Historic changes for parishes proposed; feedback sought throughout the diocese
By Tom Dermody
Proposals to historically reorganize the network of parishes throughout the Diocese of Peoria in order to strengthen the local church for present and future realities are being reviewed in every parish during October.
All Catholics are encouraged to attend the gatherings in their respective parishes to learn more about the multi-year pastoral planning process, called “Growing Disciples,” and to respond to a second draft of parish models released publicly on Oct. 1.
How to provide feedback
Go online to growingdisciplescdop.org to learn about the Growing Disciples process and see your parish’s draft model
Attend your parish meeting
Provide feedback by sending your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
The models and considerations leading to them are found online at growingdisciplescdop.org.
The proposals — drafted and revised after a year of gathering sacramental, demographic, and financial information from all parishes — consider “how parishes may come together to advance the Gospel.” The second draft calls for a series of mergers that would reduce the number of canonical parishes from 150 to roughly 65.
The churches of many of the merged parishes would become secondary worship sites to newly formed parishes, while up to 40 existing churches are projected to be no longer in use.
NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE
A theme echoing throughout the parish meetings is that no decisions have been made.
“We cannot stress enough that the draft models you see today are just proposals developed to solicit your feedback,” said Matt Faley, chief of mission for the Diocese of Peoria, in a second video played at the parish meetings. “Your comments and those of the priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee will shape a final set of recommendations to Bishop Tylka.”
Faley explored the goals of the “Growing Disciples” process, including more effective evangelization, enhanced vibrancy of parishes, and support for the “health, happiness, and holiness of priests.” He also described in detail the realities driving the need for change, including:
- a 37-percent decline in Mass attendance in the past decade, “not just due to COVID” but also “broader secularization.” Sacramental participation is also down, with Catholic marriage and baptism figures only about half of what they were in 1990.
- anticipated reductions in the number of diocesan priests, with 30 current active priests beyond age 60. Faley cited projections showing that, even with ordaining two or three priests a year, the number of active priests in the diocese could reduce from the current 145 to perhaps 90 in 25 years, with as few as 75 available to serve in parishes.
- generational differences in the practice of faith, with older Catholics providing the bulk of financial and volunteer support. “It is critical that we engage young adults and families with children in new ways,” said Faley.
DIFFICULT CHANGES, BRIGHTER FUTURE
Bishop Tylka offered a special message to those whose churches are recommended to be no longer in use.
“Closing a church is never an easy decision,” the bishop said in the video. “Many of you have invested your lives and livelihoods in your parish. Thank you for your lifetime of service. You are undoubtedly the reason our faith has endured in this part of the country.”
While change may be painful, the goals of “Growing Disciples” to create “a vibrant, stable, mission-driven church for the future” are exciting, said diocesan leaders.
“These changing and challenging times require us to adapt our Catholic communities to prepare for the future,” said Bishop Tylka. “My prayer is that a new, stronger network of parishes will allow us to worship God in greater community, and invite others into a relationship with Him.”
Faley also looked to the future with hope.
“We have before us the opportunity to re-imagine how the Catholic faith can transform our region,” he said. And he emphasized that even those parishes not slated for structural change will also be called to discern what they can do better.
“The imperative to ‘Go Make Disciples’ will require new approaches and priorities for all of the parishes in the diocese,” he said.
LIVELY DISCUSSION IN PRINCETON
One example of how the second parish model draft would affect a local region was discussed Oct. 5 by about 50 people attending a parish meeting at Harkrader Hall of St. Louis Parish in Princeton.
Under the present proposal, a grouping of four area faith communities — St. Louis Parish as well as St. John the Evangelist in Walnut, Immaculate Conception in Ohio, and St. Mary in Tiskilwa — would merge to create a new parish.
The new parish would have St. Louis Church as its primary worship site, and St. John the Evangelist as its secondary site. The churches in Ohio and Tiskilwa are “recommended not in use.”
Msgr. James Kruse, pastor of St. Louis in Princeton, guided the lively discussion. Five “key parish leaders” who have been involved in the diocese-wide discussions assisted, handing out background documents, fact sheets, and feedback forms.
“It’s a proposal,” Msgr. Kruse told the group of the draft parish models, “and we have a chance to offer feedback before final decisions are made in May of 2024.” The feedback forms seek thoughts on the strengths and challenges of the round two model. They could be completed and mailed or filled out online, but the deadline for response is Nov. 22.
Hands went up quickly during a question period, including:
“What happens to the buildings no longer in use?”
“Would the parish or the churches be renamed?”
“What about religious education programs?”
“What will the new Mass schedule be?”
Msgr. Kruse said many such “concrete decisions” will be considered and made during a multi-year implementation phase that will follow Bishop Tylka’s final promulgation next spring.
“There are 1,001 details and issues that need to get worked out,” he said.
Catholic schools are not being discussed during the parish meetings. Bishop Tylka said a task force on the “best way forward” for Catholic schools is being coordinated by Dr. Susan Miller, diocesan superintendent of schools.
Msgr. Kruse ended the Princeton parish meeting with a prayer for Bishop Tylka.
“Give him a spirit of courage and right judgement,” he prayed, “a spirit of knowledge and love.” By faithfully governing those entrusted to his care, “may he build up your church as a sign of salvation for the world.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ONLINE
For example, the glossary of terms differentiates between a “church” and a “parish.” A church is “a worship site or a sacred edifice set apart for the benefit of the faithful for divine worship.” A parish is “a defined community of the faithful within a diocese, whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a pastor.”
A suggested prayer for the “Growing Disciples” process
Heavenly Father, you have sown the seeds of faith in your people and given us the responsibility as the Church to nurture and grow an abundant harvest for the Kingdom of God.
Send forth, we pray, the grace of the Holy Spirit to allow us to discern a path forward as we read the signs of our times. Help us become unified in the dream you have for us — to be a vibrant and mission-driven Church.
As we seek to live as disciples of your Son, Jesus, inspire us to give authentic witness to our relationship with you, so that others may be inspired by our love for you. Center us and feed us by the gift of the Eucharist that we may be strengthened for our mission. May each of us live out our vocation in service of the Gospel.
Almighty God, may we enter into this challenge and opportunity as a people filled with hope. Allow us to truly pray, dialogue, assess, discern and do what it is you are inviting us to, so that we may respond to today’s needs and tomorrow’s promise.
Committing ourselves anew to GROWING DISCIPLES, we trust in your providence, and we pray, Almighty God, that our efforts today will bear fruit for a brighter tomorrow.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, pray for us!