SAGINAW — The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, today announced the start of A Future Full of Hope: Planning Tomorrow’s Parishes, a strategic planning process designed to engage parishioners to assess the state of churches across the 11-county Diocese of Saginaw and develop recommendations to enhance the vibrancy of parish life.
“For years the diocese has discussed the need to prepare for a time when personnel and resources would demand major changes, and that time is now,” Bishop Cistone said. “It is our hope that, through this process, we will be in a position to enliven sacramental, educational and community life, including service and stewardship, for all of our people.”
A Future Full of Hope: Planning Tomorrow’s Parishes will call on each parish to assess its strengths, name concerns and explore ways in which it can work with other parishes to better serve the People of God. The Reid Group, a consulting firm specializing in parish planning, has been retained to assist the diocese in this endeavor.
The process will utilize a grassroots-style approach to planning that involves participation from each parish community across the diocese. Additionally, Bishop Cistone will appoint a planning commission formed of priests, deacons, pastoral administrators, religious sisters and lay people. The planning commission will provide recommendations based on parish information and rationale and demographic data. Once decisions are made, parishes will begin implementation by the summer of 2013.
In correspondence to parish leadership in April 2011, Bishop Cistone cited the serious challenges of a diminished number of priests, the limited availability of administrators, the large number of parishes and the financial resources needed to operate these parishes.
“The serious reality is clearly before us,” Bishop Cistone said. “There are 105 parishes and four additional churches within the diocese. This year, 17 pastoral administrators are serving our diocese. However, as regards sacramental ministry, only 54 active diocesan priests are assigned to 109 churches. In addition, 22 active and senior priests, of various ages and health conditions, also provide sacramental ministry to our parishes. We are deeply indebted to our senior priests, realizing the pastoral and precarious driving obligations they assume.”
In addition to diocesan priests, there are five priests from other dioceses and five religious order priests serving full-time as pastors and two priests from other dioceses serving as sacramental ministers.
Many dioceses across the country have embarked on similar processes, utilizing various parish models including the linking, partnering and merging of churches to better serve the faithful and utilize resources.
"For nearly 75 years the Diocese of Saginaw has ministered to the needs of its people through a vast and growing network of parish communities — some with roots dating back into the 1800s," Bishop Cistone said.
"This process of change might prove very difficult for some of our most devoted and loyal parish members. However, we must attentively address the needs, challenges and opportunities that present themselves to this local church in this time and place.
"As a diocese, we need to address the number of sustainable parishes as well as priestly vocations. Together with the generous leadership of priestly leaders and supporting institutions we have introduced several initiatives to encourage and foster priestly and religious vocations. I remain optimistic that our Lord will provide our future priests. I ask our faithful people to help foster vocations to the priesthood and pray for our parishes as we undertake this pastoral planning process.”
The Diocese of Saginaw is home to 108,601 Catholics, worshiping in 105 parish communities, across Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Isabella, Midland, Saginaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties.