Father Tirso

I would like to thank the 30 or so people who attended last Sunday’s Renew My Church parish session. I hope that it was not only informative, but also a chance for more parishioners to feel involved in the process of Renew My Church. I wanted to take this time to highlight a couple of things that came up during that session.

First, there was a request to clarify the parish debt. The parish was already in debt by the time I arrived at the parish. It was a challenge I was aware of when I agreed to be pastor. So, the debt was one of those things I inherited as the incoming pastor.

The debt was a result of several years of subsidizing the former school. I am sure that this issue will still bring up some hurt feelings from several parishioners. But, it still remains a fact that we cannot avoid. The former parish school had suffered many challenges and the parish had to give financial subsidy to the school for several years. The subsidy was needed in order to try to keep the school open. However, what resulted was that the parish itself became in debt. As more and more financial resources were transferred to the school, the parish became unable to keep up with its own ordinary expenses.

When we joined Northside Catholic Academy, the parish benefited by the fact that NCA moved to our school building. Even though the parish has the responsibility of contributing financially to the school, all of the cost of the parish to NCA is covered by the school’s share of maintaining the school building and other shared spaces. For this reason, the parish is in a better situation because we are no longer incurring debt from subsidizing the school.

What adds to the challenge, though, is the fact that the parish remains unable to meet the ordinary expenses. At last weekend’s parish session, I pointed out the fact that the parish currently has about 900 registered families. If the average family has about four members each, this means that we should expect to see at least 3,600 individual persons at Mass every weekend. However, our average Mass attendance has been between 500 and 600 individual persons among the three weekend Masses.

Added to this, of the 900 registered families, about 100+ families contribute to our weekly collections using the parish envelopes. And a fraction of those families take advantage of the online giving option.

All of this seemed to shock a few people at the meeting last weekend. We must, though, take note that a good portion of our current population come from countries that do not use the system of parish registration or envelopes. This is a purely American reality that many immigrant families still do not quite comprehend, no matter how long they may have been living here. Suffice it to say that the lack of people in the pews every weekend is a direct contributor to the parish’s financial woes.

The solution to all of this, though, will require so much more than simply coming up with a strategy to convince people to give more in the Sunday collection or even coming up with more fund raising efforts. This is a trend that has been happening all throughout the Archdiocese and the problem has been increasing over the past several years. The culture today is no longer one that actively promotes engagement with faith. For too many Catholics today, the faith life pales in importance to careers, school and extracurricular activities of children, or even personal interests.

The solution lies in what I told the attendees of last Sunday’s parish session. Our focus must first and foremost be forming ourselves and others into strong disciples of Jesus. The reason why churches were so full many years ago was that people took discipleship more seriously than they do today. So what we need to do is focus on forming people into strong disciples who will remain engaged and invested in their faith and, thus, will show concern for the life of the faith community they will call their spiritual home.

In terms of the conversation regarding the Renew My Church process, ALL parishes throughout the Archdiocese will need to go through some restructuring. We cannot afford to keep going the way we are going and expect it to last for too much longer. What it boils down to is whether we, as a parish, continue to rely purely on our own resources or if it is time that we join forces with others in an effort to strengthen the effort we, as Catholics in West Ridge, give to evangelizing and making disciples? This is precisely what the Spirit is moving us to discern through the Renew My Church process.

In the weeks and months to come I continue to invite the whole parish to be open to the Spirit of God and where God, Himself, is leading His people in this local Church. God asks us to do things that are difficult. But God will never leave us without the divine grace that will be needed to go through those challenges. This, again, is a time for all of us to grow in our trust in God and devote our selves to the greater mission of making disciples of all nations as Jesus has commanded us to do.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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