October 23, 2022 Essay: The Parish Council
In the Spring of 2021, when it appeared that the worst of the Covid pandemic was behind us, and the church was reopened “with an abundance of caution,” the Pastor invited several parishioners to become members of a newly established Pastoral Council.
According to Canon Law, a Pastoral Council is “composed of members of the congregation together with those of the parish staff who have pastoral care by reason of their office.” Our Pastoral Council is composed of 8 parishioners and Fr. Michael Hilbert, S.J. Fr. Dennis Yesalonia, S.J., is its presider. The role of the Parish Pastoral Council is described in an internal document as follows “The Council is a consultative body, which does not make binding decisions, but serves to enhance the process of pastoral planning, developing pastoral programs, improving pastoral services, and evaluating the pastoral effectiveness of various programs and services.”
The council came into being at a time when the parish started to emerge from a period of profound isolation and anxiety caused by COVID-19. The mandated closure of the church had prevented parishioners from attending Mass in person and had physically separated many from the vibrant community that had existed before. Fortunately, the technological progress in recent years, as well as the vision and efforts of the pastor and his staff, made it possible to maintain a sense of community through virtual modes of education and communication, livestreaming of events, especially the daily Mass, and the remarkable efforts of the members of the music program who “knitted” together individually recorded singers into a choral whole. When the church was reopened, and the parishioners gradually returned, the council supported the idea that some of the adjustments that had been made during the pandemic were improvements that should be retained, such as the livestreaming of the daily Mass and the Sunday Solemn Mass.
Reaching out to fellow parishioners in support of the ongoing work of the Strategic Planning Committee of the parish was among the early duties of the council. We considered the possibility that the pandemic might have led to a rethinking by many about the role of the parish and its priorities in fulfilling the needs of its parishioners. We sought to discern opinions and thoughts about the following questions: 1) What is worth preserving in the parish? 2) What new initiatives should be considered? 3) What resistance exists against specific new initiatives? The current council members reflect the opinions of different groups of stakeholders in the parish. As we each were reaching out to “our” fellow parishioners, we sensed a great desire to be heard, and we received numerous valuable comments. While there was a broad spectrum of ideas and suggestions, there was considerable agreement about what mattered most: the importance of being a Jesuit parish, the liturgical music, and the different formats of worship.
The Fall of 2021 and Spring of 2022 continued to be a period of listening and reaching out to fellow parishioners: listening sessions in preparation for the convening in Rome of the “Synod on Synodality: Communion, Participation, Mission” in October 2023, and an online survey and town hall meeting as part of the preparation of the Vision Statement of the parish, building on the framework of the parish’s Mission Statement that was drafted 3 years ago.
Finally, at each Parish Council meeting, the pastor introduced a member of his staff (Jean Santopatre, K. Scott Warren, Brian Pinter, Kate Noonan, Bob Cisternino, Elizabeth O’Sullivan, Fernando Castro, Mary Larkin). The introductions of these talented and hard-working individuals served as an important reminder of the many duties the pastor has in administering not just the religious functions of the priests, but also the care of the Church building (an enormous responsibility all by itself) and, importantly, the pastoral care of the community which is entrusted to him.
— Letty Moss-Salentijn
Member, Parish Ministry Council