- Associated Press - Saturday, September 5, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - When Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera envisions the future of diocesan churches, he sees St. Patrick’s Church in White Haven as a model.

The church has a priest, the Rev. Michael J. Kloton, who also oversees Immaculate Conception, a separate, independent parish 8 miles away in Freeland. When Father Kloton is serving Immaculate Conception, Sister Jane Gaughan, I.H.M., fills the void at St. Patrick’s.

“She’s the on-site person people go to when they need some support, when they need some direction in their parish,” Bishop Bambera said. “She is not going to celebrate Mass. That is the pastor’s role. She is not going to celebrate the sacraments either, but she is on site there so that when Father Kloton is in Freeland, life and ministries happen in both places.”

Sister Gaughan, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister, has served as pastoral minister at St. Patrick’s for 17 years. The former parochial school English teacher likes to say she is “co-responsible” for the day-to-day operations, along with Father Kloton.

Father Kloton is quick to correct her, saying she “is the star of the whole thing.”



“This is the future of where the church is going,” he said.

In response to a dwindling number of priests, whose services continue to be stretched thin, the diocese hopes to rely more on people like Sister Gaughan to oversee church ministries in the new position of parish life coordinator.

In some churches, non-priests will be installed to lead church ministries and oversee day-to-day operations. Deacons, religious brothers and sisters and laypeople could be selected for the role after receiving proper training. They will be tasked with the non-sacramental work normally performed by a priest.

“Pilot program”

Bishop Bambera installed the diocese’s first parish life coordinator, Sister Mary Ann Cody, on July 11 during a Mass at Our Lady of the Eucharist Parish in Pittston.

Sister Cody, an IHM sister like Sister Gaughan, had been pastoral associate at the church since 2007. She shared spiritual, financial and administrative duties with the Rev. Thomas Maloney, whose retirement created the opening for her new position.

Over the past seven weeks, she has learned to embrace the fact that now the “buck stops here” in regards to those duties.

“It isn’t like I go now to somebody else. I’m responsible for this parish,” Sister Cody said. “I have to say, father nurtured us for this responsibility. He nurtured the parish community to accept responsibility for leadership.”

Upon taking the new role, Sister Cody left an apartment in West Pittston and moved into the church rectory to be more present.

While she oversees and runs the church, the Rev. Jeffrey Walsh, the diocese’s vicar of clergy, has become the church’s sacramental minister, performing the duties only priests can.

Sister Cody said the transition has been smooth because of the assistance of parishioners. She noted members of the church leadership wrote to the bishop, volunteering the parish be a “pilot program” for the parish life coordinator role.

“The people of the parish have been extremely receptive to this assignment by Bishop Bambera, and I think a part of this is because they were led to see the need beyond their own parish, but to see the need of the whole church of Scranton,” Sister Cody said.

Embracing change

The embrace of the new leadership role by parishioners follows years of change.

Our Lady of the Eucharist is the product of a 2010 consolidation of two Pittston parishes, St. Mary Help of Christians and St. Mary’s Assumption, and Blessed Sacrament in Hughestown.

Although the merger was unpopular and the loss of the individual parish identities was difficult, parishioners resolved to make the best of it and have become over five years what is now a close-knit faith community, parish council member Mike Quinn said.

“Probably as soon as Father Maloney’s retirement date was solidified, we started talking about this,” Quinn said, referring to the impact of the pastor’s departure. “We were aware of the shortage of priests coming up, the retirements and the attrition.”

At the time, diocesan planning for new types of parish leadership was well underway, and the more parish council members learned about the position of parish life coordinator, the more it seemed like a good fit, Mr. Quinn said.

Sister Cody was already serving as pastoral associate and had been “really the backbone of this parish since we were all merged,” he said.

“It was going to be the most natural, seamless transition for us in this community, with the way this parish is, how close everybody is and how important Sister has been to the parish community,” he said. “It was the best way to go, and plus we knew a priest could be appointed someplace else if we were going to go with this nontraditional route.”

The position is a six-year appointment, which Sister Cody said “allows for stability in the parish and with me.”

Her mentorship under IHM sisters in other states, who have been in similar leadership roles for decades, taught her a lot, she said. She added she is determined to make the new model succeed here.

“I want this to continue to be the vibrant parish that it is,” Sister Cody said. “If we work to the best of our ability, then we can become an example to other parishes that may have to take up this model.”

