Looking to the future: Deanery V plan presented Sept. 30

Kris Larkey, parishioner at St. Sabina, presents the plan for her parish Sept. 30, 2020.

Megan Marley

Parishes in the Blue Ridge Corridor—St. Sabina, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thomas More, Coronation of Our Lady, St. Matthew the Apostle, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. John Francis Regis, St. Bernadette and Nativity of Mary—are implementing a new growth plan in response to changing demographics and to continue to support the faithful in spiritual growth and missionary discipleship.

On Sept. 30, the Blue Ridge Area Pastoral Plan steering committee shared its recommendations for renewed evangelization efforts, ministries and collaboration among parishes via a live-streamed presentation at St. John Francis Regis parish.

The plan is a first step toward completing a comprehensive resources strategy for the diocese by October 2021. While the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down implementation of some goals related to the diocesan vision, similar focused studies and planning will be taking place in every deanery in the coming months.

Background: Diocesan Vision

The evening kicked off with an address by Fr. Sunoj Thomas, OSB, parochial administrator of St. Catherine of Siena parish and dean of Deanery V, who welcomed all those attending in person and virtually, and led everyone in prayer. Fr. Charles Rowe, Vicar General for Pastoral Affairs, then gave an overview of the diocesan vision process leading up to the study and plan:

“In our local church, we engaged in a series of listening sessions back in 2017 to try to discern how our church might better exercise her mission in the present moment,” Rowe said. “Some of you may have taken part…Bishop Johnston attended all of them, to hear what the Spirit was saying to the churches and through the people who make up the churches.

“The fruit of that process was the mutually shared vision for our diocese…‘One Family: Restored in Christ, Equipped for Mission’…this slogan, motto, whatever you call it, elucidates the familial nature of church life—the Church is a family!….[this vision statement] also evinces awareness of our wounds, our woundedness of which in recent years we have been more keenly aware, and these wounds cry out for healing, for restoration in Christ. And finally, the slogan gives voice to and calls for a renewed desire for empowerment for evangelization.”

“To implement such noble, lofty, elevated goals requires a painstaking process attentive to some nitty gritty stuff. It requires carefully crafting concrete objectives and pursuing them with dogged determination…the Blue Ridge Study has been a focused exercise, a focused application of this Vision, this mission that has been geared towards the wise use of the precious resources to be found in Deanery V—the parishes, the people, the priests, the churches and schools, the finances and facilities…We’ve prayed and listened, we’ve talked and have learned, we see more clearly what this deanery is, who these people are, and God’s vision for what it can become with the aid of his grace.”

Blue Ridge Area Study, Key Findings & Plan Development

Next, Mark Kemmeter of Meitler Consultants, a data study and planning firm for Catholic communities, explained the details of the study and key findings that guided the resulting Blue Ridge Area Pastoral Plan.

Kemmeter noted three groups of people were involved in the study that began in January 2020: at the diocesan level Bishop Johnston, Fr. Rowe and the diocesan leadership team committed to the need for a new strategy based in present and future realities that comes from the bottom up, rather than from the top down; pastors who will be called upon to build up the Church in the Blue Ridge area; and parish steering committees comprised of the pastor and at least four representative parishioners. Once groups assembled and data was analyzed, a plan was drafted and several revisions proposed from April through August, with the final version presented Sept. 30.

“The plan that was created is not the Meitler plan, it’s not the Bishop’s plan, it’s not the priests’ plan, it’s not even the steering committees’ plan, it is truly our plan, forged through collaboration and consensus building, sometimes as difficult as that may have been,” he said.

