SCROLL THE ARROWS on the photo to see a map of the new deaneries.
The work of the Church can be likened to a great mediaeval cathedral.
Dozens of soaring, vaulted arches point toward heaven, while acres of stained glass windows allow sunlight to fill the interior by day and candlelight to radiate across the landscape by night.
The altar of sacrifice has the place of highest honor.
An interlocking web of piers and buttresses holds everything together without obstructing the light.
These hidden but essential structural elements are like the apparatus of the diocese — the bishop, his advisors and collaborators, in full communion with the Church throughout the world, providing support, direction and connection to every parish.
The buttresses in the Jefferson City diocese will become stronger, more resilient and more responsive under a reorganization of the regional groupings of parishes, known as deaneries.
The number of deaneries will change from eight to five on July 1.
This reorganization of deaneries is a response to changing needs and resources in the diocese. The intent is to help parishes interact more effectively with each other and receive better administrative support from the bishop and his staff.
It’s part of a larger effort to help parishes carry-out their parish pastoral plans and the diocese’s recently promulgated three-year pastoral plan, “A Steward’s Way.”
“I’m not here to reinvent the wheel,” Bishop McKnight stated. “Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, has already developed some very effective structures for diocesan governance. What we’re trying to do is make the best use of these structures in order to carry-out our mission.”
The five new deaneries include:
In cases in which a pastor is assigned to parishes in two deaneries, each of those parishes will be considered part of the deanery in which he resides.
The bishop’s decree includes a list of parishes in each deanery.
Some consultative bodies of the diocese, including the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), are primarily composed of representatives from each of the deaneries.
The bishop appoints a pastor from each deanery to serve as a dean, whose primary role is to provide support to the faithful and clergy of his assigned deanery and to serve as the liaison between the deanery and the bishop.
Deans meet regularly with the priests within the deanery and meet with the bishop on matters of policy and the carrying-out of the Church’s mission locally.
Along with the deanery representatives of the DPC, the deans will be working with lay leadership, deacons and priests to support and enhance the work of each parish.
Being able to work within a standard of care, the deans and the DPC representatives will be able to help parishes be nimble and flexible in meeting the needs of their communities.
One of the goals is to mediate disputes and solve problems as locally as possible.
“Whenever people have a concern about something in their parish, they should approach their pastor first,” said Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the diocese. “From there, they can contact their dean to find out if he can be of assistance. The next step would be to contact the vicar general’s office in the Chancery.”
Bishop McKnight has appointed:
The new deans took their Oath of Fidelity to the Church magisterium in the presence of the bishop on April 13, in the St. Alphonsus Liguori Chapel in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.
Their terms will begin on July 1.
“Back to the future”
Bishop McKnight created the new deaneries upon extensive consultation with priests, parishioners and diocesan staff.
“The idea is, with fewer deaneries, there will be more coordination of meetings and ability for people to share resources across more parishes,” he said.
The size of the Catholic population and the number of priests in each new deanery is about equal, while parishes with similar needs were grouped together.
Msgr. Kurwicki, who is also pastor of St. Michael Parish in Russellville, said that in many ways, “we’re kind of going back to the future.”
Six deaneries were created when the diocese was established in 1956.
More, smaller deaneries were carved out over the years as pastors’ responsibilities grew and parish ministries proliferated.
“Communication was different back then,” Msgr. Kurwicki noted. “They always had to meet in person. For that reason and because of the geography of the diocese, it made more sense to have smaller deaneries.”
Communication technology has evolved extensively.
“We can meet virtually now,” he said. “When we meet over Zoom, people can participate and ask questions remotely in real time. That means less time spent on traveling.”
Deanery meetings will be mandatory for all active priests in each deanery. Retired priests will be welcome to attend and share their wisdom.
Msgr. Kurwicki noted that the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, composed of 39 counties in southern Missouri, recently reorganized its deaneries. Dioceses and archdioceses of all sizes in the United States are in the process of doing likewise.
“Boots on the ground”
Each of the new deaneries will have two representatives on the DPC, which advises the bishop on matters pertaining to the laity.
“The intention is for the bridge between the parishes and the diocesan Chancery offices to become shorter because of the liaison of the DPC representatives,” stated LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of parish and charitable services.
“We see them as being the ‘boots on the ground’ in the deaneries and the parishes,” she said.
In the coming months especially, the DPC will work with parishes in each deanery to help them refine and work toward implementing their parish pastoral plans in conjunction with the diocesan pastoral plan.
Further explanation of how the DPC will work under the new deanery configuration will come after several representatives have been appointed.
Monsignor David Cox, pastor of Mary Immaculate Parish in Kirksville and the Mission of St. Rose of Lima in Novinger, said the purpose of having deaneries in the first place is “to improve communication from the local level to the diocesan level and from the diocesan level to the local level.”
“The way it’s supposed to work, you discuss things in your deanery and your dean brings it to the Presbyteral Council,” said Msgr. Cox.
He was part of the process of reducing the number of deaneries from 10 to eight about 15 years ago.
“The idea was that the Presbyteral Council was unwieldy,” he recalled. “There were so many members, it was hard to listen to everybody.”
With even fewer deaneries, “things will be even more streamlined,” he predicted.
Father Mark Smith is pastor of St. Peter Parish in Marshall, St. Joseph Parish in Slater and the Mission of Holy Family in Sweet Springs.
He pointed out that the Latin phrase for the bishop’s liaison to a deanery is “vicar forane,” which is why deans add the letters “V.F.” to their signature in official correspondence.
It means “rural dean.”
He said a dean’s duties include convening regular meetings of the deanery’s pastors to coordinate the pastoral activity of their parishes.
The goal is to foster good ecclesial and pastoral work in a region of the diocese, he said.
He believes reducing the number of deaneries will mean having more pastors take part in these regular deanery meetings.
“This offers the possibility for a greater consultation and collaboration with parishes within the deanery,” he said.
Father Joshua Duncan, who recently became administrator of a parish for the first time, said the changes will go a long way toward laying to rest, once and for all, the “every pastor is an island” mentality.
“I’m always saying, we need to be working smarter, not harder,” said Fr. Duncan, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Glasgow and St. Joseph Parish in Fayette. “Pastors shouldn’t feel like they are reinventing the wheel every time they come to a new parish.
“The Church has sensible structures and processes that help us carry-out the work of the Church together,” he stated. “This is all about making the best use of them.”