Grand Island plans for fewer priests
(This is the first in a series of Focus stories on
what is happening in dioceses throughout the United States as they
face the consequences of the priest shortage.)
By Lori Ashyk
The Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska is confronting the problem
of the priest shortage head-on, discovering its challenges and
Fr. Ed Cortney, chair of the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan
Pastoral Council in Grand Island, said its planning process began
in 1999 with the acknowledgment of the priest shortage. Since then,
the diocese has held hearings in each parish in the diocese, hired
consultants to help in diocesan planning for the next 10 years,
formed steering committees and subcommittees, and is about to start
the work of an implementation committee.
According to the diocesan publication about the plan, Bishop Lawrence
McNamara had an "overwhelming concern" for how to meet
the religious and spiritual needs of the people of God with the
diminishing number of priests available for full-time ministry.
His analysis suggested that the current diocesan and parish structures
could sustain the loss of a maximum of four priests. After that
threshold was reached, the plan said, "it will be necessary
to initiate a new approach to ministry to Catholics in western
The most positive outcome of the process so far, said Fr. Cortney,
has been the emergence of lay leadership. Lay people coordinated
many of the pastoral planning tasks, and they will continue to
be involved in leadership of the plan's implementation.
The process has been an opportunity "for lay leadership to
take its rightful place in the world," he said. Fr. Cortney
noted that two of the four subcommittees (which were formed around
parish realignment, discernment, pastoral formation and spirituality)
are headed by lay people.
Fr. Cortney said the process of discerning where the Grand Island
Diocese is headed has been difficult, particularly because there
haven't been too many role models to follow. "You don't find
a comparable diocese doing comparable things," he said.
Grand Island is grappling honestly with problems confronting many
dioceses throughout the country. While the priest shortage is common
to nearly all of them, strategies for dealing with the situation
must take into account the nature of the communities served by
Part of the challenge facing Grand Island is its geography. The
diocese is 125 miles long and sits in two time zones. It already
includes several mission parishes, where one priest serves more
than one congregation, and distance is an issue. Grand Island's
pastoral plan calls for a pilot model of a regional parish, but
does not envision the creation of mega-parishes where stadium-type
churches are built to accommodate huge Sunday crowds. Instead,
it says that the "rural context" of the area must be
Its pastoral plan has stated: "Our U.S. culture places value
on material wealth and contends that bigger is better. In contrast,
our faith base contends that bigger comes with responsibility to
honor small places."
The pastoral plan's statement of visions and actions include: assisting
the people of the Grand Island Diocese in the development of a
liturgical spirituality; and helping create a new vision of parish
which calls for an "expanded role of the laity, more paid,
accountable positions at both the Parish and Diocesan levels, new
Parish structures including regional, dual membership in non-Eucharistic
and Eucharistic parishes, and focus on adult education with articulation
of what it means to be Catholic."
Fr. Cortney said Grand Island has acknowledged that some parishes
will be without Sunday Eucharist at times, and some parishes may
have to close. The diocese, according to the pastoral plan, is
calling for a ritual to be created "that is sensitive to the
needs of people affected by changing parish status
approach will validate feelings of loss while bringing focus to
the opportunity provided by the new alignment."
The plan also includes several ways to develop pastoral leadership
among the laity. A Pastoral Formation committee was created in
August and plans to hold diocesan-wide workshops early this year
(2002). New training programs for pastoral leadership are to be
in place by the spring.
|FutureChurch has published a new Parish
Dialogue Supplement to its Future of Priestly Ministry
project. The supplement includes U.S. Bishops' Statistics on
the Priest Shortage, an interview with Fr. Donald Cozzens,
author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood,"
articles on the Eucharist and the Sensus Fidelium, and a parish
study guide on how your parish or small faith community might
discuss the impact of the priest shortage and the increase
in lay ecclesial ministers in your area.