Kemmeter noted four key findings resulting from demographic studies of the Blue Ridge area:

  • There will be growth in the suburban southern part of the deanery, but minimal gain or population loss in the south Kansas City and Raytown areas: “Most deanery parishes will need to increase evangelization efforts and collaboration of ministries in order to grow.”
  • The Blue Ridge area is culturally diverse—approximately one third of area residents are Black/African American and seven percent Hispanic/Latino. “There are needs to expand ministries to, for and with these cultural groups.”
  • The area population is aging—over the next decade, the 65 and older population is forecast to increase by 33 percent, while the numbers of younger age groups will either remain the same or decline.
  • 62 percent of all Blue Ridge residents do not participate in any religious community or denomination: “That means three out of every five people have the potential to hear and receive the Good News of the Gospel, some for the first time or others in a new and life-changing way. A future plan must be focused on evangelization, as well as sharing the love of Christ with all who live in the area through acts of charity, human service and works of mercy.”

Parish statistics were also studied. Overall, Kemmeter noted, the data indicated declining sacramental activity, membership, finances and Mass attendance. To assess each parish’s potential for future growth, indicators of vibrant ministry were identified. These included active members; sacramental life and parishioner engagement; financial stability, potential for growth; capacity and ability to serve; and conditions of facilities and renovation potential.

“The purpose of the pastoral plan is to bring about new vitality and hope through the transformation of the parishes as the plan is implemented. Tonight, you will be able to see and hear how the Blue Ridge parishes will respond to the present realities and how they plan to shape the future in the image of Christ.”

Parish Plans Recap

Members of each parish’s steering committee presented aspects of their respective church’s plan.

St. Sabina parishioners packed the 850 seat church in Belton August 24, 2019 to celebrate the parish’s 75th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Johnston. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

St. Sabina, Belton

Kris Larkey, long-time parishioner, former volunteer Hispanic choir director and current business manager at St. Sabina, spoke first on the plan for her parish.

“Being part of this steering community has been a humbling experience, as St. Sabina’s needs and circumstances are very different from other parishes in Deanery V,” she said.

St. Sabina remains a stand-alone bilingual parish and is recommended to continue and expand its evangelization efforts.

“St. Sabina has a strong history of offering many types of adult faith formation opportunities…all offered in both languages,” Larkey said. “We currently have seven small Christian communities in English and six in Spanish—these groups have significantly increased the sense of community within our parish…It is our goal to increase the number of small Christian communities by at least one each year.”

Larkey noted St. Sabina has developed a successful Hispanic Ministry over the past two decades and will be helping other parishes in the deanery in this regard, particularly St. John Francis Regis. The Belton parish will help St. John Francis Regis develop Hispanic Ministry programs, and announce the beginning of this ministry and Spanish Masses to St. Sabina attendees so families closer to St. Regis are aware.

The parish also will continue to monitor seating, parking and PSR education spaces for the future population growth projected in the Belton area.

“Our church currently seats 850 people, and it is designed so we can add extra pews in front—currently our church seating capacity is adequate for our weekend Masses with room for growth. Our parish school of religion currently uses all available spaces on Sunday mornings—to accommodate future growth, we would add more class times as needed,” Larkey finished.

The procession of servers, deacons, priests and Bishop Johnston approaches the sanctuary at St. Catherine of Siena Church Aug. 26, 2018 for the SPRED (Special Religious Development ) Mass. Marty Denzer, Key photo

St. Catherine of Siena, Kansas City

Bob Sandford, music director at St. Catherine of Siena for 22 years, explained the situation for the parish.

He said the study “has brought immediacy, clarity and focus to what will be a defining moment in the life of our parish. Hope, focused, begets hope.”

“Our current status as a stand-alone parish is not sustainable at its current level,” he said. “The plan includes an opportunity to retain our stand-alone status for up to two more years to build greater vitality. This vitality will be assessed in October of next year and the following year, using a combination of metrics such as Mass attendance, sacraments, number of registered members, contributions, number of donors and our financial bottom line.”

If at any time during the two year period the parish is unable to be sustained, the parish will consider two options: merge with St. Thomas More Parish and close, or merge and continue as a sister church with a Sunday Mass and other activities as long as Mass attendance and contributions can be maintained.

