From Complacency to Fatalism in Record Time: A Parish Life Update

From Complacency to Fatalism in Record Time: A Parish Life Update January 21, 2020

So here’s something of a ranty update on what’s going on at my own parish:

In the fall, our pastor announced that he had agreed with the bishop to accelerate his retirement, previously scheduled for two years from now, to this coming summer, so that we can be a part of the next wave of pastor reassignments and have a new pastor well-integrated into the parish before the upcoming Renew My Church process begins.

That’s fine, it makes sense.  I think to myself, hey, whatever happened to the process of reassigning pastors every decade or so so that the most skilled ones are shared among parishes and realize that Cupich must have abandoned that.

Then a week later, we are told that the pastor is leaving Right Now, to be assigned as an assistant pastor somewhere else, and we’ll have an administrator (Catholic-speak for interim pastor).

Then in December, we’re told our associate pastor is leaving.  He was from India and there was an immigration issue, but he’s not leaving the country, only going to Florida.  Someone says that there are limitations on how long they can stay, but he had only arrived relatively recently, and our prior Indian pastor was around for quite a whole.  I formed the impression that Cupich just didn’t go to bat for him and the other bishop was willing to.  It all seems strange, and very secretive.

And there’s no sign of any replacement associate pastor, so all we have is the administator and the retired priest and a series of priests who show up on Sundays for mass.

Then last week, we learned that the administrator was leaving for personal reasons, and they put a new one in his place, a Pole who’s near retirement age and had spent nearly his entire priestly career ministering to Poles going through the annulment process, so he doesn’t have much experience with being a pastor and, near as I can tell, with speaking English (as in many such cases, I find myself thinking that the archdiocese would do well to invest some money in the sort of specialized language instruction that helps intensively with pronunciation).

All of which makes me appreciate the wisdom of Cardinal George’s practice of reassigning pastors, because if the new set-up means that the pool of reassignable priests consists of associate pastors looking for a promotion, priests displaced because their churches were closed, and priests looking (or being directed to look) to return or enter parish ministry after working as archdiocesan staff, it’s a crummy pool for a large suburban parish, and all the more so when the neighboring parish, which boasts of growing numbers at the same time as our numbers are shrinking (and they have been shrinking all the more since these series of changes), has a dynamic pastor who was assigned there in 2013, that is, just before George and his rotational system left.

It sucks.

And all the more so because at our parish (and I have no idea how this compares), everything has been run with an approach of “you do what you’re told.”  I may be wholly ignorant of all sorts of things going on due to my lack of extensive social connections, but I hear stories of ideas being shot down.  Heck, I’ve griped about trying to recruit others for coffee & donuts, and recently put a request into the bulletin for more help, with a line of “please reach out if you’re interested in something for the 11:30 and 6 pm mass” and I was told that even for this level of floating an idea, I should have sought permission, which likely would have been denied.

All of which has resulted in complacency.  We get homilies (especially from the deacons) about how vibrant and active the parish is and I want to scream because I never get any help with donuts, and not long ago I was asked if I would attend a Eucharistic Minister and Lector training because they’re really short on volunteers (I said no, because I didn’t feel confident managing both those roles), and the CFM ministry is half the size it used to be.

Everyone’s mantra is “but people are busy.”

Yet it is those “people” who are making choices, who are telling themselves, “I do X or Y (trivial thing) and that’s enough” or “I’ll help out when I’m less busy” or “Doing a good job raising my family is enough.”

I was at a meeting not long ago where I suggested that we might try to have more social events so that people can feel more connected, and I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.  One of the women said, “I teach religious ed and things are going great — used to be, many of my students never went to mass, but now their families do” and I wanted to say, “You idiot! It used to be that the religious ed student body was much larger than now, and all those families who used to take their kids to religious ed even if they were erratic in their mass attendance, didn’t shape up and start going to mass, they just dropped out of religious ed.”  But I didn’t.

Heck, every year there used to be desperate please for people to step up and teach religious ed classes.  The fact that the number of spots needing to be filled is much smaller than it used to be does not mean that there are more teachers than their used to be, but fewer students.


Except that a recent chat I had with a fellow parishioner went like this:  “it wouldn’t really be so bad if they closed Wayside and we all went to St. James.  They’re a fine church, after all.”


We’ll be closed down anyway.  We’ll get a placeholder pastor who will do placeholder things but won’t have particularly much energy to try to revive the parish, certainly not to approve new ministries or attempts to reach out to the community, because that’d be wasted effort.

Geez.  I type this and I’m already mad at Cupich on the expectation that he’ll save the dynamic pastors for churches he cares about, or that the pool of priests might, by its very makeup, not include any dynamic pastors in the first place.

And the icing on the cake is that we got the notice in the bulletin that the Annual Catholic Appeal is coming up.

You know the drill:  parishes have to pay assessments from their collections, the amount of which is all very secretive, and then the archdiocese conducts a separate fundraising drive, obliging each parish to spend two weekends’ worth of homilies promoting the appeal, culminating with asking people to fill out pledge cards right there in the pews.  I gave a bit, for a couple years, so I now get incessant mailers, too — the fundraising expenses add up to 7% of the total money collected.  This past year I finally sent back a reply card saying, “I pledge $0” because I was so irritated.  Maybe this year my reply will be, “I’ll pledge money if you assign us a pastor who’s good enough for the parishioners to know you haven’t written us off.”  (A year ago, I dug into this and read the archdiocese’s annual report – my best guess was that the parish assessment is 13%, but that was making assumptions that may or may not have been valid.)

So I’m angry.


And there’s a degree to which I feel very middle-child-ish.  Cupich devotes a sh*t-ton of attention to poor inner-city parishes, because the issues they face — integration as immigrants, lack of legal status, violence, poverty — are very important to him.  The wealthy get his attention because, well, they are donors.  But middle class parishes in the suburbs, who aren’t as beset by poverty and violence but increasingly consist of empty nesters who don’t know what to do about their children having left the church, and much smaller numbers of parents of younger children who need guidance in what to do to prevent the same process repeating itself?  Eh, not so much, despite the fact that they are truly the lost sheep and that Cupich’s job is to minister, not to be the CEO of a social services organization.

So anyway, I sent over to the music director a suggestion to organize a Taize service during Lent.  To be clear, I said, this is a thing I can do myself because this is lay-led (and I can host treats afterwards because I am, after all, the Donut Lady), and I just need help scheduling and a go-ahead, and he said, “I’ll see what the new administrator thinks.”  Which, again, grrr, but at least I’m trying.

And how’s your day, and your parish life?


Image:  from our vacation.  It seemed fitting.

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