The more than 30 Roman Catholic churches on Staten Island will be "going down faster than the Titanic" unless they all collaborate and some agree to merge or even close under the Making All Things New initiative.
That was the sink-or-swim message delivered by the Rev. John O'Hara,
the former pastor of St. Teresa's R.C. Church, Castleton Corners, who
now is the director of strategic pastoral planning for the Archdiocese
of New York.
Major changes are required -- beyond churches sharing soup kitchens
-- Father O'Hara said, at the first Staten Island Cluster Training
Session for the initiative.
"If we don't do this, we're going down faster than the Titanic," he
warned, rallying the cluster groups to take the initiative seriously and
develop plans that are "realistic and doable."
Father O'Hara and consultants Tom Reid and Charlotte McCorquodale of
the Reid Group, which is working with the archdiocese on the
initiative, were among those who provided guidance to priests and lay
representatives from 33 Island parishes at the Wednesday session at
Monsignor Farrell High School, Oakwood.
Various presentations reinforced Cardinal Timothy Dolan's emphatic
message that 368 parishes in the archdiocese are too many, unneeded
churches are costing the archdiocese $40 million and all churches will
have to collaborate, merge or close.
The consultants said the cardinal took off the table the concept of
linked parishes -- in which a pastor or administrator oversees two or
more separate churches -- because of concerns that cluster teams might
choose that relatively easy option over making tough decisions like
merging or closing.
A diagram displayed at Wednesday's meeting hinted that the
archdiocese is looking for a one-third reduction in parishes, although
officials have repeatedly maintained that there are no such targets.
The diagram of six churches in a cluster showed four of the churches
merging into two new parishes and the other two churches remaining
separate entities, but collaborating with the two newly consolidated
"The cardinal has made it very clear that we have to hit this head on," Father O'Hara said. "We can't dodge the bullet."
Shared Religious Education Programs also are on the table.
Monsignor Richard Guastella, pastor of St. Clare's R.C. Church in
Great Kills, urged all of the parishes to return their questionnaires
regarding Religious Education Program attendance, staffing and the
possibility of doing a combined program with a neighboring parish.
The consultants noted that some of the parishes had been moved to
other clusters per their requests after the groups were revealed by both
the archdiocese and the media, including the Advance. However, Father
O'Hara made it clear that the tweaking was over, and urged all to work
with their current clusters.
The Island clusters have as many as seven parishes, with a total of
35 people working together, so they may form subcommittees to specialize
in key areas such as evangelization, stewardship, effective
administration and sacramental life.
The consultants recommended that the clusters hold six meetings from
December through February and send a draft of their suggestions and
evaluations to the Reid Group by Feb. 22.
The final cluster group recommendations must be submitted by March 1.
They then will go through various evaluations and consultations until
Cardinal Dolan signs off on the plan and implementation begins in