Since being named the next pastor of The Basilica of Saint Mary, February 1, 2022, I have been exceedingly impressed by my staff colleagues and lay leaders, including their thoughtfulness and strategic planning. In addition, the way in which The Basilica embraces many best practices in multiple areas of our parish life and structure has also been impressive. That said, a parish that seeks to thrive and grow must also be open to change and open to envision new ways in which to order our common life – onto a more robust and vital mission. Stagnation is something that can afflict any organization and community. Thus, we must be vigilant about avoiding complacency that finds inordinate comfort in the status quo. The Holy Spirit calls us to both embrace our traditions and foundations while also opening up new pathways which enable us to more effectively live our communion and serve our brothers and sisters in need.
As your new pastor, much of my first year was spent getting to know staff, parishioners, lay leaders, as well as listening to and learning about our life of faith and service at The Basilica. Again, I found myself consistently impressed, heartened, and inspired by the excellence of the ministries which are lived out at the parish and the ways in which these ministries are supported. The listing sessions with parishioners and friends of The Basilica as well as the focus groups and staff sessions, conducted by consultant Jocelyn Hale, were very helpful, including conveying important converging themes. One theme conveyed was the need to break down communication silos at The Basilica. Another theme was the acknowledgment that The Basilica has had the same staff structure for more than twenty years – a time period which has seen significant change in the Catholic Church, in the parish, and in our broader society.
As a new pastor, I come in with fresh eyes and also different gifts and and emphases than Fr. Bauer. This is the case in any parish at the change of leadership, as parishes experience the changing of times and seasons. Below, I delve a bit more deeply into the new staff structure which began July 1, 2023, as well as highlight some of the fruit that this new structure is bearing. I thank all of my colleagues for their hard work in implementing this new staff structure and the intentionality they have demonstrated in communication and engagement with their colleagues. I also thank Managing Directors (Mission Advancement, Parish Operations, and Ministries, respectively) Terri Ashmore, Audra Johnson, and Johan Van Parys, for embracing their new and expanded roles and for their diligence and commitment regarding the life and mission of our parish. I have enjoyed and benefited from their wise counsel as I carry out my responsibility of shepherding The Basilica community.
As I reference in the title of my column, just as an angioplasty clears clogged arteries, I have found already that the new staff structure is indeed breaking down communication silos, fostering greater collaboration, and inviting new proposals and initiatives. Here are some examples: the parish ministries team has been meeting often, as have Johan and Janice Andersen, to discuss and discern how they can work together to better serve parishioners and families of the parish. The ministries team recently met for a retreat day which helped ground their service in the teachings and spirituality of the Catholic faith and invited team members to share their thoughts and hopes. The retreat day also included the opportunity for two staff colleagues to share their respective “vocation stories,” which other colleagues found enlightening and inspiring. Another example of the new structure bearing fruit are new proposals which have been advanced by staff members, including Doris Ortiz, who has advocated that we need to increase our youth ministry programming for high school students who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Lastly, what was formerly known as RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) – now called by the Church OCIA (Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) – has been embraced with new energy. Multiple speakers will engage with our 20+ adults who will be journeying in discernment toward full communion in the Catholic Church. I am heartened indeed that, notwithstanding all the hard work that our new structure has called forth from staff colleagues, the blood to the arteries of the Body of Christ at The Basilica is flowing more healthily.
Last spring, I announced the new staff structure with a letter to the parish and a video message. With transitions and structure changes, it is important to communicate clearly and consistently. One area that could have been improved in the roll out of our staff realignment – for which I take responsibility – is clarification regarding the learning ministry and programming. While I said in my initial communication that life-long learning was being enfolded into Christian Life and sacramental preparation enfolded into Liturgy and the Arts, I should have more clearly emphasized that the programs in the area of learning and sacramental preparation were not being diminished or lessened. My intention was just the opposite – that the excellence of Christian Life and Liturgy and the Arts – affirmed by numerous listening sessions – would lift the quality of our life-long learning opportunities and sacramental preparation. This is already occurring as a result of the staff realignment, and I am excited for our future programs and offerings. To that end, please look for more information on our upcoming 7-part adult learning series on The Eucharist, which will take place throughout the upcoming year. I will begin the series with an Introduction to the Eucharist, Sunday September 10 after the 9:30am Mass.
Thanks to my colleagues for the embrace of our new staff structure and to our parishioners for their patience and support in this time of transition. Change is rarely easy but at times necessary for the good of the common life of faith we share. The Body of Christ at The Basilica is poised to thrive and flourish as we approach our future with strong faith, hope, and new vigor.