Beacons of Light
In the following two pages we have printed the initial announcement concerning the Archdiocese’s new initiative, Beacons of Light (click here to read). As it states, “Beacons of Light is a pastoral planning process through which the parishes of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will come together in new ways, forming communities of faith that are united as members of Christ’s Body, the Church.”
It has been since the early 2000s that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has embarked on long term planning strategy related to parishes. The Futures Project (2005) resulted in 11 recommendations. The recommendation that most affected us was the division of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati into pastoral regions to allocate for 100 diocesan priests to serve as pastors. The number 100 did not include the priests from religious communities who served as pastors, this included the Precious Blood, Jesuits, Marianists, and others.
Over the past 15 years the situation has continued to develop. We have had time to evaluate the 2005 plans and experience life in pastoral regions. Although we have continued to see an increase in priestly vocations, there are numerous priests who have retired or are nearing retirement. On top of this many of the religious communities are ceasing to serve as pastors of parishes. For example, after serving the St. Henry cluster in Mercer County for over 180 years, the Precious Blood are no longer able to staff the parishes. Two priests of the Archdiocese will be assigned there beginning July 1, 2021.
On the next two pages you can see the numbers and changes that are occurring in our Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It is projected that by 2026 we will have 75 priests available to be assigned as pastors. The Archdiocese is working toward 75 pastorates. In November each parish had to submit data related to registered families, Mass attendance, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and finances. This data will be analyzed to identify the best possible parish groupings throughout the 19 counties of the Archdiocese.
This information should be available in the coming year. Once the new parish groupings are announced we will enter a phase of pastoral planning. At this point parish leaders will discern the shape and future of parish life to create a pastoral plan for the future.
In my opinion, the priest shortage is a symptom of a deeper issue. The priest shortage is the result of changing demographics, people in the Midwest moving south. More importantly it is the result of a decline in religious practice. For example in our four parishes in 1993, there were 115 baptisms and in 2018 there were 58. Similarly in 1993, there were 2538 people attending weekend Mass and in 2018 there were 1682. We, locally and in our Archdiocese, are losing people which means that we can’t expect to have the same number of priests. The priest shortage is a symptom of a decline of people living the Catholic faith. Vocations come from thriving parishes and families. If we aren’t thriving, there won’t be vocations. In the Archdiocese we have fewer Catholics, fewer priests, and basically the same number of parishes.
The stated goal of Beacons of Light is to move our parishes from maintenance to mission. We can’t live in a mindset in which we try to simply maintain what we have or live in the nostalgia of the past. We must be on mission to spread the Gospel. Part of the goal of the Beacons of Light is for each pastor to have one parish. This doesn’t mean that buildings will suddenly close. It means that we may have to reimagine what a “parish” is. A parish could have one main Church and a couple chapels that may have Sunday Mass or may be open for weddings and funerals. These decisions come as part of the pastoral planning phase.
I realize that this announcement won’t leave anyone with warm, fuzzy feelings. We will all be anxious about what is next and what is going to happen to parishes, buildings, Mass times, future weddings, priest assignments, etc. There are three things I am asking of you: 1. Pray and fast. I am praying and fasting every Thursday that this initiative will bear long-term fruit in the Archdiocese. 2. Realize that there are more questions than answers at this point; please don’t jump to conclusions. 3. Attend a question and answer meeting on Tuesday, January 19th at 7pm. You can attend in person at the St. Joseph PLC or watch via Facebook Live.
Thank you for your prayers.
Fr. Sean Wilson