Bishop Malooly has announced a consultation process in which clergy, parishioners and directors of diocesan ministries of the Diocese of Wilmington will develop diocesan mission and ministry priorities for the next five years.
The four-month process started on Feb. 16 and 17, when priests of the diocese convened in Cambridge, Md., to discuss major concerns and needs in the diocese and make recommendations the future.
Following the priests’ consultation, pastors will be convening parish staff, advisory groups and parishioners to discuss and develop their vision of the diocese’s goals for the next five years.
After the parish consultations, each parish will send eight people who participated in the discussions to area deanery meetings after Easter to refine the parish visions for the future and address regional concerns.
A second round of deanery meetings for priests will be held in May to review the recommendations from consultations.
On March 21, diocesan department heads and directors of diocesan ministries will gather for a consultation that will lead to a list of recommendations of priorities for the bishop.
Bishop Malooly has named a 16-member Consultation Committee of six priests, a deacon and nine lay members who will receive the reports from all the consultation meetings and present the final recommendations of priorities for the next five years to him.
Sister Suzanne Donovan, director of the diocese’s Human Resources Office, is facilitating the Consultation Committee’s work and the diocesan consultation meetings, a process she designed.
A veteran strategic planner for dioceses, religious communities and businesses, such as Wendy’s, Mail Boxes, Etc., and Proctor and Gamble, Sister Donovan also facilitated the consultation process in the Diocese of Wilmington that developed a pastoral plan for the 1990s, “A Church Called to Serve,” before she was hired in 1999 for the Human Resources Office.
Sister Donovan said the consultation is about “what the possibilities are. How do we make the mission and ministry flourish? It’s about a future filled with hope.”
She said she wants each consultation group to talk and listen to recommendations and list priorities along with the resources that can help achieve the goals, and identify any impediments that might exist.
“It’s a conversational process,” Sister Donovan said. “I want this to be a joyful process.”
Bishop Malooly said last week before the priests’ meeting that while he has goals in mind, he’s eager to hear the priorities of priests and parishioners.
The diocese was “treading water” during its time in bankruptcy, the bishop said. “We weren’t able to plan or move ahead” even though the parishes and schools were doing great ministry.
Now, “we can look at what is necessary for the diocese to move ahead.
“This is not so much about the parishes but about what on the diocesan level of services, ministries and resources we need to provide to make our parishes, schools and charities even stronger,” Bishop Malooly said.
Citing the Bishop Saltarelli’s priorities from 1998, the bishop said, “many of them were well accomplished” — creation of new parishes, two interparochial elementary schools, expansion of St. Thomas More Academy, expansion of Hispanic ministry, assessment of diocesan offices and promotion of vocations.
“This is a good time for us to take another look at where we are going, anticipate the difficulties … and how we can prepare to address them,” Bishop Malooly said.
The bishops said he was delighted almost all of the diocese’s priests were scheduled to attend the consultation in Cambridge, Md.
“I have found them to be very responsive in every part of anything that is happening in the diocese,” he said.
Although the diocese is planning for the future, “We can’t put the abuse of children behind us,” the bishop said. The diocese has rules and procedures in place to protect children “and remind us of the horrible crimes” but “we still need to provide for our present and future in the Catholic Church.”
“Given the fact that we’re coming out of bankruptcy and trying to evaluate where we’re at, it’s a good time, a very opportune time to begin this consultation,” said Father David Kelley, pastor of St. Ann Church in Bethany Beach and a member of the Consultation Committee.
Father Kelley said the extensive input of the consultation, including parishioners with diocesan officials and clergy, gives broad ownership of the process.
“It’s an opportunity for people on the parish level to tell the diocese what they see the role of the diocese is in the life of the parishes. The diocese exists for the parish,” he said.
Father Charles Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hockessin and a member of the Consultation Committee, said that while the diocese “has been hurting for a while, it’s fantastic to have the consultations. In our parish, we will have total cooperation on this. People are ready for it, waiting for it. They want it.
“We’ll pray to the Holy Spirit. We have to be honest and put our cards on the table and pray the Holy Spirit will help us listen to each other with an open heart.”
With the consultation, Father Dillingham added, “the bishop and priests are very anxious to move ahead. We look forward to the future.”
Cindy Hayes Mann, principal of Padua Academy in Wilmington, will be lending her education perspective to the Consultation Committee and her parishioner’s viewpoints at St. John the Beloved in Wilmington.
“I’m very excited about the consultation; it allows a multitude of voices,” Mann said. “From the priests, to the people in the parishes, to people in the schools, all the stakeholders can have advice for the future plans of the diocese. I think that’s a fantastic way to go.
“I’m excited to have my voice as one of thousands to make a better future.”
Mann said her own habit of asking herself, “was I better today than yesterday?” applies to the consultation process in which people will ask “how the diocese can be better tomorrow than we are today.”
The power of the consultation will come from the variety of voices that make their hopes known, Mann added.
“I think we’re on the trajectory of a fantastically bright future for the diocese. Now’s the time to say, OK, here’s the way it was, but I am going to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.”