Friday, July 12, 2019

Joseph Martos: Can laypeople lead a parish? Look to Louisville for a thriving example

Can laypeople lead a parish? Look to Louisville for a thriving example

Sign of Peace St Wm Parish CROP.jpg

Parishioners of St. William Catholic Community in Louisville, Kentucky, share the sign of peace at Mass. (Courtesy of St. William Catholic Community)
Parishioners of St. William Catholic Community in Louisville, Kentucky, share the sign of peace at Mass. (Courtesy of St. William Catholic Community)
Louisville, Ky. — In his recent book Worship as Community Drama, sociologist Pierre Hegy described an unusual Catholic parish whose identity he hid under the name Church of the Resurrection. When the book was published earlier this year and we read the chapter titled "A Lay-Run Parish: Consensus Without a Central Authority," we could tell that it was about us.
I asked Hegy about possibly revealing the facts behind the chapter. He replied that sociological protocols had to be followed in the book, but these would not apply to an article in a newspaper. OK, here goes.
For almost 30 years, the St. William Catholic Community in Louisville, Kentucky, has had a lay parochial administrator but, even before that, all-important decisions were made by the people of the parish.

Founded in 1901 to serve Irish immigrants who worked in the nearby railroad yards, membership was down to 85 by the early 1960s as railroad workers were displaced by computers to disassemble and reassemble freight trains passing through Louisville. The crashing together of boxcars and flatbeds can still be heard in summer when the church windows are open. We had decided sometime back not to install air conditioning in an effort to save energy and do our bit to preserve the environment.
No one knows why the parish was named St. William, or which St. William the bishop had in mind, but some point out that the bishop at the time was named William and hint at a personal motive. Around 1995, the parish adopted St. William of Donjeon as its patron, a medieval monk who objected to being chosen bishop and who was known for ministering to the poor, the sick and the imprisoned. Clearly our type of guy.

Faced with the option to close the dwindling parish in 1969, Archbishop Thomas McDonough decided to put it in the hands of a young priest named Ben O'Connor, suggesting that he try implementing the liturgical changes approved by the Second Vatican Council. Out went the Gothic altar; in came a plain wooden table. Out went the pews; in came chairs that could be rearranged as wanted. Out went Gregorian chant; in came guitar Masses.

Within a few years, St. William became one of the most popular churches in the city, drawing people from around the archdiocese and even from Indiana, across the Ohio River.

For O'Connor, St. William being a Vatican II parish meant more than full and active participation in the liturgy. Sitting around the rectory table, parish leaders discussed ways to address some of the social problems in the city. They started New Directions, a nonprofit corporation to buy abandoned houses, make them livable and rent them out at affordable prices. They turned an unused room into a ministry serving poor people who needed help managing their money and paying their bills.
In the 1980s, parishioners voted to become a sanctuary church, giving shelter to refugees from political repression in El Salvador and helping them find safety in Canada. They also connected with a Maryknoll missionary in Nicaragua and established a sister parish relationship with Catholics in the town of Esquipulas — a relationship that continues to this day.

With more parishes implementing the liturgical changes of Vatican II, Masses at St. William became less crowded. And with priests leaving to get married, the number of priests assigned to the parish got reduced to one. But as a non-geographical parish with lively liturgy and active social ministries, it continued to be self-sufficient with 200-300 households.

In 1990, Archbishop Thomas Kelly adapted to the priest shortage by appointing an active church member to be parochial administrator for the parish. With no priest in charge, community members became even more involved in sustaining the parish and creating new ministries. A store named Just Creations was opened to sell crafts made by artisans in the Global South, paying fair prices for what they produced, enabling them to live well.

The empty rectory was turned into a retreat center, and today CrossRoads Ministry offers inner-city immersions to hundreds of high school and college students every year.

Earlier this year, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz thought it was time for St. William to have a priest pastor again, like all the other parishes in the archdiocese. The only way for him to do this, however, was to assign a priest from another parish to do double duty as our pastor. This is not uncommon at a time when many dioceses have more parishes than priests.

