final moments.
She stated that we all have gifts to bring about
the reign of God.
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