Do you want to rebuild your parish? Then get ready to “step out of your comfort zone” and shift your focus to making disciples, the pastoral team from a Baltimore parish told 600 faithful at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral Nov. 13.

Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran - the pastor and lay pastoral associate respectively of Nativity Parish - delivered the keynote address that launched the three-day Parish Vitality Conference in the Archdiocese of Montreal.

The co-authors of the book Rebuilt shared defining moments in their 15-year north Baltimore ministry, during which they and their sleepy, suburban parish were transformed into a dynamic evangelizing community.

The American team laid out a simple but challenging three-fold strategy for parish renewal: redirect parish energy toward "non-church people"; prioritize the weekend experience (the mass), and galvanize parishioners into action.

There's a "consumer mentality" underpinning most parishes, they noted. That mentality obscures the Great Commission imparted by Jesus to all the baptized; namely, "Go, therefore, and make disciples."

"Disciples are students who are learning to follow Jesus; they love God, love others and make other disciples," the duo explained during their hour-long presentation that was translated simultaneously into French.

About one-third of the cathedral assembly were from French-language parishes. The keynote address was jointly sponsored by the Office de l'éducation à la foi, under Fr. Denis Dion, and the Office for English Pastoral Services (OEPS), under Bishop Thomas Dowd.

Local Adaptation

In his opening remarks, Fr. White had noted that "in Baltimore, we are regarded as experts."  But here, "you are the experts for the Church in Montreal," he said, emphasizing that their parish experience must be adapted to local circumstances.

The 300-plus people who registered for the workshops, held at Le Nouvel Hotel, grappled with that over the next two days. The 17 How-To presentations were grouped under four tracks: Stewardship, Communications, Pastoral Leadership, and Reclaiming the Sabbath [&] Prayer.

The stewardship track was the most popular by far, generally attracting the largest number of registrants for each of the five workshops, except for Session D. In that session, Archbishop Christian Lépine's workshop on prayer was the top draw.

About 50 priests and permanent deacons also attended Fr. White's workshop on preaching, titled The Message Matters.

"During my parish visits, people wanted a follow-up to the Stewardship Conference that was held in 2009," Bishop Dowd said, "so this was an excellent opportunity to do so." The Pillars Trust Fund has financially supported both OEPS conferences, the auxiliary bishop noted.

Representatives from 28 English-language and from 18 cultural and French-language parishes in the Diocese of Montreal participated in the conference. There were also representatives from five other dioceses and from several groups.

Bishop  Crowley Award & Rally

The Catholic Community Rally, organized by the English Speaking Catholic Council (ESCC), capped the second day of the conference. 

"The conference and rally are a microcosm of what the diocese (of Montreal) is called to live," Archbishop Lépine told about 250 rally attendees at the hotel Nov. 14. It's a "small but important step for evangelization," he said. Events such as this underline that "we are not alone in our faith."

During the rally the ESCC presented the Bishop Crowley Memorial Award to former Loyola High School principal Paul Donovan for his efforts in defending religious liberty. Under Donovan's leadership, the Jesuit high school challenged the Quebec government's teaching guidelines regarding its Ethics and Religious Culture course. The case was heard by the Supreme Court in March; the ruling is pending.

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