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Some Catholics are in forefront on planning, change
Staff Writer

"In some ways, you can say we're not a dot on the map anymore," said Sister Linda Hogan, CSJ, of her experience with pastoral planning at St. Cecilia's Church in Warrensburg. "We have to connect the dots, to work together."

After working together on a "consuming" five-year pastoral planning process that changed the face of a small North Country church, parishioners and planning teams at St. Cecilia's expect to use lessons culled from their own experience on a larger scale with the upcoming "Called to be Church" process.

"The whole thing was a miracle," said Sister Linda.

Looking ahead

On the retirement of St. Cecilia's priest-pastor in 2001 and the appointment of Sister Linda as parish life director, parishioners decided to embrace a call by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard to look at pastoral planning within parishes.

A planning team began to wade through data regarding priest retirements, local demographics and Mass attendance, and discussed St. Cecilia's priorities and how the church could best serve its population.

"We believed in the statistics and outlook for the future when the Bishop presented them in 2001, so we got right to work," she said.

Given the lack of priests, the planning team agreed that they needed space enough to hold the entire parish for one Mass per weekend, as well as increased handicapped accessibility, adequate meeting space and multiple repairs.

Keys to change

Based on her experience in Warrensburg, Sister Linda said that a planning process should be proactive, as well as "contextual, open, participatory, realistic, responsible, and [belonging] to the parish."

She also believes that lines of communication between planners and parishioners must remain open, and that members of the parish should always feel free to make input into and receive information about what's going on, even if the process is delayed or changed because of it.

The three most important things for any pastoral planning process, Sister Linda believes, are "participation, education and trust."

Furthermore, "absolutely key is making sure God is in it, that it is about the mission of the Church," she added. "It's about clear communication and trusting one another."


To increase communication between planning team and parishioners, the parish published the "St. Cecilia's Occasional" newsletter and held meetings every time a large decision needed to be made as well as occasional informational sessions.

Before tackling the nitty-gritty details, the committee decided to discuss their feelings, shared experiences, and the commonalities and differences among them, like their thoughts on change, their hopes for the future, and the tasks they enjoy and dislike. That helped to create a common ground and shared foundation for the team to build upon, Sister Linda said.

Also contributing to that foundation, she added, were parishioners themselves. She invited them to view a video on creativity to encourage them to think of new ideas for the parish. The video was presented 16 times at parish meetings in August and September 2002, and most of the parish attended one of the sessions.


People who make good planning-committee members are people who share an attribute of "great patience," Sister Linda said. "In this process, it feels like you're not getting anything done for so long.

"It is hard to spend five years in process. But we had great confidence in what we were doing and in how we were doing it, and because we had confidence, the people were able to trust us. We also weren't hiding anything. The trust comes when you know you're part of the process."

She believes that same trust helped the parish get through the 9/11 aftermath and feelings engendered by the clergy abuse crisis.

"It was amazing. [The abuse crisis] was so demoralizing, and yet the people said, 'We are the Church.' We felt like we were punched in the stomach, but we said we're going forward, so we just went forward," she explained.


In the end, parishioners raised $450,000 for building renovation on top of other capital campaigns and recently took up a collection to donate $8,000 to the building fund in honor of Sister Linda's 40th anniversary as a religious.

In October, ground will be broken for what will become St. Cecilia's renovated facilities that will allow parishioners to celebrate one Eucharist per weekend in the future.

Regarding "Called to be Church," Sister Linda suspects that "we have done a lot of it. We were not caught off-guard, because we believed [the Bishop] the first time [he asked for planning]!

"This past spring, our cluster went down one more priest, so it is obvious that we have to put our words into action. We cannot wait any longer. We know we're in a process, and we'll be glad when this part is done. But we also know that this is not the end."



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