MADISON — Pastors of the Diocese of Madison along with other administrators are sharing with their staff members and parishioners the latest information about the diocesan Into the Deep strategic planning initiative.
Into The Deep is a multi-year comprehensive strategic planning process that will enable the Diocese of Madison and its institutions to move from “maintenance to mission.”
Its goal is to discern how best to align its resources —human, physical, financial, etc. — to more effectively spread the Gospel far and wide and then do so.
The diocese hopes that as a result of this effort more and more people in the Diocese of Madison will come to know the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, through vibrant parishes, reenergized leaders, and Catholics set on fire with the love of God and neighbor.
The diocese has been working with PartnersEdge, a company that equips Catholic dioceses to realize their mission successes.
The first step in the process took place earlier this year.
It was to collect data from parishes, schools, other Catholic institutions, and general census data to create a Current Reality Report.
The results of that report were recently shared at meetings at St. Francis Xavier in Cross Plains which were attended by priests, diocesan staff, parish staff, and involved volunteers.
Examining the data from a variety of trends, the report featured eight takeaways:
The total population across the Diocese is growing.
We are losing people, especially younger people; and we are aging.
Fewer and fewer people are attending Mass.
Significantly fewer people are receiving sacraments.
Faith formation enrollment is in a free fall, while school enrollment is holding relatively steady.
We have significantly fewer priests than in the past, but we project to be relatively stable into the future.
People who give donate about two percent of their income, with fewer older people giving more currently.
At present, we are facing financial challenges impacting our mission and our employees.
A summary of all the takeaways was articulated as “We face significant challenges, which requires a significant and bold solution.”
Reacting to the data
Fr. Scott Jablonski, pastor at St. Francis Xavier, serves as the chair of the strategic planning committee which consists of several priests from the diocese, some chancery staff members, and some lay leaders.
He recently spoke with the Catholic Herald providing some context and comments about the takeaways.
“We have people in our diocese,” Father Jablonski said.
“[In] some parts of the country, there are simply shrinking populations or just fewer people . . . we don’t have that problem.”
He added, “There is an opportunity for us to go and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people and to minister to people and to invite people into our Catholic community”.
He also said, “We are relatively stable with the number of priests and we project to be relatively stable for the next decade or so. We’re proud of that.
“We’ve done a lot of vocation work over the last 15 to 20 years of our diocese.”
Father Jablonski called this time in the Diocese of Madison an “opportunity”.
“We have an opportunity here to really turn to God,” he said.
“Nothing happens outside of his providence. We’re utterly convinced as people of faith that He’s known that this moment in our particular history would come at some point and here we are. It’s an invitation from Him to pray and to discern and to collaborate and to work together and to try to see where He’s leading us.”
He added, “It’s an opportunity to reimagine what parish life looks like.”
He said most parishes served a particular time, place, and culture “that is no longer where we find ourselves in the 21st century and the year 2022 in the upper Midwest.”
“Change is always difficult for all of us,” Father Jablonski said, but “it’s also an opportunity to step into the change that the Lord is inviting us.”
While the number of priests is something to be satisfied with, other numbers are concerning.
“The problem is we don’t have the people that we once did,” Father Jablonski said.
“People are not practicing their faith as they once did; the challenges of living in an increasingly secular culture.”
“We have a lot of work before us,” he said. “We’re in a position right now where we still have the opportunity to make decisions that we want to make [and that] God is really inviting us to make. We still have the time and opportunity to get ahead of some of these trends.”
He added, “We’ve been hoping for miracles for decades now and it hasn’t happened,” expressing that the trends haven’t stopped and there’s no reason to think that they will.
He noted that everyone needs to ask themselves if they’re more committed to doing God’s will and making disciples or more attached to what we’ve known in the past.
He said now is the time to “step into the unknown but keep our eyes fixed upon the present and the future,” adding that “we’re not dismissing the past, but we’re not clinging to it in a way that’s unhelpful.”
Further looking at the trends, he said, “We’re in a particular moment in time where we have an opportunity to do something to disrupt trends that are very broken. If we take advantage of that opportunity and we seek to discern what God is asking of us and have the courage and generosity to do it, I’m very hopeful about what could come out of this and for the future of the diocese.”
He added, “If we don’t courageously respond to this moment in history” he doesn’t see any reason why these trends won’t continue.
Father Jablonski acknowledged that there have been efforts in the past to tweak things in the diocese on a smaller scale to combat some of the trends, but none of them worked.
“We’re not able to live our faith as we want,” he said, adding that now is the time to do “something new” and follow God’s will for us in the diocese.
“He has a plan,” he said, “to help us become saints” and “set the diocese on fire with the love of Christ and the Gospel”.
The next steps
With the Current Reality Report being shared, the next steps in the Into the Deep process will be seeking feedback from clergy, lay people, and the general public.
Determinations will be made about how best to align resources for the sake of the mission and the future.
During the winter, Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison will review and approve an appropriate bold new model which, in his words, will help us to accomplish “this daunting, necessary, but hope-filled task of recalibrating our resources to [better] match the mission of Jesus Christ.”
With the current reality illustrated and established, the diocese will now focus on acceptable means to its goals and the results that it seeks.
Some of those sought-after results could include the realignment of diocesan, parish, and school resources to better “go make disciples”.
Another desired result will also be increased and better formational opportunities for families and people of all ages.
Other desired results include a more comprehensive plan for Hispanic ministry in the diocese; more than 50 percent of Masses at greater than 50 percent capacity; increased participation in the sacraments; regional opportunities and a plan for celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass; and the ability to hire, retain, and pay qualified and faithful staff.
More information on these results can be found in the Guiding Change Document which can be found on the Into the Deep website at intothedeepmadison.org/current-reality and scrolling down to “Documents”.
Next summer, new priest assignments in the diocese will begin as usual.
Also starting in the summer and continuing over the next couple of years, the diocese will work to implement and refine the model which seeks to realign resources with the mission so that it can continue to advance the universal mission of the Church to go make disciples.