Program for Parish Renewal (part 3 of 4)

Last time,
I recounted how our pastor had begun reforming our parish by implementing the right staff in some strategic positions and making some other important changes that would give him the leverage he needed to bring our once-liberal parish back in line with orthodoxy and even get the Traditional Latin Mass said there monthly. But before we get to that happy conclusion, we need to go through a few more vital steps the pastor took to bring the parish in this direction.

Some have asked about the bishop and how he reacted to all of this. Well, initially the bishop put our pastor there at this parish for two reasons (1) to get rid of a priest whom he disagreed with on certain things by, as it were, "banishing" him to an obscure rural parish (2) and as the parish was heavily in debt and on the chop block to be closed or clustered, the thinking was that he wouldn't be able to do much "damage" there anyway. Once the pastor started reforming things, complaints did come up to the diocese, but they were largely ignored by the bishop - the only time our pastor was seriously censured by the bishop was when he once preached a homily that condemned the politics of President Obama too strongly. One parishioner, I believe, once complained about him using the Catechism during his preaching, but it went nowhere. None of his liturgical reforms were  complained against. It was not that this bishop supported our pastor, per se, but that despite the complaints, our pastor was doing one thing that the bishop really appreciated, which was getting the parish out of debt and shoring up the finances. The bishop was apparently willing to overlook a lot in exchange for this. More on this later.

However, more providentially, this bishop retired and was replaced in February, 2008 by His Excellency Earl Boyea, a scholar and historian, who favored liturgical precision and had regularly said Mass in the Extraordinary Form as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit. While Boyea did not formally endorse what our pastor was doing, as far as I know, his appointment gave the pastor more breathing room, as he knew that the man on the episcopal throne was apt to be more sympathetic to his reforms than the outgoing bishop had been. It was not until the appointment of Boyea in 2008 that the second phase of the reforms really began to take off.

I mentioned the finances several times. When our pastor took over in 2005, the parish finances were in such disarray that the parish would have had to close in January 2008 due to financial insolvency. From day one, my pastor ruthlessly cut wasteful spending by consolidating staff (four positions were consolidated into one - a DRE, his secretary and two youth directors became one DRE/Youth Director, i.e., me). Expensive programs that had little faith-building value were cut, while expenditures on other high-profile events (Labor Day Festival) were scaled back to more modest amounts.

But cuts were only one third of the process, as you can't "cut" your way to financial solvency. The second part was getting the books in order. While we had an excellent accountant, each individual committee and staff member who had a budget had been remiss in keeping track of things for years; hence, there was really no clear idea of expenditures vs. income. As the parish changed demographically and the old committee members were replaced with more steward-minded persons, the books slowly got into better shape, aided by the urging of our pastor. One of the first things I did when hired in June 2007 was have a meeting with the accountant, learn how the book-keeping system worked and set a frugal budget ($5000 for a year) that I stuck with and even came in below. Within a year or so, most committees had gotten their budgets in order (with the exception of the cemetery committee, whose records remained in such a state of disarray that the Bishop, on his pastoral visit in 2010, personally ordered them to be organized). The accounts of these committees were further regularized by the abolition of several of them. When the parish council was undermining the pastor's plans, our pastor actually abolished it, reminding them that according to Canon Law, a parish council was not mandatory.
The third component of restoring our parish to fiscal solvency was the demographic shift. As more faithful individuals began attending, persons who took the faith more seriously and appreciated solid preaching, contributions went up. People care about a good parish and will pay to support it. Thus, while many families were leaving (our "active" families went down from 600 to around 400), contributions either remained stable or actually rose. We regularly met and beat our Diocesan Services Appeal quotas, bills were paid promptly, funds handled responsibly, money set aside for important and neglected parish repairs, with the result that the finances of the parish were sound enough to where Bishop Boyea canceled the previous bishop's tentative clustering of our parish and told our pastor that there were no longer any immediate plans to cluster or close our parish. It was becoming vibrant and self-sustaining, and most importantly, in 2008, our pastor announced that in his three year tenure he had completely paid off the parish debt and put us "in the black." We alone of every parish in our region could boast that we were both debt free and fiscally solvent due to steady and increasing contributions.
Here is where my part in the story begins. I was hired in mid-2007 to take over Anselm's DRE job, supervising CCD and teaching RCIA (see here for my reforms to RCIA). In addition to this, I was to take over the Youth Director position from the two older folks who were leaving the parish in protest against our pastor's actions (the old director had once come in to the office literally trembling in anger at the pastor's suggestion to put the communion rails back up). I could probably make a separate series out of what I did with the Youth, but I will try to summarize it here: (1) I was resolved to give them substantial doctrinal formation coupled with opportunities for spiritual advancement as well as social time. This was the three-fold approach I stuck to throughout my time at the parish (2) I was resolved not to let social activities or expensive trips take away from the substance of the Faith, so my program was always very frugal (3) most importantly, I resolved that I would not talk down to the kids - I would not patronize them, treat them like babies and act like they were to ignorant to understand the Faith. I told it to them in basically the same words I would use with adults, though embellished with a few more stories to help explain difficult points. I started with the assumption that the kids wanted to know the truth and were capable of receiving it. I did not try to dress it up by making it "relevant." You know what? It worked - when I began, my Youth Group was about 8 kids. When I left three and half years later, it had reached a high point of around 55  (see picture at the head of this post) with about five of the boys expressing a desire to go on to seminary and at least three girls discerning a religious vocation(4) almost equally as important, I served them food every week; not junk food, but real food (chicken, chili, etc.); stuff I came in an hour or two before and laboriously prepared. I do not attribute this success to myself or my own efforts, but to our Lord Jesus Christ; this is simply what happens whenever the Faith is preached and lived. The Faith itself has a power that reforms lives, if we get out of the way and let God work. It has an intrinsic evangelical power.
Click here for some statistical information on what I did with my Youth Group, what kind of kids I attracted, etc.


