Tonight I was addressing a small group of parishioners we invited about the campaign. (Well, actually we invited a very large group of parishioners, by letter and robocall, to hear how they could make a pledge to the campaign, but only six came). One of the perennial issues in anything "diocesan" is the feeling in New Castle, and throughout Lawrence County generally, "The bishop doesn't know anything about us. The diocese has forgotten us."
It gets a little tiresome answering this irritating whine. Especially in my case, since for nine years of my priesthood, I "was" the diocese. That is, I was one of the "honorable guild of diocesan bureaucrats," in the words of my late friend and racquet ball opponent, Father George Newmeyer. I was one of the "them" in the oft-repeated conflict between "us" parishes and "them" diocesan idiots.
So in response to a question tonight, I offered this response to the claim, the diocese doesn't know anything about us or doesn't care about us:
I wish that anyone who moaned that the Diocese of Pittsburgh does not know about St. Vitus Parish, or the other parishes in New Castle, would have been with me over the past 24 hours.
- Yesterday, I received a letter from Dr. Robert Pacerba, the diocesan Secretary for Catholic Education. He informed me that for the third year in a row the Bishop's Education Fund would make a grant to St. Vitus School in the amount of $115,000, the same as the past two years. That's $345,000, more than a third of a million dollars, given to our school in the past three years.
- Today I talked with the chief financial officer of the diocese, Fred O'Brien, about an issue with the church roof for another of my parishes, St. Joseph the Worker. He was very supportive of a proposal my finance councils and I have proposed to the diocese to fund and repair the leaks and improve the building.
- I also talk with one of the diocesan attorneys, Chris Pontecello, about Mary Mother of Hope Parish selling a piece of land, and the practicalities of the transaction. Because of the Parish Share Program, I don't hesitate to talk with any of the diocesan lawyers, since unlike usual practice in the secular legal world, the parish is not billed for the phone calls or advice of the attorneys, or their preparation of contracts.
- Last night I taught the third in a four-week series on Catholic social teaching, for the diocese's adult education program, at St. Joseph the Worker Parish. This program gives certification to Catholic school teachers, volunteer CCD catechists, and solid formation in the faith to parishioners. I have been a master catechist in this program since my third year of priesthood. Thousands of Catholics learn more about our faith each year through its many courses.
- I got another email from our regional vicar, Father Phil Farrell, about an upcoming free lecture for members of pastoral councils, finance councils, and parish staff, on the issue of collaboration among parishes and consultative processes. Father Phil is a big supporter of our unique arrangement of parishes here in New Castle.
- This afternoon I received a call from Father Joe Mele, the rector of St. Paul Seminary and director of the pre-ordination formation of our candidates for the priesthood. Last year two parishes, St. Vitus and St. Vincent de Paul, received the help of a first-year seminarian intern, Chris Mannerino. With the support of my two associates, I "pushed the envelop" and requested of the diocese two seminarians to help in our four parishes this summer. I hoped to get Chris back for a second year, and another one to boot. Father indicated that it is likely we'll be granted our request, which has to be approved by the bishop.
This is just one day, albeit an unusual one. Most parishioners do not interact with the bishop, or members of diocesan central administration. Priests do. I do, often. I wish that parishioners understood how the diocese often (but not always!) helps us in the parishes, and particularly me in New Castle.
Only with healthy relationships with the diocese can we in the parishes (priests, staff, council members, parishioners) do our job of being church well. Only by telling stories like this might I gradually break down the false statement that "the bishop and the diocese forgot about us long ago."