Sandford remains optimistic, having seen past resourcefulness in the parish:

“Over the last three years we’ve raised over a half million dollars for major capital expenditures and to address the long list of deferred maintenance and facility improvements. This is encouraging to us…it frees us for ministry and for meeting the challenges ahead…it reminds us of so many who have roots there and believe that nearly 100 year old mother church of so many, including St. Thomas More, has a promising future,” he said.

“Some recommendations from this study for revitalizing our parish include to explore further collaboration with St. Thomas More; to consider deepening the relationship with the Syro-Malabar Rite, the Indian community already in attendance at our church; to form an evangelization team to reach out to present and former parishioners to listen, engage and invite; and to use information in the study’s key findings for future growth opportunities to focus our evangelization efforts beyond the parish membership,” Sandford continued.

“To those who call St. Catherine home and those who will be welcomed home in the coming months, I offer this: in my years with you, I have seen the spirit working in your midst in myriad ways and it is working now.”

The bishop pours the Oil of Chrism on the new altar at Coronation of Our Lady May 20, 2018, consecrating it to God for his people. After he incenses the consecrated altar, it will be dressed. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

St. Matthew the Apostle, Kansas City and Coronation of Our Lady, Grandview

A member of the Coronation of Our Lady steering committee spoke next.

“I’ve been a member of Coronation for over 40 years, and I consider myself to be at least a partial member at St. Matthew’s as my wife and I take frequent advantage of the Saturday afternoon Mass,” said Mike Rimmer.

“I want to point out that this point of the presentation is the only one that deals with the closing of a parish—as you can imagine, this is a very traumatic and disappointing event. We can only trust that the Lord has greater things in mind for us as we come together than we could achieve separately,” he said.

“The decision to close St. Matthew’s by merging it into Coronation was not an easy one. The leadership teams that were formed in each of our parishes engaged the Meitler study with seriousness and analyzed the data provided. At the end of this process, we were all receptive to the recommendation that our two parishes need to come together,” Rimmer continued.

“Being so close to each other, our parishes have similar demographics, aging and declining populations, and financial burdens, just getting by, deferring maintenance, reducing staff and programs. Over the past 10-15 years, we have focused on maintenance and survival to the neglect of our true mission: liturgy, sacramental prep, evangelization, outreach to the needy, spiritual growth, faith formation. It is our fervent hope that by merging Coronation and St. Matthew’s, we become equal partners, one family restored together and better equipped for our mission, which includes achieving the objectives set for us in this pastoral plan.”

The two parishes will merge by Advent 2020, but the process will recognize the legacy of St. Matthew’s first.

“Our immediate focus over the next couple of months will be to celebrate the people and legacy of St. Matthew’s. In October and November, several events will be planned and held at St. Matthew’s that will give opportunities to recall the lives and contributions of great parishioners over the years…this will give our joint communities a chance to remember together, to get acquainted and connect,” said Rimmer.

The parishes will also join leadership and finance teams, and the plan also gives a renewed ministry focus to unite behind.

“One of our primary parish ministries will be to broaden our social outreach program. The data harvested from the Meitler study has shown a growing poverty rate in our part of the city,” Rimmer said.

A new partnership with Catholic Charities will bring resources to the area through the parish.

“This organization is currently beginning/in process of moving assets onto the physical campus at Coronation. Near term plans call for establishing that presence and greatly expanding Coronation’s current food pantry,” Rimmer concluded. “Long range plans call for expanded social ministries, using on site staff to include counseling, help for the homeless, and training for basic job skills. This will be a great gift to our new parish and the area.”

Bishop Johnston offered the diocesan Rosary Congress closing Mass Oct. 9, 2020. The Congress featured a week of 24 hour adoration and rosaries said every hour. (Megan Marley, Key photo)

Our Lady of Lourdes, Raytown

Mike Sweetland, president of the Our Lady of Lourdes parish council, went next in describing his parish’s plan.

