Diocesan Pastoral Plan; Q & A With Sr. Rita McGinnis, SCL

Sr. Rita McGinnis, SCL, Director of Chancery Services and Pastoral Planning Services for the Diocese of Helena

by Dan Bartleson, Communication Services Director

This July, I caught up with Sr. Rita McGinnis, SCL. As Director of Chancery Services and the Office of Pastoral Planning Services, she proved to be the perfect person to provide some background and bring me up to speed on the current pastoral planning process.

What is a pastoral plan & what does it do?
The Diocesan Pastoral Plan articulates the vision and gives direction to the priorities of the Diocese. These goals help shape and move our Diocesan Church forward in our parishes, missions and ministries. It also provides a five-year plan, brings clarity and serves as a kind of a roadmap that steers pastoral momentum.

How is a pastoral plan drafted and finalized?
Shortly after Bishop Thomas first came to the Diocese of Helena he called forth a Diocesan Pastoral Council to conduct prayerful consultation throughout the Diocese. Ultimately, the pastoral plan, Come to the Light, was promulgated in 2007.

As the Diocese began on the path to financial recovery, Bishop Thomas formed a new Pastoral Council in 2016. The current Council will continue to seek input from every parish through two rounds of diocese-wide Parish Listening Sessions (one completed and one in the fall of 2017). Listening Sessions gather parishioners to discern diocesan needs and priorities. The Council will consolidate priorities from this process for inclusion in the plan to be reviewed by the Presbyteral Council (Priests’ Council) and then recommended to the Bishop.

Where are we in the current planning process?
Initial Parish Listening Sessions wrapped up in the spring of 2017. Thus far, every parish has been invited to the process and over 1300 voices have been heard through parish Listening Sessions. The pastoral council is currently working to consolidate priorities from this first round of input.

Once a pastoral plan is in place, how do initiatives take shape?
Embarking on the new pastoral plan, as with the planning process, will be an endeavor for all Catholics in the Diocese. Successful initiatives are born through investment and involvement at every level; parishioners, clergy, religious, the Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan staff, and consultative diocesan group. Successful initiatives of 2007’s Come to the Light clearly show the powerful effect of an all-in approach to fulfilling the pastoral plan.

What are some of the initiatives from Come to the Light that came to fruition?
Instituting the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry blossomed to become a nationally recognized template for evangelization and youth leadership.
Regular trips to Guatemala raised awareness, visibility and support for the mission, clinic and school. The Guatemala Mission still provides transformative experiences as visitors see first-hand how Catholic Social Teaching informs caring and educating the marginalized as well as providing help to alleviate poverty and disease.
Reinstating training for the Permanent Diaconate saw 17 Deacons ordained to serve in 2012. There are currently a total of 27 Deacons in active service to the parishes of the Diocese, a critical ministry in addition to and in support of our priests.
Many other priorities were addressed in Come to the Light and the full document is available on the web. (www.diocesehelena.org/offices-and-ministries/pastoral-planning-services)

What are the remaining steps in the current planning process?
In the fall, parish communities will review the broad scope of conversations from spring. They begin the work of discerning practical priorities to recommend for final consideration in the Pastoral Plan. The Diocesan Pastoral Council will draft this into a plan which will be reviewed by the Presbyteral Council (Advisory Council of Priests) and ultimately recommended to Bishop Thomas.

How do parishioners contribute at this point?
Parishioners can be on the lookout for the second round of Parish Listening Sessions through bulletin announcements and informational posters at their parish. The pastoral plan is foremost a fruit of prayerful discernment and dialogue. Please pray for Bishop Thomas, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and all those involved at every level in our Diocese.