Unfortunately, the priest that was named turned out to be a bad fit. Our lay parochial administrator keeps things running, but the parish's major decisions are arrived at through discussion, deliberation and consensus. The new appointee had a more traditional mindset, according to which the pastor makes all the decisions. Rather than allow the differences to become a public confrontation, the archbishop wisely decided to allow us to continue as we have been.
We'll see what happens next year. We had priest pastors for 20 years, but they were priests with a Vatican II vision and a willingness to be led by the Spirit. As you can see, that Spirit has led us into places where few parishes dare to venture.

St. William is one of the most successful parishes in Louisville. Everyone sings at Sunday Mass. Young professionals and families with children outnumber the gray heads so visible at many Catholic Masses. Even though we are a small parish, we give more than most large parishes to the poor and the needy through St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Relief Services, our sister parish in Nicaragua, and local immigrant services. Being self-directed seems to make us more generous.
Perhaps it is time for us to be more than a local success story. Perhaps under the leadership of Pope Francis, it is time for a renewal of the renewal that began under the saintly Pope John XXIII. A lot can happen when the people of God are allowed to be God's people and take responsibility for being church.

We are a living example of how the Catholic Church can move forward despite the priest shortage, despite the sex scandals and despite the Roman Curia. We are proof that the spirit of Vatican II is still alive and well.

At St. William, "We are the church" is more than a slogan. It's the way we operate. And it is all allowable under canon law! We just need bishops who will recognize the immense possibilities of lay-led parishes.

[Joseph Martos is a theologian, a retired professor and a member of his parish for 27 years.]
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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dr. Shanon Sterringer, ARCWP, Ordained a Deacon - July 10, 2019

Bishop Mary Eileen Collingwood of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests ordained Dr. Shanon Sterringer a deacon in a private ceremony on July 10, 2019.  Shanon will be ordained a priest on August 3 in Linz, Austria. Bishop Mary Eileen Collingwood and Bishop Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger will co-preside as ordaining bishops. 

Dr. Sterringer is the founder of Hildegard Haus in Fairpoint Harbor where she will focus her ministry. For more information:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Cosmic Christ and Hildegard - Matthew Fox Meditation - July 10, 2019

The Cosmic Christ and Hildegard
by Matthew Fox
July 10, 2019

The word of God is everywhere and in everything, for “without the Word of God no creature has being. God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible.”  Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard is teaching about the Cosmic Christ, for the Cosmic Christ–or cosmic wisdom–is the image of God in all things. It’s the light in everything, as science today assures us that there are light waves or photons in every atom in the universe. Hildegard often saw the light in all things. She painted it and set it to music, which is why she speaks of her paintings, visions, and mandalas as “illuminations.” Light beings bear light and reveal by way of light.

Notice that for Hildegard the “Word of God is in all beings whether visible or invisible.” So even the darkness contains the light, the Word of God, the Cosmic Christ, which is cosmic wisdom. It’s everywhere, and it renders all beings holy, all beings luminous and numinus, full of creativity and generativity. To have being is to be a temple for the Word of God.

What’s the nature of this Word? “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity.” At the heart of the Word, at the heart of all beings, is creativity and “all verdant greening.” All things are fertile, all things busy birthing and creating. How contemporary is Hildegard’s view of the world! We can’t escape the ever evolving, ever creating, and ever passing nature of created things.

This is postmodern science, since creativity is one of the patterns inherent in evolution. It’s also Hildegard’s awareness in the 12th century! We are all verdant, all green, all busy creating. “All creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, of God’s invocation of the Word…"

For Hildegard, it’s God or Spirit who does the awakening and the calling, for God is invoking the “Word” that “manifests in every creature.” Yet true to Cosmic Christ consciousness, “the Word is indivisible from God.” In other words, everything we have said about creatures–everything we observe about sun and moon, galaxies and stars, whales and cats, rosebushes and redwood trees, mountains and rivers, you and me–all this is a manifestation of the divine Word, the divine Logos, the divine wisdom that’s alive in everything.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Pastor Dawn Hutchings to lead ARCWP Retreat in Cleveland, OH – July 11-14, 2019

