Parishes for MISSION  #1

Witness Dialogue Dimensions

SVD Mission Secretariat - Rome - 3 August 2001

The 15th SVD General Chapter called for specific efforts to clarify and enhance the missionary profile of the parishes where we work. This occasional email bulletin shares ideas, opinions, resources and hopes about SVD ministry in parishes.

In this bulletin: 

1. ROM - Generalate Consultation on Parishes
2. US - Three SVD Parishes Noted for Excellence
3. USS - Report on Parish Visits
4. Subscribe to
Parishes for MISSION


In response to the indications of the 15th General Chapter regarding parish ministry (¶91-93), the generalate has begun a process of consultation with confreres working in parishes.  The purpose of the consultation is to determine what specific steps can be taken by the generalate to help enhance the missionary profile of the parishes where we work. 

The official province visitations offer one opportunity for this consultation to take place. Beginning in the month of May the visitations to the provinces and regions of AFRAM got under way. A second channel for this consultation is a series of visits by the Mission Secretary to confreres working in parish ministry.  Since the beginning of this year he has visited confreres in Chile, in the Southern United States and in the Chicago province.  Further visits are planned for Europe and Asia during the second half of the year.

This email bulletin is a first fruit of our consultation. Hopefully it will provide a good place to share more broadly some of the ideas that are developed in the course of dialogue with those working in parish ministry.

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Earlier this year Paul Wilkes published a book entitled Excellent Catholic Parishes.  It reports the results of a two year effort to identify some of the best Catholic parishes in the United States and to indicate what factors make them truly outstanding.  The book closes by identifying eighteen common traits of excellent parishes.  Of these at least five are directly related to what we SVD's might call a "missionary profile of a parish." The first trait in the list is indicative, i.e., excellent parishes are looked upon as missionary outposts.  Wilkes comments:

"Wherever they are located -- in the suburbs, the city, a rural area or small town -- excellent parishes essentially see themselves as missionary outposts.  Catholicism has never existed without being in conflict with the prevailing culture; these parishes face that conflict directly and attempt to sanctify it.  These parishes take time to understand the culture they are within ... excellent parishes are embedded in the lives of their communities, transforming them."

Three parishes operated by the SVD are included in the list of approximately 280 excellent parishes.  These three are: Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lafayette, Louisiana; Holy Ghost in Opelousas, Louisiana and St. Mary in Houston, Texas.

[For more information about the results of the research project go to  Wilkes book can be purchased through Paulist Press -]

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From 15 to 23 May 2001 Tom Ascheman visited some of the parishes in the US Southern province. The visit focused on consulting with confreres working in parishes about sharpening the missionary profile of our parish ministry. Following are some excerpts of his report to the general council.

1. Background information

At both the beginning and end of my stay I had a chance to meet with the provincial, Cliff Labbé. He was generous with both his time and efforts to help organize the parish visits. The first evening I enjoyed the hospitality of the community at Bay St. Louis - where, twenty-five years ago, I made novitiate. In the following days I personally visited eleven parishes and also met with the pastors of four additional parishes. Bro. James Heeb of the provincial council accompanied me, and his companionship and insights were greatly appreciated.

The parishes I visited were clustered in two areas - around Lafayette, Louisiana where we serve in  eleven parishes and in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans area where we serve in four parishes. (The USS province also provides parish ministers for three parishes in Texas, and eight parishes in Arkansas & Mississippi. Overall that makes 26 parishes.)

Nearly all of the parishes in the Southern Province focus on providing a place where African Americans can form a Catholic community of worship, mutual support and service. Some of the parishes are located in small, rural communities - but most are found in complex and difficult urban environments. The struggle for interracial justice in the wider US society and for a measure of visibility within the Catholic Church for African Americans is the background reality for nearly all activities of the Southern province. More recently the province has also accepted commitments which place a larger emphasis on work with Hispanic immigrants.

A summary of the main points of the many conversations on sharpening the missionary profile of the parish follows: 

2. Presentation of Issues

2.1 Primary missionary service with the African American community. The General Chapter indicated in the final document (¶ 91-93) that we should work to enhance the missionary profile of the parishes where we work. To start I asked the confreres about how they saw their own parish activities in the context of the Chapter's ideas about our missionary activities.

Given the situation of the parishes where we work and the long history of involvement with the African American community it is not surprising that the members see their primary missionary service in terms of this commitment.

2.2 Summary of Chapter statement on SVD Mission. Frequently I was asked to summarize the primary ideas about SVD mission from our document.  I usually mentioned three levels of reflection:

2.3 Need for "concrete and specific" reflection on Chapter statement. I would then renew my question about the missionary profile of the parishes by asking what these ideas might mean in the context of parish ministry? What I most noticed is that hardly any of the confreres had really been challenged to think about the ideas presented in the chapter document in the context of their own life and work. I also had the impression that few had noticed the paragraphs related directly to parish ministry (¶91-93). However, when presented with a brief summary and a direct question, they did seem to find the concepts useful. It would seem that there is a need for reflection on the chapter statement in the specific context of parish ministry.

3. Some specific proposals

As the discussions shifted to what specific proposals might help to further sharpen the missionary profile of our parishes four ideas tended to emerge.

3.1 Style of parish administration. Some suggested a change in the way we enter into arrangements for parish administration. Rather than taking on open-ended commitments to specific parishes SVD teams could move from one parish to another just as the diocesan clergy are moved from one to another. Of course, we may want to indicate the specific character of parishes in which we would like to work - eg. poor - African-America/Hispanic etc. The Misión Verbita in Chicago was suggested as a possible model. The multicultural aspect of SVD community could be especially helpful in such teams. 

3.2 Email bulletin board. Some thought that an email bulletin for parish ministers could be developed, similar to the email bulletins for mission research and mission animation. Such bulletins could include case studies of missionary parish ministry and homily ideas with a stronger missionary thrust.

3.3 Short course for parish ministry. Some suggested a short course for reflection on parish ministry. It would have to be of a very limited duration, three to six weeks, and it would be best to hold it in the provinces/zones, not at Nemi. Essential components of a course focusing on missionary parishes would have to include: preaching, celebrating liturgy and sacraments, work with parish councils, lay movements, finances & administration, pastoral team work, etc.

3.4 Mentoring programs. Over the past few years a number of confreres have been assigned to the Southern Province from other parts of the world. In response, the province has set up a program to introduce new missionaries. The challenge to help integrate SVD's from other parts of the world into the work of the province has helped the province get more serious about preparation for ministry. Cliff Labbé, Tom James, Tom Mullaley and Borgia Aubespin have been quite active in this regard. So far the emphasis has been more on cultural orientation and not so much on introduction to parish ministry. Nevertheless, the development of good cultural orientation programs for new missionaries can also be a good first step toward raising some of the questions regarding the missionary profile of our parish ministry.

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This bulletin is being sent out initially to all SVD provincial and regional superiors, and to others who have participated in the earlier consultations. If you would like to receive the bulletin, or if you know others who would like to receive it please send a message to the editor, Tom Ascheman, at

Parishes for MISSION
is meant primarily for SVD confreres working in parish ministry. It provides a forum to explore ways to enhance our missionary service.  Others who are interested in this discussion are also welcome to subscribe. 

As this is an occasional bulletin, it will appear as often as material is ready. If you would like to contribute your ideas for publication you are most welcome to do so.  

At present the bulletin is produced only in English. Yet many confreres may hope for a translation to another language. If you would like to see another language version of this bulletin and/or if you could help with translation please send a message to the editor. 

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To subscribe and to send notices for publication please contact:

Tom Ascheman SVD
Generalate Mission Secretary