Parishes for MISSION  #3

Witness Dialogue Dimensions

SVD Mission Secretariat - Rome - 26 April 2002

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. PANAM - What Can the Generalate Do?

2. USS - Developing an SVD-Parish Model of Operation 

3. LABBE - Implementing Priorities with the Laity

4. Subscribe to Parishes for MISSION



In November 2001, during the fourth PANAM zonal assembly, the Superior General, Tony Pernia asked the participants to reflect on the question: What can the generalate do to help the provinces and regions clarify and strengthen the missionary profile of SVD parish ministry? The answers from the discussion groups stuck some notes of hope with a few undertones of harsh criticism. The following selection from the numerous responses offers plenty of food for thought: 

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A booklet spelling out the Priorities of the Southern Province of the USA for 2000-2003 recently crossed my desk. The priorities were fixed by the Provincial Chapter in January 2000. The second of four province priorities deals with SVD Parish Ministry and is reprinted below:

Priority II - SVD Parish Model of Operation. 

There is a need to develop a model to be followed by all SVD's working in parishes in any diocese of the Southern Province. Such a model would facilitate the assignment of any new priest of brother to work in parishes regardless of existing diocesan parishes. 

Elements to be included in the Model are as follows:

1) An energized parish liturgical life directed by responsible clerical, religious and lay leaders. The leaders would emphasize music as an important factor of this liturgical life.

2) An established parish pastoral council to assist the pastor in the life of the parish, paying special attention to the Promotion of Vocations, Evangelization and Peace and Justice Issues.

3) An established education program to include children, young adults and adults, e.g., CCD, Youth Programs and RCIA. Ecumenism should be included in this education program.

4) A solid theologically-based program which prepares candidates for the reception of the sacraments.

5) An established pastoral finance council in conformity with the mandate of canon law.

6) A strict adherence to diocesan policies with emphasis on Record-keeping, Check-writing authorization and Mass-stipends.

The booklet also included a listing of previous province priorities from 1998, 1997 and 1994. In each case, parish concerns figured prominently. The 1994 and 1997 priorities stressed the preparation of laity for leadership roles in the parishes and for greater networking among the parishes. The 1998 priorities stressed the adequate preparation of SVD's for work with the African-American community and the following of diocesan policies for parish administration.

[The website for the USS Province is located at:]

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Cliff Labbé is now in the final month of his six-year service as provincial of the Southern Province USA. He shares a few reflections on the progress toward implementing the province priorities with particular attention to parish concerns and working with the laity: 

The development of the USS Province Priorities is a result of our reflections on the working paper, "Listening to the Spirit: Our Missionary Response Today" that came out in preparation for the 2000 General Chapter. The Southern Province held an assembly in November 1999 where forty-one members who were present took their responsibility to "listen and respond" very seriously.

The following priorities are the result of the 1999 assembly, subsequent provincial council meetings, and the January 2000 provincial chapter: 

Priority I - to rework our Mission Statement - forced us to assess whether or not the statement sufficiently addresses the “frontiers and essential dimensions” discussed in the Working Draft of the General Chapter. (Editors Note: The Final General Chapter Document expressed the same ideas with the terms "Prophetic Dialogue and Characteristic Dimensions.")

In Priority II - SVD Parish Model of Operation - we found a need to develop a style that all SVD’s working in any diocesan parish in the Southern Province could follow. This priority stresses an energized parish liturgical life, an established parish pastoral council, an established educational program, an established pastoral finance council, and above all, a strict adherence to diocesan policy.

Priority III - Initial and On-Going Formation Implementation - is a priority about which that this Provincial Administration feels very strongly. We suggested that a committee be named to present procedures that could help insure the achievement of initial and on-going formation for all SVD confreres of the Southern Province.

Priority IV states that the Province strongly urges the continued promotion of equality for the ordained and non-ordained SVD confreres.

Let me now address some issues that prompted the articulation of these priorities. 

The Provincial Council believes that if we attempt to carry out these priorities, the transferring of a confrere will become more routine and much easier. We also realize that this is the age of the Laity. The Laity are acknowledging their baptismal commitments. Shared and collaborative ministries define the parishes of today and the future.

