Living Stones: Planning for Tomorrow

Living Stones, the diocese-wide process to plan for assignment of priests, is complete after over three years of information gathering, assessment and input from parishioners, lay staff and priests. 1,587 parishioners were part of the final review of the plan and submitted recommendations and input to the Deanery Planning Groups as the final plan was formulated. This special section includes background information on the process, as well as each deanery plan, as approved by Bishop George Leo Thomas on December 12, 2012.


Bishop’s Letter of Promulgation

My Dear People of God,

On the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, February 2, 2007, I promulgated the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Come to the Light, as crafted by the Diocesan Pastoral Council and recommended by the Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors of the Diocese of Helena.

That plan called for a Diocesewide study to provide a practical look at our reality. It mandated widespread collaboration, among the various regions of the Diocese, that would propose creative and practical models for serving the needs for priestly ministry in our geographically diverse Diocese.

Paragraph 46: The Pastoral Planning Services, in collaboration with the Bishop, Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors, should initiate a process that will bring together the resources of each area to formulate a realistic plan that will address the equitable distribution of priest resources within the Diocese. This plan will project the use of priest personnel, with wide regional collaboration, using models that are appropriate and practical for the parishes and areas involved. Great sensitivity is to be given to the rural parishes in the priest personnel redistribution process. The goal of providing sacramental ministry to all regions of the Diocese and of maintaining a priestly presence without compromising the health and well-being or safety of our priests will be among the guiding principles of this effort.

The implementation of this initiative from the Pastoral Plan, Come to the Light, was launched in the fall of 2009 and called Living Stones—planning for tomorrow. Each parish participated in a variety of ways with parish meetings, demographic data gathering, preparation of in-depth answers to questions about the life and ministry of the parish as well as the stability and sustainability of the parish. That information was studied by Deanery Planning Groups that were composed of pastors, pastoral administrators and lay members from each parish and mission.

The work of the Deanery Planning Groups yielded plans, for their areas, that were taken back to the parishes for input and comment. Those draft plans were available also on the Diocesan website. With the recommendations and suggestions from the parish communities, the Deanery Planning Groups met, making appropriate adaptations and modifications to their plans, and the final plan was crafted and sent to the Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors.

The Presbyteral Council and College of Consultors recommended the Living Stones—planning for tomorrow plan to me, on March 28, 2012. I would like to express my profound thanks for all the time and care made available by our priests, pastoral administrators, parish and diocesan staffs and the lay faithful during this important process. The meetings, study, conversations, processes and involvement of our parish communities were key in bringing many voices around the table of planning.

With all this in mind, I hereby promulgate this pastoral plan for priestly presence and ministry to our parishes, Living Stones—planning for tomorrow. This plan will guide me and the Personnel Board as we assess parish assignments. Aspects of the Living Stones plan become effective only with the specific permission of the Bishop, and after following appropriate canonical and diocesan procedures.

Given at Helena, Montana, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the twelfth day of December in the year of Our Lord two thousand twelve.

History and Process

Living Stones originated with the diocesan pastoral plan, Come to the Light, which Bishop George Leo Thomas promulgated in February 2007. In the plan, creating a proposal for future distribution of priest personnel while maintaining quality pastoral care was identified as an important priority, which then became central in Living Stones.

Parishes and missions completed a 228-question inventory in 2009. The responses, combined with demographic and financial information about the parishes in each deanery, provided the Deanery Planning Groups with a detailed picture of their respective deanery.

In 2009 and 2010, parishes held meetings to receive parishioners’ input through a series of questions about changes they might experience in their parish and deanery if there were fewer priests in the deanery.

Pastors and parish administrators were asked to invite a parishioner to represent each parish and mission in the newly forming Deanery Planning Group. Each of the six Deanery Planning Groups consists of the pastors, parish administrators and parishioner representatives from the parishes and missions in that particular deanery.

Throughout 2011, the groups met to develop their plans.

In January 2012, more parish input sessions gave parishioners an opportunity to discuss the proposed plan and their reactions to it. Those unable to attend the sessions were invited to use an input form to provide feedback. Parish pastoral councils provided parish reports, based on the input sessions and individual input forms, with the councils offering areas of affirmation, concern and suggestion, as well as the prevalence of comments in each area. The Deanery Planning Groups reviewed the pastoral councils’ reports to determine whether plans required modification.

The Deanery Planning Groups then recommended their plans to the bishop’s consultative body, the Presbyteral Council/College of Consultors. The consultative group studied each plan and ultimately recommended the final versions to Bishop George Leo Thomas. In March 2012 Bishop Thomas reviewed the plan. He promulgated it on December 12, 2012, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe.


The Deanery Planning Groups recommended the diocese formulate a program for the training and formation of pastoral administrators. The groups indicated urgency in implementing such a program, to meet the need for pastoral administrators in the absence of a resident pastor.

The overarching need to provide quality pastoral care for the people of the diocese, in light of the reality of a priest shortage, was expressed in each plan. The deanery plans will be put into action on an “as needed” basis, with priest personnel changes in either the originating or another deanery necessitating action via one or more deanery plans.

Future Assessments

All sites throughout the Diocese will be part of a yearly, ongoing process to study their sustainability. Some of the aspects of this study will include a yearly look at Parish Mass attendance, annual offertory income, debt retirement (if any), parish plant maintenance, and parish and diocesan financial obligations met. It will also consider parish vitality and engagement. This study will be completed each year and any adjustments needed to the plan will follow.