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Vicariates’ work underway to foster collaboration, bring services closer to parishes and people

Vicariate staff are connecting with parishes to learn about needs, offer support

The three vicariates of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are up and running, serving the parishes and people in their respective geographic regions.

The vicariate structure was implemented in July to bring archdiocesan services closer to the people and help develop regional cooperation among parishes. Each vicariate also includes two deaneries.

Northern Vicariate

The Northern Vicariate serves 55 parishes in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, which includes 152,443 Catholics in 366 square miles, generally within the boundaries of I-270. All staff positions within the vicariate have been filled, and the staff recently began its move to office space at the rectory of St. Roch Church in the Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.

The Northern Vicariate has the largest number of parishes directly affected by mergers and parishes being subsumed, said episcopal vicar Father Scott Jones. He’s also been meeting with pastors and members of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Formation about the future of Catholic schools and how to effectively meet the needs of students.

“A lot of my time has been spent working with pastors, particularly with parishes that are in the midst of coming together,” he said. “Sometimes that’s painful, but there are also some wonderful things happening.”

For example, Father Jones has helped celebrate Masses to install new pastors at 24 parishes within the vicariate. “It’s a celebration, and I can tell that priests are visibly moved by the affirmation they get from the people,” he said.

Vicariate coordinator Cara Koen, along with pastoral outreach coordinator Amy Buehrle and social outreach coordinator Kim Blackford, have individually connected with parishes to ask about their needs and to learn about collaborations already in place that the vicariate could support. From those conversations, the vicariate staff has learned that parishes especially want support in youth ministry, evangelization and adult faith formation. Parishes also are seeking service and outreach opportunities and formation on Catholic Social Teaching.

“We’re also staying closely connected to the other two vicariates, brainstorming and making sure we’re supporting parishes,” Koen said. “Even though each vicariate is different and we’re going to be addressing needs differently, we’re staying connected so we’re providing consistent support.”

Conversations have been happening at the vicariate level with the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship and religious communities in the archdiocese to look at evangelization and social outreach support, with a particular focus on St. Louis City.

Elsewhere, the Northern Vicariate, in collaboration with the Office of Youth Ministry, is planning a gathering for youth leaders, featuring fellowship and prayer. The archdiocesan Office of Peace and Justice also recently hosted a gathering for parish social ministry coordinators.

“Lay people are thrilled with the vicariate model. Over and over and over again we hear how excited they are about having archdiocesan administration move closer to the people and to the parishes,” Father Jones said. “Priests are supportive, but also have more questions because of how it affects them administratively. People are working together to make this a success.”

Ultimately, the work of the three vicariates entails building relationships, Father Jones said. “The pastors, principals and parish staff will hopefully develop relationships with the vicariate staff so when they have an issue, they can call that person directly and get an immediate, effective response. And that’s where personal, working relationships can develop.”

Southern Vicariate

The Southern Vicariate serves 32 parishes in St. Louis, Jefferson, Ste. Genevieve, Perry, St. Francois and Washington counties, encompassing 76,633 Catholics in 2,821 square miles. The staff is settled into its headquarters on the campus of Our Lady Parish in Festus.

As in the other vicariates, staff have been traveling to meet the people of parishes across the southern territory, said vicariate coordinator Joyce Mard. “The feedback we’re hearing is that people are really excited that we’re touching base with them, that we’re going out and connecting with them,” she said. “We’re available to reach out and help out, and they feel like they have a resource now with all of our different coordinators.”

The main work of the vicariate in the first few months has been forming relationships and connecting parishes with resources, said episcopal vicar Father Mike Lydon. That’s included exploring financial resources for parishes with schools that need assistance, and linking parishes that have youth ministry programs with neighboring parishes that don’t. A handful of parishes needed help creating a parish website for the first time; one pastor at a parish in the far southern territory wanted to start a conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, so the vicariate connected him to the St. Vincent de Paul Society St. Louis Council office.

Social outreach coordinator Marie Kenyon and Catholic Charities navigator Debbie Koeller are working to compile a comprehensive list of pregnancy resources, mental health resources, food pantries and more services found in the vicariate. “We’re getting the data together in a digestible way for parishes to be able to refer people to those,” Father Lydon said.

