Encouraging Sings for the Road Ahead

Sorry for pestering you again about our strategic pastoral planning— “Making All Things New” —but, it’s very much on my mind, as I know it is yours.

Three recent incidents were very enlightening and encouraging.

The first came a couple weeks ago when a woman approached me at a gathering.

“Cardinal Dolan,” she began, “I am very saddened about the reports of some parishes being merged and closed.”

I took a deep breath and braced myself for criticism and anger. She continued.

“But, ‘stick to your guns’! We’ve got to do this! I live in Manhattan, and there are four parishes within blocks of each other! They’re not needed! They’re all half-empty on Sundays! They were all built at a time when each block was teeming with thousands of Catholics! They’ve all moved! Now, don’t get me wrong,” she went on, “I’ll cry and complain if my parish merges or closes. But, we still have to do it!”

I was as surprised by her advice as she was when I kissed her!

The second incident was a most inspirational celebration at St. Joseph’s Parish in Somers, up in Westchester County. There we were to dedicate their brand-new, magnificent, warm and welcoming new church. The place was standing-room-only with rightly beaming and proud parishioners.

Monsignor James Moore, the pastor, gave me the background. Seems like a decade or so ago, he and a group of his people approached Cardinal Egan about a new church. Within their expansive parish boundaries were a number of Catholic churches, all “missions” of the parish, all in some disrepair. No one of them was able to accommodate all the Catholic population of the parish, and, the number of people was growing.

Seemed wise, the pastor and the people suggested, that we close the mission churches, and bring them all together in one, splendid, large new church. Yes, the folks admitted, there would be some sadness over the closing of the small, old churches, but, they wagered, the people would all see the wisdom, and would pitch in for the new place, a sign of hope in the future.

Cardinal Egan listened closely, studied the proposal, and wisely agreed.

I sure was glad he was there with me at the dedication last month to be cheered by the crowd for such a providential decision.

That’s parish planning…

The third event that encouraged and enlightened me was a meeting I recently had with a young, prominent Catholic leader in the community. I had him for breakfast to speak with him about helping us with our Catholic schools, our charities, and our Cathedral.

“I’m very interested in these projects,” he responded, music to my ears!

“But…” he continued, as I held my breath, “I have to mention something to you.”

I urged him to go on.

“I know the Church is not a business. I realize it’s not all about money. However, you’ve approached me as a businessman, so, let me speak as one: you’ve got way too many parishes and big buildings, especially in Manhattan and the Bronx! The money it takes you to keep those maintained, repaired, and insured can be much better spent for your schools, the poor, the sick, and the elderly, without sacrificing spiritual values. And you need new churches up north where the people are moving! It’s just not a just use of the money we give you to keep unnecessary buildings open! You’ve got to make some tough decisions!”

I then told him about Making All Things New, and asked him if I could quote him. He gave me permission…and, as you can see, I just did!

Yes, we’re already getting blistering angry complaints—even though no decisions have yet been made, and even though most of the complainers did not participate in the fourteen-month process of consultation we’ve just completed. I anticipate even more controversy as we move ahead.

That’s why I need to keep reminding myself of these three encounters.