Diocese of Peoria Pastoral Planning Process


What is the Peoria Pastoral Plan?

The Diocese of Peoria is embarking on a pastoral planning process to renew discipleship and enhance relationships with Jesus Christ in every corner of the diocese. The pastoral planning process will evaluate the current effectiveness of every parish and school in our diocese in living out its mission to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus amidst the challenges of today. This will involve ongoing prayer, listening, and feedback from the entire community, and will result in a renewed pastoral plan for the Diocese of Peoria.

Who is leading the pastoral planning process?

Bishop Louis Tylka established a Core Team consisting of Msgr. Mark Merdian, Fr. David Richardson, Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck and Amanda Connon. The Core Team meets regularly with the bishop to help guide the conversation and discernment process.

A Diocesan Pastoral Planning Commission will be assembled with lay leaders from each vicariate and other diocesan leaders to provide additional feedback for the process.

The Catholic Leadership Institute, a lay apostolate based in Philadelphia, will help design and facilitate the process. 

What are the goals of the plan?

The purpose of this process is to create a sustainable structure of parishes and schools that renew discipleship and enhance relationships with Jesus Christ in every corner of the Diocese of Peoria.

The vision for the pastoral plan in the Diocese of Peoria is to:

  • Inspire a discipleship in each baptized follower of Jesus
  • Empower evangelization so as to share the saving name of Jesus
  • Deepen our awareness of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
  • Strengthen vocations
  • Continue the legacy of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

Further explanation of each component of this vision can be found here.

The pastoral plan is intended to achieve this vision through the following opportunities:

  • Enabling the faithful to go make disciples within a mission-driven, sustainable structure of parishes and schools.
  • Enhancing the vibrancy of our parishes, schools and ministries.
  • Increasing our support of the happiness, health and holiness of our priests.

Why are we doing this? Why now?

The Church and its people continue to face unique opportunities and challenges as society evolves. In Illinois, and certainly in the Diocese of Peoria, the demographic landscape looks different than it did even 10 years ago, while the structural landscape has remained nearly the same. 

The current challenges facing our diocese include:

  • A changing regional and diocesan landscape
  • National trends regarding religion
  • Too few priests to staff more than 150 parishes.

While we have a strong and vibrant faith community, the current structural landscape combined with the above challenges limits our ability to fully live out our God-given mission as Catholics. We must together move toward a mission-focused network of parishes, ministries, agencies and communities, becoming stronger and more vibrant than ever so that we can effectively spread the Good News of Jesus for generations to come.

Did the Diocese of Peoria undertake a pastoral planning process like this one many years ago?

About ten years ago, Bishop Jenky launched our diocese’s Growing in Faith Together (GIFT) effort to address similar goals to those we are looking to address today. The GIFT effort ultimately was more limited in scope, however.

Based in part on what we learned from our experience with GIFT a decade ago, we are committed today to developing and implementing a comprehensive and thorough pastoral planning process to ensure successful results that will address the needs of today while positioning our diocese for a vibrant and sustainable future.

What will this new process entail/how will it be different?

Since becoming a bishop in July 2020, Bishop Tylka has been listening to and praying with the diocesan community. He celebrated Mass in each vicariate and met with each of the priests beginning in August 2020, which led to a meeting with a cabinet of 12 priests who met monthly for one year, from February 2021-February 2022. Bishop Tylka invited each parish to gather leaders to discuss questions and followed up by convening these leaders in vicariate groups to share ideas in a synodal process from August 2021-October 2021. All of the results of this listening and dialogue will be considered in the planning process.

We will continue collecting data and feedback from various stakeholders–including our priests, deacons, lay leaders, consecrated religious, and faithful of all ages–which will inform the remainder of the planning process. This effort will affect the entire diocese.

What is the timeline?

This is a two-year process, involving ongoing prayer, listening, and feedback from various stakeholders that will inform the options considered for a pastoral plan for parishes and schools throughout the Diocese of Peoria, which will be finalized by Pentecost 2024.

Prepare (May – August 2022) 

  • Announce the Growing Disciples pastoral planning effort to clergy, the faithful, and general public. 
  • Organize a Core Planning Team and Diocesan Pastoral Planning Commission to oversee the process. 

Assess (August – December 2022) 

  • Conduct focus groups with priests, deacons, parish and school leaders to get their ideas and opinions. 
  • Survey parishes and schools to get baseline planning information. 
  • Share what has been learned and answer questions about Growing Disciples at the October 2022 Priest Assembly Days gathering and December 2022 vicariate meetings with parish leaders. 

Discern (January 2023 to April 2024) 

  • Develop and share initial parish and school configuration proposals. 
  • Get feedback on the draft proposals at the March 2023 and Spring 2023 vicariate meetings with parish leaders. 
  • Review feedback from the clergy and laity and draft a final set of parish and school configuration proposals.  
  • Get feedback on the final parish and school proposals through focus groups with priests and parish discussions with the laity. 
  • Discuss the final parish configuration proposal at February 2024 Priest Assembly Days gathering. 
  • The Presbyteral Council meets and makes a recommendation to Bishop Tylka. 

Decide and Implement (May 2024 to May 2026)  

  • Bishop Tylka announces his decision on final parish and school structures. 
  • Implementation of the new structures begins and occurs over the following two years. 

Will the diocese be closing/merging parishes and schools? If so, which ones, and how many?

The data and feedback from various stakeholders–including priests, deacons, lay leaders, consecrated religious, and faithful of all ages–will guide the planning process to reawaken the message of the Gospel in our local Church. While we are not yet in a place to make decisions regarding structures, we anticipate a significant impact on our current parish footprint within the diocese. If faced with extenuating circumstances in advance of Pentecost 2024, we will address immediate needs as they arise.