Vocation perspective

While it looks to other forms of parish leadership, the diocese is not backing away from efforts to bolster the ranks of both its priests and deacons.

There are 66 permanent deacons in the diocese, with a class of 15 more set to be ordained in November. Another class of around 15 is in formation and will be ordained in two years, Bishop Bambera said.

“There has been an explosion of interest in that particular type of ministry in the church,” he said.

The Rev. Donald J. Williams, diocesan director of vocations and seminarians, said the church wants to enhance within the diocese a “vocation perspective,” the sense that all Catholic are called to holiness by virtue of their baptism. The question becomes how to call forth those with the gifts to be an ordained priest, he said.

Among the new initiatives, Father Williams said, is a vocation camp. Over three days this summer, the inaugural Quo Vadis Days brought together 25 young men of high school age at College Misericordia in Dallas to reflect on their faith and learn more about vocations in an informal setting.

The vocations office is also stepping its social media initiatives will have a “more intentional presence” on area college and university campuses, he said.

Members of the church also have a role to play, Father Williams said. When he visits parishes and makes his pitch for vocations, he asks parishioners to affirm the goodness of young people who have the gift the church needs and encourage them to remain open to the possibility of a vocation.

‘Good match for my gifts’

Sister Gaughan was asked to assume an expanded role at St. Patrick’s in January 2014, when church restructuring led to the loss of a full-time priest at the church. Since then, the 67-year-old, who lives in Scranton with other IHM sisters, has essentially done the work of parish life coordinator without the title.

“I take care of the spiritual, religious, social, physical and whatever needs that the people have,” she said. “Most of my job, I’d say it is, people will come in and they talk and want to share their story and sometimes ask for help. And I try to be a compassionate listener.”

Sister Gaughan, who holds a master’s degree in Christian spirituality, was already responsible for visiting the sick and homebound, confirmation preparation, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or CCD, classes, youth group, Bible study and the Rite of Christian Initiation. She was also in charge of making sure child abuse clearance and criminal background checks were conducted on workers and volunteers.

The additional burdens she took on were mainly finances and building issues.

“I spend a lot of time writing checks and balancing a checkbook, and stuff like that,” she said.

Sister Gaughan applied to be St. Patrick’s parish life coordinator and is waiting to hear if she has been selected.

“I’m very happy here. I want to stay. I love the people. It’s a good match for my gifts,” she said.

In the meantime, Sister Gaughan will continue the close working relationship with Father Kloton to serve the approximately 1,000 parishioners of St. Patrick’s.

“I talk to him every day, sometimes on the phone, sometimes by email, sometimes it’s person to person,” Sister Gaughan said. “I’m told the bishop uses father’s and my modeling, so to speak, this kind of collaboration, as an example. My priest friends tell me everywhere he goes he mentions Jane Gaughan and Father Mike (Kloton). We do well together. We’re very different, but we work well together.”

The diocese hopes similar examples emerge of qualified people willing to take a leadership role in churches.

“The church calls us to consistently invite our people to ministry and mission in the church, not just our priests, not just our deacons, not just our religious, but the entire people of God,” Bishop Bambera said.

The bishop stressed it will take someone special to be a parish life coordinator.

“Anybody who serves in a role as a parish life coordinator is not simply somebody who has good will and a generous heart in a parish,” Bishop Bambera said. “They need that, but while we tap goodwill and generous hearts for lots of things that happen in our parishes, for the role of parish life coordinator, I need individuals to be specifically trained.”

Sidebar

The Code of Canon Law provides the Diocese of Scranton with options for pastoral leadership when there are not enough priests to staff all of its parishes.

- Linkage: An individual pastor is assigned the pastoral care of two or more parishes. Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said this is a familiar approach in the diocese and probably the easiest fix to the problem. However, there is always the potential “for that to be a solution on the back of a priest,” he said. Prior to the parish reorganization, some priests were in charge of as many as five parishes.

-Team ministry: This is a variation of linkage. A collaborative team of one or more priests and a number of deacons, other religious and laypeople work together to take care of one or more parishes. The team ministry model is not currently in use in the diocese.

-Parish life coordinator: A qualified deacon, religious or lay minister is appointed by the bishop to provide the primary pastoral care in a parish. The bishop also appoints a sacramental minister, an ordained priest who serves the parish for weekend Masses and other sacramental occasions. While innovative for the Diocese of Scranton, other dioceses have utilized parish life coordinators for years, the bishop said.

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Online:

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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