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Faith & Parish

Making parishes engaging and vibrant


Mission Management

If the United States’ 30 million former Catholics were their own denomination, their church would be larger than the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Combined.

The situation is most stark in the Northeast, where the total number of Catholics is dropping in each state between 5 and 20 percent. Parishes are closing. Weekly Mass attendance has reached new lows. Most former Catholics have “just gradually drifted away,” according to a recent Pew poll. Without immigrants, the total Catholic population would be in decline.

Communion, coffee and a sausage biscuit


I slip my hands into the wrist straps of my new Nordic walking sticks and head for a chapel a few blocks from the house that has held my life for 40 years. The morning is full of blue sky, sunshine and chilly March breezes.

Yellow and white daffodils sway in almost every yard. Yellow blossoms like stringy four-pointed stars cling to slim forsythia branches. Delicate white blooms of Bradford pear trees seem to have come out overnight.

Essay: Pittsburgh Catholics


As a historian, I’ve studied three generations of Pittsburgh Catholics: grandparents, parents and the students I teach. They’re good people, loyal, devout and engaged -- and each cohort different from the next. The greater finding is that even in the 1950s, American lay Catholics were ahead of the church, meaning the still-to-come Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which added legitimacy and energy to their impetus for reform.

Fired Wisconsin pastoral worker won't be reinstated


A fired Wisconsin pastoral associate has been notified that she will not be reinstated to her job and cannot serve in any leadership role, voluntary or otherwise, in her Beloit parish.

In 2003, Ruth Kolpack wrote a thesis for a master’s degree in which she argued for more gender-inclusive language in Catholic liturgies. In March, after meeting with Kolpack briefly, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino asked her to denounce that paper. When she refused, he fired her.

Details on what precisely led to the dismissal have not been divulged. However, a statement on the Madison diocese's Web site explained that the bishop acted because he could not trust her to teach authentic Catholic doctrine.

Kolpack has been a member of St. Thomas parish in Beloit for 35 years and worked there for 26 years. Her termination upset many parishioners there.

The inevitable, necessary crisis


It may be difficult to see how the manner in which the church handles parish closings, the priest shortage or the sometimes bitter debates among its members relates to a bigger picture. At the local level, it becomes a matter of survival, of finding the community that "fits," whether to preserve Latin ritual, for instance, or to preserve a Eucharistic community with lay leaders.

Phyllis Tickle, however, would say that those competing tensions, the anxieties of the era, are among the signs that we are squarely in the midst of a grand shakeup that regularly occurs on a bi-millennial basis to institutionalized Christianity. In her latest book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, she argues that this phenomenon has been "sending intimations of itself" and "slipping up on us for decades in very much the same way spring slips up on us week by week every year."

Rightsizing the church: physical accountability


Mission Management

From the fictional Friar Tuck and the saintly Thomas Aquinas to the Blessed but rotund John XXIII, the Catholic imagination recalls many wise and compassionate, if conspicuously overweight, models of wisdom, prudence and compassion. But such corpulence, however endearing in retrospect, can have a decidedly negative impact on the church and its ministries.

Size, it seems, does matter.

Journalist explains why he's on the road


The idea of taking an extended road trip to get a closer look at Catholic America began to take shape little more than a year ago when I attended a national meeting that demonstrated rather clearly that something is bubbling up from the grassroots in U.S. Catholicism.

The meeting was a kind of culminating gathering, to that point, of a four-year study, funded by the Lilly Endowment and titled, "Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership."

Among Black Catholics, a deep loss



Sr. Sheila Marie Tobbe glanced down the corridor at the Thea Bowman Center where people were gathering in front of a half door opening to a food pantry. Richard Bass was on the other side of the opening, under a sign that explained how many bags of food could be handed out depending on the size of a family.

He's been doing this for years, but he's rarely seen things so bad. In this already poor section of Cleveland, the recession keeps adding to the line for food.

"That woman with two children," Tobbe said quietly at a distance, "is facing foreclosure." She pointed out another woman, a friend of the first -- there are several children between them -- who is facing the same fate. The center had become a refuge.

Cleveland diocese shaken by seismic shifts



When I arrived here April 28, the gloom and anxiety hung thick in the air around some Catholic leaders and groups who were either grieving or making plans to resist the news they had received the preceding month: Of the diocese's 224 parishes, 29 would close, 41 would merge, meaning the diocese would end up with 18 new parishes and a net loss of 52.

The situation in Cleveland is one of the latest indications of the seismic shifts in demographics, structure, ministry and other fundamental elements rattling the Catholic church in the United States. The forces moving the plates beneath the surface of the Catholic landscape are many, some well known and obvious, some unseen and mysterious.



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August 15-28, 2014


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