What is my role in the pastoral planning process?

We need every member of our faith community to join us in prayer for this effort. We invite you to reflect on your personal relationship with Jesus, how you envision the most vibrant Church in the Diocese of Peoria, and how God might be calling you to contribute to that vision by living out the mission of Jesus through the Church in your own life as a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ. 

In addition, there will be multiple opportunities for the faithful to provide feedback during this process. Parishes will be invited to share data on their pastoral strengths and challenges so decisions can be made based on current information. Priests will be convened regularly to share their perspective on current realities and possible new parish and school structures. Likewise, parish leaders will gather at vicariate-level sessions to share their thoughts and ideas on possible models for parish and school structures. 

The overall goal is for there to be regular interaction with priests and parish leaders to arrive at the best-possible network of parishes and schools for the diocese.

What is a Parish Primary Point of Contact (PPOC)? What will they do?

Each parish will be asked to designate a Primary Point of Contact (PPOC) early in the process. They will be responsible for completing an online data profile for the parish. This information will be used for planning purposes and will be part of a new online data system for the Diocese of Peoria. 

In addition, the PPOC will receive and share ongoing information on the Growing Disciples effort with the parish. They will be an important part of keeping the faithful aware of Growing Disciples over the next two years.

What is the core change needed for a truly renewed Church?

The core change needed for a renewed Church is an interior renewal, which must occur in our hearts. This interior renewal in each of us is essential in order for spiritual growth to happen in our broader community. We ask that all across the Diocese of Peoria join with us in personal reflection and prayer as we embark on this process. We also encourage you to talk to your parish community, and your priests, deacons and lay leaders about your questions, feedback and concerns so that we can collectively develop the most vibrant and promising plan for our diocese.

Isn’t this all about the priest shortage?
No, the number of priests is not the only reason for this pastoral planning work; however, it is one of the key factors we have to take into consideration. One of the challenges facing our diocese is that we have far fewer priests than needed to serve 155 parishes, along with fewer current seminarians than priests reaching retirement age in the next 10 years.  

While this is one challenge in our diocese, there are additional challenges, including a changing region and diocesan landscape, as well as national trends regarding religion. We must address these challenges in order to respond to current ministry needs while sustaining and growing our Church–locally and nationally–for the future.

Is the planning process all about structures, statistics, closing or merging parishes or schools? Seems like that’s all we are talking about.

While the planning process will involve changing, closing and/or merging structures, the purpose of this process is much greater than physical buildings. The purpose of the pastoral planning process is to renew discipleship and enhance relationships with Jesus Christ in every corner of the diocese. At the core of this plan is the mission of reaching every heart in our community with the invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus. While the truths of our faith remain unchanging, the manner through which we present these truths must adapt to meet the needs of our time.

In order to effectively live out our call as disciples of Jesus, empower all of our faithful to evangelize, re-encounter the Eucharist which is the source and summit of our faith, strengthen vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and continue the legacy of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, we must have the structural and environmental support in place to sustain these efforts and fulfill the spiritual needs of our community. 

Have other dioceses done this successfully?

Several other dioceses have successfully completed and implemented pastoral plans. Catholic dioceses and archdioceses in Boston, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, among others, have undertaken or are in the midst of similar processes in the last several years.

Why are we restructuring, and potentially closing churches, before we renew our evangelization efforts?

In order for us to be fully committed and empowered to evangelize as a Church, we must first look at the foundation from which we are formed to be disciples of Christ. We cannot be effective evangelizers if we are not effective disciples. Much of our faith formation and empowerment to evangelize comes from our faith communities–our parishes and schools–so we must focus on first making these communities as vibrant and fruitful as possible. If we sow our seeds on good soil, we can bear fruit one hundredfold. If we model our environment, including our parish and school structures, in a way that best supports our faith formation and discipleship, we can bear the fruit of evangelization in our broader community.  

Will every vicariate experience closures or reconfigurations?

While we know that this process will involve closures and reconfigurations, we do not yet know the extent to which each vicariate will experience these changes. We are in the process of listening and engaging in dialogue to determine new models, including structural models, that will be an effective part of the overall pastoral plan. Preliminary proposals for the plan will be presented in the fall of 2023.

Supporting Data

  • There are 155 parishes listed in our directory. 
  • There are roughly 124 active priests in the diocese.
  • By 2032, 38 of our priests will be of Senior Status age (70).
  • There are currently 22 seminarians.
  • If we were to have a priest assigned to every church, and to have additional priests to serve as associate pastors or in specialized ministry – we would need approximately another 45-60 priests today.
  • Many of our priests are pastoring multiple communities – not just a single parish, but multiple parishes whereby they are responsible for multiple parish councils, finance councils, staff, accounting processes, etc.
  • In many cases, the number of people participating in Sunday Mass has diminished. Communities which saw larger numbers in the past have seen significant reductions. The COVID pandemic only accelerated what has been a trend for many years.
  • There are many factors that go far beyond our control/influence as the Church which pose great challenges for us in sustaining a Catholic presence in some of our communities.

What does it mean to combine or merge or unify parishes?

When parishes are combined / merged / unified, typically, the community of each parish involved will join together with the others as a new, larger faith community. Parishioners will attend daily and Sunday Masses at a designated church within the merged parish community. The other churches involved in the merge will become worship sites or be used for other special purposes. 

What is a worship site?

Worship sites are churches designated for important celebrations such as weddings, funerals, feast days and other devotions. Additional details of each worship site are determined on a case-by-case basis based on the needs of the community and the results of the pastoral planning process.

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