By Yadira Betances
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — As one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, St. Michael Church has been assigned as a ‘stand alone parish’ in Phase Two of the archdiocese’s reorganization plan.
“Even as a stand alone parish, it will be among the top three or four collaboratives because of its size,” said the Rev. Paul Soper, director of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Boston.
St. Michael has 16,000 people on its roster. It offers six Masses during the weekends. The church has 215 baptisms, 270 first communions, 194 confirmations, 57 weddings, 122 funerals annually. Its annual member contributions between July 2012 to June 13 was $1,349,340. The parish also has St. Michael School with close to 500 students in nursery through eighth grade.
“For them, there will be a bit of a challenge because there will be no structural changes, but they will take part in the training, the formation of a pastoral plan and mission focusing on evangelization,” Soper said.
St. Michael is one of 21 collaboratives made up of 44 parishes in Phase Two. Other local parishes include Holy Family in Amesbury and Star of the Sea, Salisbury; Our Lady of Good Voyage and Holy Family in Gloucester; St. Agnes, Middleton and St. Rose in Topsfield.
The pastoral plan was suggested by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to not only address the shortage of priests, but to encourage Catholics to return to church focusing on the New Evangelization that Pope Francis and O’Malley have called Catholics to follow. The archdiocese serves the spiritual needs of 1.8 million Catholics in 288 parishes.
O’Malley created a 20-member planning commission and named priests, bishops, deacons and lay people to serve, including the Rev. Paul O’Brien, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Lawrence and Craig Gibson, Catholic chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital. The plan will group the 288 parishes in the archdiocese into approximately 135 collaboratives.
St. Lucy and St. Monica parishes in Methuen were among the first 12 parishes chosen for Phase One. This June, Monsignor William Fay, a priest since 1974, became pastor of St. Lucy and St. Monica. The two church buildings remained open and Fay works with a pastoral team made up of priests, deacons, lay ministers, and members of the pastoral and finance council of both parishes.
During the process, pastors and members of the pastoral, finance councils and school board have to take training on Catholic leadership, evangelization, writing a budget, how to write the pastoral plan and workshops on writing financial reports for the collaborative regarding legal and real estate issues.
As part of the plan, the Rev. Kevin Deeley, pastor at St. Michael had to submit his resignation, in order to shed appearances of favoritism. Applications for pastors at St. Michael is open to all priests in the archdiocese including Deeley, who will remain as spiritual leader until a decision is made.
In the Sept. 29 bulletin, Deeley said he intended to apply for the job.
“I believe that it is a good thing that we were chosen to participate in Phase Two. We will have the opportunity to receive training and to learn the ‘best practices’ for a parish to be an evangelizing parish,” Deeley wrote in the bulletin. “We have a great parish here and this will make our parish even greater.”
“Although I cannot foretell the exact future for our parish, I really feel that this will work out very well for all of us. I strongly support the Pastoral Plan as it gives us the best chance to grow as a parish and an archdiocese in our present circumstances,” Deeley wrote.
Soper said the goal is to have the new pastors chosen by Christmas.
When Phase Two begins June 12, 2014, there will be 33 collaboratives, including 72 parishes, established over a two year time period. The formation of the parish collaboratives will be phased in over the next five years.
“They are doing pretty well so far,” Soper said of the collaborative between the churches in Phase One.
While church leaders, staff members and lay ministers get training on how to implement the plan, Soper said parishioners also benefit from it.
“This is fundamental for parishioners as we try to help them revise their role in the life of the church,” Soper said. “They can get a sense of self as evangelize which is the great mission of the church, go make disciple. “