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Archdiocese begins next phase of Pastoral Planning

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BRAINTREE -- The second phase of pastoral planning is set to be implemented months in advance of the initial schedule. The announcement was made on the Pastoral Planning Office website, www.disciplesinmission.com, Sept. 29.

The pastoral planning initiative, called "Disciples in Mission," aims at strengthening parish life by grouping parishes and resources under a common leadership, called collaborative, and by an expanded focus on evangelization.

Father Paul Soper, director of the Office for Pastoral Planning, told The Pilot that they decided to move up the implementation schedule because they learned from Phase One that the process leading to the beginning of the new collaboratives had to be lengthened to provide enough time to transition pastors and name parochial vicars.

The next stage of pastoral planning will create 21 collaboratives that will include 44 parishes spread throughout the five regions of the archdiocese. The Merrimack Region will see the most new collaboratives, receiving 6. In Phase One, the North Region of the archdiocese received the largest number.

Of the 21 new parish collaboratives, four are composed of groups of three parishes, 15 are composed of two parishes and two collaboratives will remain as single parishes.

Sister Pat Boyle, CSJ, assistant director of Pastoral Planning, said the early implementation of Phase Two was based on the experience gained during Phase One, in which collaboratives were announced in January, pastors were named in April and the collaboratives started June 4.

According to Sister Pat, that left a very short window for selection of parochial vicars and to provide training for the new pastors.

In Phase One, the training took place during two weeks in May, at a difficult time for most of the new pastors as they were trying to transition to their new parishes while participating in 64 hours of training and at the same time selecting their parochial vicars.

The selection of parochial vicars is "a process in which the pastors need to be involved, and because of that, it became a chaotic process. It was not the smooth process that we devised it to be," Father Soper said.

As the process starts, the Office for Pastoral Planning will hold parish consultation meetings to discuss the qualities they hope to have in a new pastor. Current pastors at the 44 parishes have been asked to submit letters of resignation to the cardinal but can reapply to be pastor of their former parish as can any other priest in the archdiocese. It is expected that the new pastors, one for each collaborative, will be announced by Christmas. The assignments will become effective on June 4, 2014.

Once the collaborative is formed, parishes will spend two years drafting and working on a local pastoral plan that will eventually be presented to the cardinal for approval.

"By the summer of 2016, we expect that this phase will be living and working out of the local pastoral planning they developed."

Father Soper also said that, while they are accelerating the implementation of the next phase of pastoral planning, they are extending the overall process, dividing it into more stages with fewer parishes in each.

He said that the initial plan of dividing the planning process in four phases has proven too ambitious, requiring each of the phases to include over 80 parishes. The new plan extends the process to seven phases, with the last collaborative set to start in June 2019, with the entire process culminating in 2021, as the final group finishes the two year local planning process.

Sister Pat said it was seen that the original timetable, "would be way too jarring on the entire archdiocese and particularly on the priests who are an essential element of this pastoral plan. So we are moving more slowly, more deliberately and we are being more careful about making sure as we move forward that we have approximately 20 collaboratives per phase."

"The most important thing about this plan is that we are taking the learnings that we get in each of the phases and applying them to future phases, so we are being as fair and as open as we can be to make this be a successful plan," she said.

Only two of the new collaboratives offer pastoral work in languages other than English. In Lowell, the three parish collaborative includes Masses in Portuguese and Polish, and the collaborative of the two parishes in Stoughton include Masses in Portuguese.

"One of the things Cardinal Seán has been very intent upon is to make sure we get the implementation of these ethnic groups exactly right. He wants lots of conversation, lots of consultation and he wants a lot of data about how it is going in other places," Father Soper said.

"There is no rush to any of this. We are not going to do that until we are ready," he added.

Both Father Soper and Sister Pat emphasized that, even though the process is beginning for Phase Two collaboratives, their main focus remains on Phase One.

The twelve collaboratives were created in June 2013 and are actively working on their 24-month initial period of drafting a local pastoral plan and preparing to work together with the goal of becoming evangelizing parishes.

"Phase One parishes are still working on the development of their councils, they are still developing their staffs, so while those are still in progress we are still learning what is working and what is not working and how much time it is actually taking."

"They still have another 20 months for full implementation." Father Soper said.

Reporting by Christopher S. Pineo contributed to this story.

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