BEACONS OF LIGHT
As most of you know, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has embarked upon the Beacons of Light Initiative, and recently I have heard some folks making speculations about where this initiative will take us as parishes, so please allow me to refresh our memories about Beacons in this article which is taken from what Fr. Jan Schmidt, the Rector of the Cathedral and leader of the Beacons of Light Committee is sharing with his people.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Beacons of Light multi-year planning initiative, an effort Archbishop Schnurr has called the most comprehensive and important undertaking in the two-hundred-year history of the archdiocese. The purpose of Beacons of Light is to provide for us in this archdiocese a vision of life as the People of God in this particular place and time as Catholic Christians. The best place to get the most current information is by going to the Beacons of Light website …. Just Google “Beacons of Light” and you’ll find the URL, or simply use www.BeaconsAOC.org.
In July of 2016 the archdiocese had conducted a study, actually a survey and interviews of its pastors. What was learned was their attitudes and opinions on how their lives were being affected by the dwindling numbers of priests available for parish ministry and the resultant ever increasing workload they were having to bear.
It is important to understand that at our high point in our history as an archdiocese in 1971 we had 417 active diocesan priests and 417 active religious priests assigned to various ministries. Today we are approaching 125 active diocesan priests and far, far fewer religious priests who are available for ministry in our 211 parishes.
Over the two-hundred-year history of our archdiocese we have had established 306 parishes in the nineteen counties of south and western Ohio that comprise the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. With 211 remaining one can easily calculate that we have for many different reasons already closed 95 parishes. Mostly this has happened due to shifting populations. Catholics move from the farm to the city, they move from the urban areas to the suburban areas, they move to where the jobs are, and they move to where the weather is warmer just like everyone else and they leave their parishes behind.
As you can see the numbers are not working out for us in this particular age of history. In January of 2019 we had a meeting at which 32 of our priests came together on a very snowy day in Dayton to talk about the results of those interviews. It was a very, very positive meeting that was full of hope for what was needed and what could happen. One of our younger pastors remarked that we must begin to move from “maintenance to mission” it is the only way to build and enliven our Church that has suffered from its various “maladies” these last twenty plus years. We have adopted his words for all that we are planning for our future.
We must move quickly to bring about a Church that is fully alive while at the same time set into place a Church that is manageable for our immediate future … a Church in which there will be disappointment and grief in order to set ourselves up for a future of joy and expectation leading to growth. A Church in which we see the Truth, Goodness and Beauty of our God and His people ever present in our Catholic communities of faith.
This archdiocese has spent the last thirty-five years plus planning. Each of those three plans, while well-conceived and executed were believed to be the only plan we would ever need … we all, of course know how that can go, the first lead to the second and onward due to the changing circumstances of the times. I’m not going to try and fool anyone as I am certain this will not be the last plan needed. The circumstances will continue to change. However, for at least the next ten years we feel pretty confident in what is being proposed to direct us in dealing with a profound lack of resources of varied kinds.
The Church in our part of the world suffers today for many reasons; lower birth rates, populations moving to other parts of the country and thus fewer numbers of the faithful to occupy our churches. Many of our people, especially younger adults, have left the practice of the faith. With that reality comes a decline in stewardship of time and talent as well as Sunday offerings, making it difficult to continue to be able to support the infrastructure and ministries of our multitude of parishes presently in place. With the above there is also the decline in the number of men who have been ordained priests over the last fifty years … all of this has caught up with us and will continue to affect us for the foreseeable future.
An aside, it is true, our seminary is doing quite well and as of the beginning of this academic year the archdiocese has fifty men studying at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary of the West. We should be very proud and very hopeful in those numbers. The downside, however, is that we are in the midst of a period when we have a very large number of priests who are and will be retired. By July 1, 2022 we will have only 125 active priests …. think about that when we have 211 parishes gathered in 109 Regions.
As you can see, there are multiple factors involved in what brings us to this place and in the decision making. Each of them is an important consideration in the reasoning behind Beacons of Light. All of our data collection and study of the facts has shown us that we must reduce our footprint so as to better minister to God’s people and to focus the resources available for life in our communities. A life that will “feed’ the needs of the present day faithful and attract to our way of life as Catholics those who are seeking the deepest relationship possible with Jesus Christ.
Archbishop Schnurr expressed it well some months ago when he said, “Our archdiocese was built for horse and buggy times when the multitude and closeness of the parishes was necessary for ministering to our people.” With the advent of the automobile this is no longer a necessity, and we must look closely at the changes that are upon us.
Over the last ten months or so we have been engaged with consultants in several rounds of planning with our priests and laity alike. We have been talking with one another quite a bit in order to gather the necessary input/feedback so as to formulate a plan … it has been quite the journey and it will be yours to join in shortly for input and support as we move forward in forming our vision.
There is certainly much more I would like to share, and I am going to suggest a way that can happen in a moment. In closing I would like to ask you to do several things. Firstly, pray for the success of this endeavor, pray for our priests and parishioners who must face the reality of our time in history, pray for open minds and hearts, pray for people to be charitable to one another … to be Christians and not allow their emotions to win the day, PRAY for the Church of Cincinnati!
Secondly, During the first several weeks of October you will have access to the suggested Family of Parishes groupings that have been developed over the last several months. These groupings are based on the data gathering previously mentioned and are sized according to ministerial workload. A few parishes will continue to stand alone but others will be grouped in two’s and more with each grouping or Family being roughly equal to each of the others in workload for the clergy called upon to minister to the faithful who reside in the Family. You are invited to constructively comment during this period.
Additionally, and here is how you can find out more, I invite you to reference the Beacons of Light Website for any information you may be looking for at www.BeaconsAOC.org. If you can’t find it there you can’t find it anywhere, as they say and importantly, the first time you visit the website sign up for the newsletter as it will keep you informed of the plan and to our progress.