The archdiocese reorganizes regions to better serve parishes
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan — Three years ago, the archdiocese initiated pastoral planning on the parish level in response to changes in population and personnel, and a desire to use resources more efficiently.
That process has now been expanded to include the regions themselves.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann asked a committee of priests to examine the current configuration of the archdiocese’s 11 pastoral regions and to come back to him with recommendations for a realignment. The committee recently announced a plan that reduced the number of regions to eight.
A glance at the new map (see right) shows four smaller pastoral regions clustered in and near the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area, and four large regions to the north, west and south.
The former pastoral regions of Saint Marys, Nortonville, and Emporia have been absorbed into the Atchison, Nemaha-Marshall, Topeka and Southern pastoral regions. Minor adjustments were also made to the Lawrence, Leavenworth and Johnson County pastoral regions. The only unchanged pastoral region was Wyandotte County.
According to vicar general Msgr. Thomas Tank, pastoral regions were initiated in the 1970s by Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker as a means for the parishes to share resources and to work collaboratively to promote the life of the church within their geographical sector.
Accordingly, the priests of each region elect a regional leader, who convenes regular meetings and serves as one of the region’s representatives on the Presbyteral Council.
Not only are ideas passed from the parishes to the archdiocesan level through the Presbyteral Council, but so, too, are archdiocesan initiatives and resources disseminated from that group to the regions and parishes.
That’s because it is at regular meetings of the Presbyteral Council that the archbishop and others are able to share information with the regional leaders. They, in turn, take the programs and initiatives discussed back to the regional council meetings, which all priests working in that particular region are invited to attend.
“[The pastoral region system] allows individual priests to speak as a group to the archbishop, and for the archbishop to convey and communicate with his priests on individual levels,” said Father Chris Rossman, associate pastor of Prince of Peach Parish in Olathe and a member of the Presbyteral Council. “That two-way communication is extremely necessary to run the parish and to run the archdiocese well.”
In the 30 years since the regions were established, however, the population within those regions has changed. The archbishop felt that the old 11-region configuration no longer worked.
“A couple of regions had a very small number of priests serving in the region,” said Archbishop Naumann. “One of the purposes of the regions is to provide a forum for collaboration of priests,” which the current alignment just didn’t permit.
Representation on the Presbyteral Council had also become lopsided, he said, as priests in the smaller regions wound up with disproportionate representation.
The new configuration should help make representation on the Presbyteral Council more proportional, and provide help to pastors in the less-populated rural regions of the archdiocese, said Father Rossman.
“They’re kind of on their own out there,” he said. “And this gives them the opportunity to come together and share what’s going on within their parishes with other priests who are in the same environment.”
Father Keith Lunsford, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola and chair of the committee, agreed.
“There have been some changes in the number of parishes and priests assigned to some of the regions,” said Father Lunsford. “We met the archbishop’s request that regions be of sufficient size so there would be a least five or six priests in each region. More priests in the region allows for more camaraderie amongst the brothers.”
The process began with the appointment by the archbishop of a committee to study the problem. Committee members then sent out a questionnaire to all archdiocesan priests asking for suggestions on how the parishes could be realigned. Parishioner travel patterns were analyzed, and consideration was given to parishes with common issues.
“Of course geography was an essential part of the process,” explained Msgr.Tank. “But [the reconfiguration] was primarily to bring together enough parishes and priests to make the regions more vital and alive.”
The committee then studied the results and drafted a proposal. The draft and revisions were reviewed several times, both at regional meetings and meetings of the Presbyteral Council.
Once the decisions were made and the new regions were outlined, Father Rossman, who has a background in computer mapping, created new maps showing the eight new regions in detail.
Pastors seem to agree that the reconfiguration will produce benefits.
“I think the main thing is it’s being done in order to really help the regions become more active, and for parishes to really work with each other on furthering the mission of not only their parish but of the broader church,” said Msgr. Tank.
Father Rossman agreed, and added that a second benefit to the realignment is the fact that with fewer regions, organizing and communication will be more streamlined and efficient.
“I think the archbishop’s intentions with this are geared toward trying to improve communication both between him and the priests, and also with the priests among themselves, so they can functions as an administrative body,” he said.
Now that the realignment is in effect, the archbishop hopes to continue with another plan to improve communications in the archdiocese.
“I hope the regional meetings will become even more effective in serving as a means of the archdiocese communicating with priests and parishes, as well as more effective in providing feedback from parishes to the archdiocese,” he said. “With the regions reconfigured, I now intend to form an archdiocesan pastoral council which will consist mainly of lay representatives from the regions.”