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Monday, January 24, 2022

Warsaw, Perry, Pavilion parishes in pilot program for renewal:
Three area parishes among first to become ‘family,’ in Diocese plan

Rev. Michael LaMarca
As the Diocese of Buffalo adjusts to a mounting series of challenges, three area parishes are among the first in a planned “Road to Renewal.”

The diocese — which covers an eight-county region — will be grouping its 161 parishes into 36 families of parishes in a process expected to last through 2024.

The process is currently in its pilot phase. Among the very first groupings will include St. Michael’s of Warsaw; St. Isadore’s of Perry and Silver Springs; and Mary Immaculate of Pavilion and East Bethany.

The aim is to reinvigorate the Roman Catholic faith, while optimizing parish and diocesan resources, and increasing the reach and effectiveness of parish ministries.

“It’s not so much that parishes are closing and merging, as they’re linking,” said Rev. Michael LaMarca of St. Michael’s and St. Isadore’s. “When parishes link, it’s a call for those parishes to work together. They remain independent but they share resources.

“They might share staff,” he continued. “They certainly share clergy. It’s maybe because of their locations and sizes, but they become more viable when they share expenses and the workload that needs to be done.”

The diocese is currently dealing with its ongoing bankruptcy, along with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a diminished number of clergy, and reduced parish resources, said Rev. Bryan Zielenieski, the diocese’s vicar for renewal and development. That creates a need to optimize the use of its staff and resources.

“It’s like the perfect storm,” he said. “We can’t just sit back and wait for what the future’s going to bring. We’ve got to be proactive.

“Our way to be proactive is trying to look at what really matters, and that’s the parishes, where the people encounter God,” he continued. “The best way to do that, from our research is the family of parishes model.”

People assume that an individual parish needs to excel at everything, Zielenieski said. But the reality is every parish has it’s strengths.

Combining parishes into families allows them to make the best use of their resources, he said. They can leverage their strengths, whether outreach and feeding poor, or faith formation and religious education. “It gives us the ability to use what’s best in each parish,” he said. In practical terms, parishes will need to adjust Mass schedules based on clergy availability, LaMarca said. St. Michael’s/St.Isadore’s and Mary Immaculate is working to enact a two-priest model with hopefully a deacon.  

Mass times and locations may be adjusted in that instance.

There was once a time when a city or village might have several parishes based on ethnicity, with each featuring Masses in their own languages and catering to each culture, he said. But that simply isn’t needed anymore as times and society have evolved. The diocese doesn’t have the number of clergy it had in the 1970s and ‘80s, he said, so it need to reexamine who it is as a church, and the services provided. The Diocese of Buffalo isn’t the first to pursue a family of parishes structure, LaMarca said. It’s been pursued elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada and has so far worked well. Zielenieski said the concept will allow both clergy and laypeople to become more active in meeting parish and community needs. Each family will have a pastor for overall management, with parochial vicars assigned beneath them assist to handle other assorted tasks where needed, LaMarca said. All the priests of the diocese will take surveys and self assessments to help determine where there skills and talents are best used.

The family of parishes concept is still in its pilot phase and will evolve as needed based on the experiences of the initial parishes. “As a priest you do want to everything possible for the people you serve, but you do have your limitations,” LaMarca said. “I personally am excited about this change and becoming a family. I do believe it will provide more opportunities for the parishes individually and together. I think it will allow for people to tap into their gifts and contribute to growth of the church going forward.”

Future parish families

With the pilot program underway, three more phases will follow, including:

■ Phase 1 is set to be complete in October 2022.

Family No. 11 will include St. Mary’s in Holley; St. Mark’s in Kendall; Holy Family in Albion; Holy Trinity in Kendall; and Our Lady of the Lake in Barker. Family No. 33 will include St. Mary’s in Arcade; St. Jude in Sardinia; St. Aloysus in Springville; and St. John the Baptist in West Valley.

■ Phase 2 is set to be complete by October 2023.

Family No. 12 will include St. Brigid in Bergen; Resurrection and Ascension parishes in Batavia; Our Lady of Mercy on Le Roy; and St. Padre Pio in Oakfield. 

■ Phase 3 is set to be complete by October 2024.

Family No. 13 will include St. Maximilian Kolbe in Corfu; SS. Joachim and Anne in Attica; St. John Newmann in Strykersville; and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Darien.

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