By Susan Miller
This post relates a part of the thesis Effective Church Operational Systems to both All Saints Parish and the American Catholic Church in general. It’s important to note that the turmoil in our parish is not personal from the viewpoint of SOP. It’s actually a rather common battle taking place in the Church and in certain dioceses in particular, like the Diocese of Rochester (DOR). And it centers on identity. Who are we as Catholics? What is the mission and value of our parishes and churches?
Chapter one of the thesis discusses leadership and social challenges that the Church faces today, as well as a local history of our Catholic parishes. On page 22, there is a summary of the priorities of our pre-Vatican II parishes in Corning:
“…the leadership embraced a basic three-fold vision. First was the providing of the sacraments and chaplaincy services. Second was the provision of a Catholic school. Third was advocacy in following the teaching of the church.”
The implication is that this “basic” vision was insufficient, and we are to do “bigger” things today. We experience this attitude throughout the DOR with a downgrading of the role of priests, the explosion of lay professional staffs, church and school closings, and less emphasis on the sacraments and Catholic devotions, such as adoration and the rosary.
Providing the Sacraments and Chaplaincy Services
The seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick) are unique and central to our faith. Parents send their children to religious education until they are confirmed, at a minimum. Receiving the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist keeps people coming to mass despite what is going on around them.
However, it can be easy to take the sacraments for granted. A description of the leadership of Father Joseph Guilfoil, pastor of St. Vincent’s Parish from 1940-1964, illustrates a time when the sacraments truly were most important. “In the dark of night of freezing weather he walked to the homes of his people to bring the Sacraments to those who were seriously ill – people tell you that today (1988).” (Diamond Jubilee Review, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, 1913-1988).
We need our sacraments. And we need our priests.
Provision of a Catholic School
A number of Catholics may agree with this sentiment on page 15 of the thesis:
“Many parishes deeply subsidize the schools, draining needed funds for ministry and building maintenance.”
It’s true that it costs money to run Catholic schools. Whether that is called “draining needed funds” depends on your perspective. If Catholic education is a priority, then it is considered an investment in the future. In fact, Catholic education was a critical mission in the DOR from its formation in the mid-1800s. Often, parishes were created with the school and church sharing the same building.
As someone who has attended local Catholic and public schools, I can tell you that public schools can do many things well. However, one thing that they can’t do is guide a child’s spiritual development. It is not a public school’s mission to do so. Furthermore, even the best religious education/youth groups only meet for about half the year for an hour or so. It simply can’t compare to being immersed in a Catholic environment for six hours per day, 180 days per year.
This is not to criticize parents who choose public schools. Rather, for parishes to not provide the option of a Catholic education is short-sighted at best. Read a teacher’s perspective in Catholic Education Matters. And consider the Wichita, Kansas diocese that charges no Catholic school tuition for children of active parishioners, meaning that the diocesan parishes fully fund the schools.
Advocacy for the Teachings of the Church
The church has a number of complicated and even controversial teachings. Yet, we don’t hear much about them from the pulpit. Perhaps some homilists don’t want to upset people. Others may not believe in a particular Church teaching. And still others may assume that people already understand these teachings. In fact, a significant number of us probably lack knowledge or could use a refresher. The homily may be the only time that the Church can reach adults and help them grow in their faith. If Catholics don’t feel confident that they understand their faith, how can they defend it, much less evangelize, in a hostile society?
There is much talk of ministries in our parish and in the thesis. Ministries, whether singing in the choir or collecting goods for the needy, are a wonderful way to serve fellow parishioners or the larger community. But these are an outgrowth of our faith, not the mission of a Catholic parish. The primary mission of a Catholic parish is to save souls. This is accomplished through the Mass and sacraments, Catholic education, and church teachings. No other institution in our society can provide these three things. If we let them slip away, then who exactly are we?