Pastoral Councils. From my parish visitations, I learned from the laity about their goals and vision for the parish community. After each visitation, I sent letters to every parish and its pastor with commendations and recommendations. The Laity responded with great enthusiasm. More than ninety-five percent of the parishes have functioning Parish Councils. The few parishes without Councils are the result of pastors who are unwilling to collaborate with their parishioners. It seems to me that some pastors still operate in a “Commanding-General” mode, and some pastors operate in a “Mama and Papa” mode. In the “Commanding-General” mode, the Pastor holds all the authority (like a military commander) and makes decisions with no participation from the people of God. In the “Mama and Papa” mode, most of the decisions remain with the Pastor with outside input remaining at a minimum. 

The laity generally have established criteria to follow in their ministries, and the pastor regularly assesses their performance. The pastor (priest), however, is rarely called to task. Even when shared collaborative ministries exist, the pastor may tend to treat his staff and/or the laity with disregard. Occasionally, when a parish staff member or a lay member of the parish is more qualified in certain areas than the pastor, one notices tensions between them. Even where there is collaboration, we have frequently seen that the pastor does not give the laity or staff access to the lines of information, the resources or the authority to accomplish much-needed objectives.

Pastoral Finance Councils. Here in the Province we have encouraged and urged every pastor and associate pastor to read the policies of the diocese regarding finances. It is not to surprising to note that the parishes without a pastoral council are also the parishes without a finance council. Since pastors can maintain their position of power and control, if they so choose, it appears some of them are reluctant to release this hold over the laity. 

Energized Liturgy. Music has always been a necessary thread in the fabric from which God formed the human spirit. From ancient times to today, music has filled the gaps of humanity’s attempt to express the inexpressible. Good music and good preaching are essential in the African American community and I dare say, in most communities. I feel I can say without reservation that if the People of God do not find this in our churches, then they will go elsewhere to have their needs fulfilled.

Formation for Ministry. Our young, foreign confreres, upon entering our Province are given opportunities to better prepare themselves for working here. Some must study English and some take part in "accent-adjustment" classes. They attend the Cultural Orientation Workshop (COW) at Techny, Illinois, and they take seminars on US Culture and Customs. It is especially during these seminars that they hear about the challenges of ministry in our diverse multicultural contest. They also learn about the laity, the collaborative ministries, and the role of the cultural experience in America from the perspective of the local diocese. They attend liturgy workshops on the theology of the liturgy and the practical aspects of performing, preaching and presiding at the liturgy. They learn how necessary their presence truly is for God’s people, from birth to death. All members coming into the Southern Province attend the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Recently, some of our young priests attended “Pastoring in Today’s Parish.” One of them remarked, “What was said during the workshop is exactly what we are attempting to do in our province. This is very good to know.” Naturally, such a remark is very affirming, indicating that the priorities of the province are right on target.

Roadblocks. I regret to say that the greatest obstacle has been the few confreres who taint the province with their indifference. They are hindrances in all respects. Province leadership is not always a comfortable spot to be in -- one unfortunate lesson I have learned in my time as provincial superior is that human beings constantly and consistently do a lot of analyzing and criticizing, but too few are willing to step forward and put policies into action. It is essential that the confreres and the members of the provincial council work together. 

In spite of the difficulties we are having much success where the priorities are being incorporated into parish life by the pastor and the laity. The laity’s response is overwhelming. It is as though they have been waiting for this type of inclusion for a long, long time. Their ideas are often fresh and progressive. The response from many of the pastors shows they are also happy with this “marriage” of Church and people. All share the burden of responsibility; it is not hoarded by one. Instead of the "dictatorial" parishes that most Catholics were raised in, these parishes are simply working towards Christianity-in-action. 

[For further information contact Cliff Labbé at:]

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Parishes for MISSION is meant primarily for SVD confreres working in parish ministry. It is also sent to all SVD provincial and regional superiors. Others who are interested in this discussion are also welcome to subscribe. 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

As an occasional bulletin, it will appear 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 in English and Spanish. If you would like to see another language version of this bulletin 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