Pastor Dawn Hutchings to lead ARCWP Retreat in Cleveland, OH – July 11-14, 2019

“It’s long past time for Christianity to stop insisting that the final word on Jesus has been spoken and that language and ideas of one century are to hold for all time. It’s time for Christianity to accept its responsibility to use the images, language and stories available to it in this century to articulate the Jesus experience. It’s time to begin to explore the basic insights of Jesus of Nazareth within the framework of the wisdom and knowledge that has been acquired over 20 centuries.”   
Dawn Hutchings

Dawn Hutchings, a 21st Century Progressive Christian Pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada will lead the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priest’s annual retreat with the theme: Being LOVE in the World. Retreat sessions include: Practicing the Art of Religion in Days Such as These, Genesis to Jesus, and DIVINITY in, with, through, and beyond us.

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Dawn’s recent post:

For the last few hundred years, the Church has insisted upon articulating the Jesus story in words and images that have kept Jesus locked in the first, third, and if he’s lucky the sixteenth centuries. It’s a long, long way from the Road to Jericho to the pathway Jupiter. But just this week a space craft entered Jupiter’s orbit and next month we expect to see photographs from this distant part of our solar-system. We already have photographic evidence of billions and billions of stars, untold numbers of planets and yet we continue to articulate the experience of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as if Adam and Eve actually emerged on earth without benefit of evolution. That these two mythical creatures somehow managed to tick off the Creator of ALL that is and ever shall be, to such an extent that this angry God kicked them out of paradise and cursed their descendants as humanity fell from grace into a state of sin, so objectionable that we can only be saved by the blood sacrifice of a first century itinerant Jewish Rabbi who just happened to be the perfect person who was willing to die to appease his tribal god, and unless we are willing to believe that this Jewish Rabbi is actually God, we are doomed to spend all of eternity in the fiery pits of hell and never make it up onto a fluffy cloud where celestial beings perpetually sing God’s praises. And we wonder why a generation is largely lost to the church.

We know full well that the earth is billions of years old. We know what’s up in the sky and we know what’s down below and yet we insist that God sit up on “his” thrown only to pass judgment upon us, as we look to Jesus to save us. But salvation is not about saving us from the wrath of a maniacal creator. Salvation is about setting us free. Free from our primitive notions of a three-tiered universe. Free from our fear of an all-powerful king god sitting in judgment upon us and manipulating the affairs of mortals at our whim. Free from ancient theologies about the fall, original sin, and sacrificial atonement, free from strict adherence to the law and free from a literal understanding of the ancient writings of our ancestors. Salvation is freedom from fear, and freedom to live and love and be all that our Creator created us to be. It’s long past time for Christianity to stop insisting that the final word on Jesus has been spoken and that language and ideas of one century are to hold for all time. It’s time for Christianity to accept its responsibility to use the images, language and stories available to it in this century to articulate the Jesus experience. It’s time to begin to explore the basic insights of Jesus of Nazareth within the framework of the wisdom and knowledge that has been acquired over 20 centuries.

Our task is to begin to understand Jesus and his message in the context of the Spirit of God that is actively present in all places and all times in a universe that has existed for some 14 billion years. Our task is to begin to imagine the Spirit of God coming to expression, in great bursts of wisdom and insight, not only within the Jewish religion but also in other religions around the world. Our task is to begin to imagine the Divine with the conviction that there is one God, one Spirit, yet many cultural and religious expressions that give God different names, different understandings, different formulations of belief, different institutional systems of religion. Our task is to begin to articulate the Jesus experience as people who believe that in Christ the Spirit of God is revealed in a wonderful human expression and then in a global context, to articulate what it is in the message and life of Jesus that offers insight and good news to the questions human beings ask about life and its connectedness to the realm of the sacred.

Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry proclaiming that the reign of God was at hand. Jesus called people to believe the good news. Jesus believed that so many of his contemporaries were trapped in their beliefs about God and were looking for their experience of God in the wrong place. Jesus insisted that there were clear, unmistakable signs of God’s presence amongst us; when people act or see others act in ways that are good, truthful, loving, forgiving, just and merciful they should realize these are the sings of God’s Spirit present and active in the world. Jesus urged people to see the connection:  live in love and you live in God. Jesus identified, and wanted his sisters and brothers to identify, basic human interactions such as visiting one another, clothing the poor, caring for the needy, being ready to forgive, feeding children, over-coming cultural prejudices, respecting women, loving one’s neighbours as oneself, and being wholeheartedly generous as the rule of God. Jesus preached that the poor in spirit have a special insight into God’s reign. Jesus most likely experienced a capacity for generosity and sharing among the poor in Nazareth, an experience that deepened his conviction that the reign of God belonged to the poor in a special way. Jesus made it clear that there was no easy path to ushering in God’s reign. It demands purity of heart, a commitment to peace readiness to forgive, generosity, the endurance of persecution, truly being neighbour to those in need, moving beyond concern for one’s self, being ready to take the hard road. Jesus called for followers with large, loving, generous hearts. This should be the heart of the Gospel message Christianity shares with the world today.

The good news is that in everyday, decent human interaction all people encounter the sacred, the Spirit of God at work.   All people, not just Christians, are people in and through whom the Spirit acts so that God’s reign might be established. All people are God’s people. If we can begin to see the actions of decent human beings as the visible expressions of God’s presence among us, we will no longer be trapped in the fear of God. If we are fearful, our images of and ideas about God need changing.

Jesus by his use of images and parables, calls us to conversion in the way we think and act, wanting us to be set free from images, ideas, and religious practices that bind and enslave us into fear of God rather than help us to embrace God’s presence in our lives.  The extraordinary impact of Jesus’ actions and preaching on his followers moved them to articulate their basic religious convictions about life and God in new and compelling ways.

First women members of Vatican department that oversees religious orders appointed

First women members of Vatican department that oversees religious orders appointed
by Christopher Lamb

A Vatican spokesman confirmed to The Tablet that they are the first female members to hold such a position on the body

File photo, Pope Francis greets a woman religious in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 16, 2018 
Photo: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves
Pope Francis has named the first women members of the Vatican department that oversees religious orders.

On 8 July 2019, it was announced the Pope had named a raft of new appointments to the board of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, including seven women.

A Vatican spokesman confirmed to The Tablet that they are the first female members to hold such a position on the body.

The women chosen include the following superiors general from religious order: Kathleen Appler of the Daughters of Charity, Yvonne Reungoat, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters), Fran├žoise Massy of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Luigia Coccia, of the Comboni missionary sisters, Simona Brambilla, Consolata Missionary Sisters, M. Rita Calvo Sanz, of the Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady. He also named Olga Krizova, general president of the Don Bosco Secular Volunteer Institute.

The appointments also mean that women will, for the first time, have a say over the direction of a Vatican department with a remit that includes the life of religious sisters.

The Pope’s latest move comes soon after he chose the first women consultors to the Synod of Bishops, and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The latest appointments, however, give the women executive rather than simply consultative roles. 

Throughout his pontificate, the Pope has slowly set about trying to appoint more women to positions in the male-dominated Vatican. He named the first ever woman consulters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, along with two female undersecretaries at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. He also chose the first female deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, Paloma Garcia Ovejero - although she resigned her position at the end of last year.

Hildegard Haus, Fairpoint Harbor, OH - A Sanctuary Dedicated to St. Hildegard of Bingen

Dr. Shanon Sterringer, ARCWP, will dedicate Hildegard Haus in Fairpoint Harbor, Ohio, on September 15, 2019. Hildegard Haus is a sanctuary dedicated to St. Hildegard of Bingen and is the home of the Community of St. Hildegard, an inclusive Christian community.

Dr. Sterringer, founder of Hildegard Haus, based her creation on her Ph.D. dissertation in Ethical and Creative Leadership, focusing on St. Hildegard of Bingen. She is the author of 30-Day Journey with St. Hildegard of Bingen. 

Dr. Sterringer will be ordained a deacon through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priest (ARCWP) on July 10, 2019 in Hudson, Ohio, and a priest on August 3, 2019 in Linz, Austria.

To learn about Hildegard Haus, visit the website at