The changes I have mentioned so far laid the ground work for the changes in the liturgy; and by "changes", I mean restoring the liturgy to the way it was meant to be celebrated. The first change was in replacing the music director with a competent, classically trained and faithful Catholic woman who gave us some solid music, though nothing like chant as of yet.


When Summorum Pontificum was enacted in July 2007, the Traditional Latin Mass became a possibility. The pastor was eager to say this Mass, but he did not think the congregation was ready for it yet. Nevertheless, a petition circulated within a week of the motu proprio gathered signatures from about 70 families, from our parish and nearby parishes, who expressed their desire for our pastor to say the TLM and promised to attend a monthly TLM Mass. The pastor hung on to this petition, but it would be three years until he felt the congregation was ripe for the TLM.


In the meantime, he introduced two other reforms:

(1) the altar rails, which had been removed years before but remained on the grounds, were restored. The pastor explained this in terms of Church restoration and did not propose using them for at least another year and a half. His goal, he told me, was to just get people used to seeing the altar rails up there; and since it was done as part of a historical restoration and not as a liturgical function, nobody really had any grounds to object (which didn't stop some, of course). He also was always ready with Sacrosanctum Concilium on hand to challenge the nay-sayers: "Show me one place in this document where it says we are supposed to get rid of our altar rails." Once he restored them, even those who initially opposed their replacement admitted that the parish was much more beautiful with them.


(2) The introduction of Latin. Our pastor began introducing Latin in late 2007 by teaching the congregation various Mass parts before Mass, using the music director to instruct them (again, citing SC that "the Latin language is to be preserved"). This was done by preaching occasionally about Latin, printing little articles about it now and then in the bulletin (not too frequently) and in general trying to educate people until they were at least open to learning. He didn't overreach - in the beginning, I think it was the "Memorial Acclamation" that was taught. The congregation would say this in Latin for a few months, and then he would go back to English and then teach them another part, the Sanctus, for example. The result was that, while only one particular Mass part at any given time was being said in Latin, by the end of a year or two the congregation had familiarized themselves with all the Mass parts in Latin. The Gloria (Misse de Angelis) came last because it was longest, but by then the congregation was very open and learned it after only a few weeks. With the timid introduction of Latin, mantillas began to appear here and there, and this was followed by the gradual introduction of Latin hymns at communion (Panis Angelicus, Adore te Devote, etc.) Latin was being slowly introduced into the Novus Ordo, which was getting more and more reverent month by month.

This was all coupled by solid, instructional preaching every week, which continued to draw more faithful persons, convert the unconverted, and give even more impetus to the reform that was in full-swing by mid-2008.

That's enough for time we'll see how Ad Orientam was introduced, the replacing of hymns with chant, extra-liturgical devotions and activities at the parish and, finally, the long-awaited introduction of the TLM in Fall of 2010.