||Parishioners at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison raise their hands to vote on the challenges they see as priorities for the future at the parish. Over 150 parishioners attended a recent convocation as part of a parish planning process which is setting a vision for the future. (Contributed photo)
MADISON -- Parishioners often describe St. Maria Goretti Parish as a “very good parish.”
“It’s a very warm and welcoming parish. You get the sense that people care. There is excellent leadership from the clergy and staff,” said Bernard DuMond, who did an assessment of St. Maria Goretti Parish as a consultant with the Institute of School & Parish Development (ISPD).
His assessment found that parishioners praised their parish as being “active and vibrant” with “outstanding leadership” and an “excellent Catholic school.” People liked the welcoming, family atmosphere; the excellent liturgies; the many ministries offered at the parish; and the sense of community present at the parish.
The question is: How does a parish go from very good to great?
Establishing a vision
With that goal in mind, St. Maria Goretti asked ISPD to help establish a long-range pastoral plan and vision for the parish.
Entitled “Creating a Vision of Hope,” this effort has encouraged the involvement of all members of the parish, which numbers 2,450 families and about 7,300 individuals.
“Everything was on the table, from liturgy to education to vocations to administration,” said DuMond. “The people are driving the process. If they create it, they will have a stake in the outcome, so it will be implemented.”
Msgr. Mike Burke, pastor of St. Maria Goretti since 1996, is enthusiastic about the planning process. “The whole experience over the last nine months has been wonderful,” he said. “I’ve learned so much.”
He agreed that things have been going well at the parish. “As the pastor, I’ve been spoiled. These people are so good.”
He said the Pastoral Council had been doing a self-study. “We wanted to open it up to the whole parish and see what the people were thinking. We contacted Bernard and the ISPD about a year ago to help us.”
Monsignor Burke emphasized the importance of the parish having a vision, as it says in the Scriptures, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
The planning process began in March. DuMond interviewed 50 individuals representing all areas of the parish to find out what they thought about all aspects of parish life. He prepared an Assessment Report based on the interviews.
Then a core team of 35 parishioners, Pastoral Council members, and staff was formed to facilitate the next phase of the plan.
The team conducted a series of input sessions with parishioners. The team members listened to their thoughts about the parish, including its strengths and weaknesses and the challenges currently facing the parish.
A Parish Planning Team (PPT) made up of about 75 parishioners was brought together four times to examine the feedback received at the input sessions.
The PPT, facilitated by the core team, separated into seven smaller areas of focus and identified specific challenges of each area and formulated possible solutions to those challenges.
The seven areas of focus included worship and prayer, social justice and outreach, administration and finance, stewardship and development, education and faith formation, parish life, and vocations.
Convocation identifies priorities
The entire parish was then invited to come together at a convocation on December 6 to learn more about the planning process and to vote on the challenges to identify the top priorities to be addressed in the parish plan.
About 150 parishioners attended the convocation. In welcoming people, DuMond explained the process and said it is a historic moment in the parish. “We have come up with 40 challenges in seven planning areas. These challenges have solutions. They are issues we need to address in the months and years to come. Tonight you will set the course for the parish for the next five years.”
He asked the parishioners to meet in seven groups to rank the challenges. “We’re coming together as a parish to articulate a vision for the future,” he reminded them.
Parishioners broke up into small groups, where they discussed the challenges in each area. The solutions offered were based on the SMART formula: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.
After discussion, parishioners marked a ballot and indicated their top 20 challenges in all areas. With DuMond leading the voting, parishioners raised their hands to vote for their top priorities.
People could also sign up to help implement a specific challenge.
The top 10 challenges selected include:
1. How do we attract and train more (and new) volunteers)?
2. How do we consistently call all parishioners to a life of true stewardship (active participation in Time, Talent, and Treasure)?
3. How do we help people grow in love of the Mass, cultivate a sense of reverence, and foster engagement in the Mass?
4. How do we inspire and sustain the desire to learn and the engagement/involvement of parishioners throughout life?
5. How do we formalize a process to encourage new leaders and create a mentoring program for all leadership and planning of parish life activities?
6. How can we enhance and improve the new member welcoming process?
7. How can we prepare for only one priest?
8. How do we identify the needs regarding pastoral care services?
9. How do we better meet the needs of the community around us?
10. How can we educate parishioners about liturgy and prayer?
Implementing the plan
Implementation teams will be convening in February to begin to review the priority areas and move to the tactical level of how to implement the plan.
DuMond stressed that the plan will not sit on a shelf. “We’re transitioning from planning to doing,” he said. “I look forward to great things in the future.”
Monsignor Burke said, “This has been a wonderful experience to keep our parish alive in the faith and hope and love of Jesus Christ. We’ll do our best to implement this.”
Of the priorities indicated by parishioners, Monsignor Burke agrees that getting and keeping volunteers engaged is very important in a large parish. “We always tell new parishioners that the best way to meet people is to get involved.”
The pastor is also impressed by the “tremendous love for the sacraments and the Eucharist” that he has noticed among parishioners. Life long learning was also mentioned, and he said adult faith formation is key to that learning.
Monsignor Burke was very happy with the turn out for the December convocation. “The energy in that room was unbelievable,” he said. “Everyone had something to contribute. There were people of all ages present, even high school kids.
“I can’t say enough about our Pastoral Council, parish leadership, and our staff. Bernard has been a great facilitator and brings a lot of wisdom. It’s really been a great process, and now the key is getting the plan implemented.”
As DuMond said in his assessment of the parish, implementation is an ongoing process. “Implementation never truly ends — it evolves and responds to the needs of the people.”
That is a key to making a very good parish a great parish.