They’ve also heard from several parishes that addressing mental health is an important need in their area, Father Lydon said, so he and his staff are planning a mental health awareness workshop on Nov. 14 at St. Joseph Parish in Farmington. Other conversations have included the possibility of establishing a warming shelter for the winter months and an emergency shelter for unhoused people.

Pastoral ministry coordinator Jennifer Meehan has been connecting with parishes to find out where they need support in faith formation and evangelization efforts. Among other initiatives, she’s working with the Office of Marriage and Family Life to bring marriage preparation resources closer the vicariate’s parishes after hearing that desire in her conversations.

The vicariate is also collaborating with the Office of Youth Ministry to plan a gathering for youth and young adult leaders next month.

The Southern Vicariate includes relatively affluent parishes in south St. Louis County as well as parishes in outlying counties with high levels of rural poverty. As the “pastor to the pastors,” Father Lydon is working to foster relationships with and among the priests of the vicariate to give them support and a sense of community in spread-out regions that can sometimes be isolating, he said.

“I think the vicariate system has the potential to be more vitalizing to the whole archdiocese, but especially to parishes that feel kind of remote or feel less connected to the mother Church,” he said. “I hope they find in the vicariate, especially here in the southern one, hospitality and friendship and a resource for themselves.”

Western Vicariate

The Western Vicariate serves 50 parishes in St. Charles, Lincoln, Franklin, Warren and St. Louis counties, encompassing 179,835 Catholics in 2,865 square miles. The vicariate office is temporarily set up at the former St. Robert Bellarmine campus in St. Charles, while a few rooms in the school building of St. John Bosco in Creve Coeur are renovated to become the vicariate’s permanent office space.

“Our first priority is just making sure people understand who we are, and that we are here, and communicating exactly what kind of services the vicariates are offering,” said vicariate coordinator Laura Voegelie.

Pastoral ministry coordinator Tammy Chumley has found that many parishes are eager to expand their evangelization efforts, including forming evangelization teams. Social outreach coordinator Ann Hammer and Catholic Charities navigator Katie Corrigan have been connecting not just with parish staff but also Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences, Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, Bridge of Hope and Life’s River emergency shelter projects in Troy and Washington, and other service entities around the vicariate.

“They’ve really been put to the test,” Voegelie said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and we have lots of people to serve, but some resources are not necessarily out here as much as they are in the city.”

Parishes, especially those in the far northern and western reaches of the archdiocese, have been thankful to have a personal connection to the archdiocese closer to home, said episcopal vicar Father John Brockland. In one circumstance, there were “some tears of gratitude over coffee” because the parish staff said they couldn’t remember another time when archdiocesan staff had driven all the way out to sit down, find out what the parish was doing and ask how they could help.

“These are the kind of success stories I was hoping for,” Father Brockland said. “And I think as time goes on, there will be more and more of that, and that grassroots way that we’re beginning this will build relationships of trust necessary for folks to reach out to us.”

The Western Vicariate has relatively few parishes that have undergone structural changes as part of All Things New, Father Brockland said, though there are many parishes that are sharing clergy with other parishes for the first time. So, one focus of the vicariate is helping parishes without structural changes think about what the “new” in All Things New could look like for them as they work toward becoming truly evangelizing communities.

“Some are well down that road already through their own initiative, and some not so much,” Father Brockland said. “So we’re trying to do both: to help the folks who are in some measure of coming together to do that well and effectively, but also to focus on some of the situations where structurally, things might not seem any different…to encourage those parishes to not feel exempt from being something new.”

“We also recognize the fact that when it comes to this whole experience of trying to become parishes that are truly evangelizing communities, there’s not a magic wand, and there’s not a silver bullet that is going to bring results in highly visible, widespread ways overnight,” he continued. The work of forming intentional relationships and inviting people to encounter the Lord takes time, “but we’re working on the beginning pieces.”


Vicariates of the Archdiocese of St. Louis

Northern Vicariatearchstl.org/northern-vicariate

Southern Vicariatearchstl.org/southern-vicariate

Western Vicariatearchstl.org/western-vicariate

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Vicariates work underway to foster collaboration bring services closer to parishes and people 9077

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