“Five years ago, Our Lady of Lourdes was in serious debt, declining enrollment/membership in the parish, no real parish council, no real finance committee, and it was a bleak picture,” he said. While the situation is much better than times past, the parish is not sustainable at its present level.

“For the next two years, we’ll be able to further our mission, grow our parish, take the momentum we’ve created over the past three years—we have no debt, we’ve stabilized our enrollment, and we have the Sisters in Jesus the Lord,” Sweetland continued.

“The parish of Our Lady of Lourdes is grateful for the opportunity to get two more years as a parish, collaborating with St. John Francis Regis in order to build greater vitality. We have rounded a corner…we are ready to work,” he said with emotion.

If the parish is unable to rally, options are to merge with St. John Francis Regis parish and close, or to merge and continue as a sister church as long as attendance and contributions can be maintained.

Sweetland is optimistic: “In the past, every opportunity, every challenge that has been adequately defined to the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes has met…We’ve come a long way, and I appreciate the Bishop’s trust that the next few years we can continue to grow within Raytown.”

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. speaks to fifth graders gathered at St. John Francis Regis Parish for Vocation Days Mass on February 23, 2017. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

St. John Francis Regis, Kansas City

Deacon Ken Albers, a parishioner of St. John Francis Regis since 1988 and former member of St. Matthew’s, spoke for his parish. He said that growing Hispanic Ministry with the help of St. Sabina and offering Mass in Spanish is one of the parish’s goals. They will also collaborate with Our Lady of Lourdes to grow a ministry to recent African immigrants.

“To be successful in this, we’ll need to cast our nets deeper and wider than ever before,” Albers said. “We are blessed to have brave, talented and dedicated parishioners determined to bring others to Christ.”

The parish will also help other deanery parishes in their quest of renewing vitality. In turn, Regis Academy can be better promoted within deanery parishes.

“Growing the academy has a direct result on the evangelization and growth of the faithful—we’ve seen that in the past two years in the sacraments given at Easter Vigil. Our 2020 RCIA was grown largely from the Academy and its families,” said Albers.

St. John Francis Regis, Our Lady of Lourdes and the newly-merged parish of St. Matthew/Coronation of Our Lady will collaborate on a variety of social, educational and evangelization ministries. They will also collaborate on communications: raising awareness of each other’s ministries and activities, utilizing newer technology and possibly utilizing a regional website hub or shared web developer. Additionally, a part-time catechetical position will help facilitate the Clear Path for Discipleship and work with young adults and families in the parishes.

“2020 may be remembered for many things, but three months remain. With God’s grace and all of us working together, we hope that the most lasting and best memories of 2020 are collaboration between our three parishes,” he concluded.

Arm in arm, encircling Nativity of Mary Church, principal Mary Parrish, students, Bishop Johnston and Father Bob Stone, pastor, and faculty members pray in silence for abuse victims and diocesan healing on the annual Day of Prayer April 26, 2017. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

St. Bernadette, Kansas City and Nativity of Mary, Independence

Vonda Geary has been a parishioner at St. Bernadette since entering the Church in 2000, and currently is business manager for the parish. She explained the parish’s plan will more closely link them to Nativity of Mary in Independence.

“When our school closed, many of our families went to Nativity of Mary, so we have a long history with Nativity of Mary. I’m very excited to say in January 2021 we will be sharing a pastor,” she said. “…This is nothing new to St. Bernadette, as we have been sharing a pastor with Our Lady of Lourdes for about four years…we will continue to be two churches, each with separate staffs and finance councils but will become part of a wider faith family.”

Mass times will change to one Saturday and one Sunday Mass at each parish, along with alternating locations for weekday Masses.

“Parishioners will be encouraged to attend their preferred Mass time at either parish, with the assurance that their financial support will go to their own parish,” Geary said.

The plan calls for the forming of an evangelization team to contact present and former parishioners to listen and engage them in parish life. The two parishes will also work together on ministries and outreach.

