Dear Saint Dominic Savio Community,
I want to share with you some important information today, and so apologize in advance for the length of the letter.
Over the course of the last two years, I have come to know and love the people of St. Dominic Savio Parish. I respect our rich history and traditions. I enjoy celebrating the Sacraments with you, preaching God’s Word, teaching the school children, visiting the sick, playing in the golf tournament, to name just a few events. We have many great people who love the parish and are proud to call St. Dominic Savio their spiritual home.
At the same time, we have our challenges and not all of them are financial. It has become increasingly difficult to find people who are available to volunteer for the various activities that make a parish vibrant. We have fewer people who are willing to assist at Sunday Eucharist as Greeters and Eucharistic Ministers. I could not find any one to lead the Annual Catholic Appeal this year and so we organized it entirely out of the rectory office. Although that plan worked, it was not ideal. Some of the parish organizations that care for the poor and needy are having difficulty finding volunteers to carry on that important work. The folks who adore the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist on First Fridays are the same people month after month and we have not been successful in attracting new people to this most intimate experience of God’s love. Shortly after my arrival, I heard about a divide between the school and the parish and I have tried to understand why that is the case.
We are nearly fifty years old as a parish community and most of the parents of the founding families have passed on to their eternal reward. Fewer Catholic families organize their activities around their parish as they did in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. People are exhausted by the demands of family life and their work schedules. They have commitments to other organizations that leave less time for parish activities. As a result, the same pool of dedicated parishioners is being asked to shoulder more and more of the responsibilities. This situation is not unique to St. Dominic Savio. It is happening everywhere, however the Archdiocese of St. Louis recognizes we cannot
sustain our parishes if this situation persists.
A word about our school. Our school is not the school many of you sent your children to in the 1970’s, 1980’s or the 1990’s. In those days, St. Dominic Savio was truly a parish school where 90 to 95% of the children lived within the boundaries of the parish. At this time in our history, 71% of the school families come from outside the parish boundaries. In other words, 43 school families live within the parish and 135 families live outside the boundaries of the parish. In effect, we are operating a “regional school,” but we are doing so on the budget of a small parish and this model is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.
In this environment, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is asking every parish to assess itself: its programs and ministries. At the same time, the Office of Catholic Education expects every school to undergo a self study for improvement once every five years. This is the year our school is scheduled to examine itself, in particular, our Catholic Identity, curriculum and financial stability. Perfect timing for us to develop a plan for our future.
Discerning the way forward begins by asking ourselves some fundamental questions. Who are we as a parish? Does my understanding of the parish and its needs correspond to current realities? What are the values we live by? What are our hopes and dreams? What does God want us to become? What resources do we have on hand? Do our hopes and dreams for the parish match our resources? Rathe than simply maintain what we were doing in the 1980’s, what is God asking us to become in 2015?
On Wednesday, August 12, I met with the leadership of the parish. Most, if not, all the members of the Parish Council, the Finance Committee and the School Board were present. An overwhelming majority endorsed a proposal to hire The Reid Group. The Reid Group is a Catholic strategic planning organization. They specialize in guiding parishes through prayerful discernment to discover God’s will.
This is a pivotal time for our parish and a wonderful opportunity God is giving us. Of course, strategic planning evokes a note of uncertainty in some people, because the parish may decide some things need to change. Like the Rich Young Man in the gospel who Jesus told to “go sell what you have and give the proceeds to the poor. Then come and follow me.” Sometimes, we have to “let go” of something in order “to embrace” a deeper discipleship. And as long as St. Peter kept his eyes focused on Jesus as he walked on the turbulent water, he did well. But once he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the waters, St. Peter faltered. This discernment process will take some time (several months) and I ask that you be patient with yourself and each other as we prayerfully discover who God is calling us to be and how He wants us to live out our Catholic faith at this moment in our parish’s history.
Jesus is alive here at St. Dominic Savio. I am supremely confident that He will guide us. The Holy Spirit animates our community and, with the guidance of the Reid Group, the same Spirit will lead us to understand what God is asking of us in the years to come.
According to the Reid Group and their consultants, Lucien Roy and Maureen Gallagher, the center piece(s) of the discernment process take place during two retreat weekends: September 25/26 and November 13/14. The more people who attend these retreats, the more people who join in the discernment process, the more perspectives we hear, the more successful our outcome will be. Lucien and Maureen will also work with what they refer to as the Futuring Team. This team is comprised of people who are invested in the parish and the school and will be assisting our consultants in the planning process.
This discernment process our parish is undertaking is an invitation to realign our understanding of the parish with its current realities and circumstances. It is an opportunity to rediscover and recommit ourselves to the values by which we are called to live our Faith. More information will be available in the days and weeks ahead. Please join me in praying for the success of our parish planning process and make every effort to attend our two retreat weekends: September 25/26 and November 13/14. I remain,
Sincerely Yours in Christ,