“We as a staff have already begun meeting with the Nativity of Mary staff and we’ve had great discussions on how we can collaborate and grow—we have discussed combining our Parish Schools of Religion, as well as expanding our food pantry and the ministries and services provided,” continued Geary.

“While it may be difficult for a pastor to be responsible for two parishes, there’s great financial benefit for both parishes—I know I can speak for both staffs when I say we will do our very best to support our pastor so he is able to serve both parishes to the best of his ability,” she concluded. “We look forward to working together to keep our community strong and vibrant.”

Fr. Dave Holloway, current pastor of St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, has served at most of the parishes in the Blue Ridge Corridor and followed Geary’s presentation.

“This deanery has given me a lot, and many years of my priesthood have been spent in this area. I’ve developed a lot of friends, a lot of memories,” he said.

“Looking at what was and being kind of sad that what was is no longer there, it can bring you down. But we are called to be people of resurrection,” Holloway continued. “Sometimes in those ‘dyings’ there is new life to come. So that’s what we’re all about at this place, at this time and this evening as we present this plan.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done…we have a lot to offer, I believe,” he said.

“The body of Christ needs all of us working together.”

Bishop Johnston Speaks

Bishop Johnston addresses pastors and parish representatives gathered for the Blue Ridge Area Pastoral Plan presentation Sept. 30, 2020.

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. shared his thoughts on the parishes’ plans.

“I have to say I’m very proud of what you’ve accomplished, all the work you’ve done and certainly its due not only to you but a reliance on the Holy Spirit to help us,” said Bishop James Johnston, Jr. to those gathered. “I didn’t know where this would end up when we began, that’s one of the things about beginning one of these projects. It’s kind of exciting and a little bit scary at the same time.”

“This was a lot of teamwork, a lot of openness and a lot of trust. As we heard tonight, as I heard all of you speaking about your parishes, about where we’re going but also where we’ve been, we realize that parishes are holy ground—literally, they’re holy ground because we consecrate them—but they are holy ground because they are our homes,” he said.

“What I’ve heard tonight is not only an acknowledgement, a gratitude even if at times bittersweet, I also hear from layfolk tonight what our parishes can be in the future, how we want to renew them and work together to carry out this time bound mission that we’re given,” Johnston said.

The mission that we have today is in many ways the exact same mission that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles.

“The culture is not as Christian, it’s not Christian anymore except in pockets…we have to be thinking along those lines in terms of what our parishes are to be about, what their mission is. Maintenance is important, but we also have to put before maintenance being on mission,” the bishop explained.

“The church exists for mission, pure and simple—if we’re not doing that, we don’t deserve to be around very long, and we won’t be around very long…it doesn’t come naturally and it’s intimidating because we weren’t brought up in that mindset, and that’s what our diocese is trying to work through that, trying to change our culture to be a missionary culture.”

Hearing how the parishes will be helping each other grow in mission is inspiring.

“In the new testament it’s amazing how they’re sending people back and forth, they’re sharing collections together, they’re paying attention to how are our sister churches doing and how can we help them. In the Catholic Church that’s in our DNA, but we can forget that if we get this sort of insulated mindset,” Johnston said.

“This is really good stuff and I’m filled with great hope. I’m under no illusions though; we have to be intentional about this and we have to call people in to help. You all are very engaged, but we have to call forth the rest of our family…we’re all part of one body, and everyone in the family has a gift and it’s a gift given for the good of the body.”

“Ultimately it’s God’s work…we have to be open, we have to be generous and we have to put ourselves at the service of the Holy Spirit,” he concluded.

Watch a video recording here of the Sept. 30 presentation, or read the full Pastoral Plan. For more information and updates on the priorities and goals of the Diocesan Vision ‘One Family: Restored in Christ, Equipped for Mission’, visit kcsjcatholic.org/our-vision.

December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph