We envision …

This faith and these principles inspire us to envision a Church in which we

  • are disciples of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a community devoted to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, zealous in caring for the needs of others. (Acts 1:8; Acts 2:42; 4:34)
  • are people in whom the biblical Word of God finds rich soil, flourishes in the truth of Catholic theology, and produces a harvest of holiness and social justice. (Luke 6:45; 8:8)
  • are ministered to by faith filled and qualified persons in leadership who imitate the Good Shepherd and are “worthy of their hire.” (1Peter 5:1-4; Mt 10:10)
  • support families, in various forms, striving to be domestic churches which instill Catholic faith and morality in the hearts of the next generation. (Ephesians 5:31-6:4)

Vision 2000
Archdiocese of Dubuque

To develop a planning process that will address the long-term Archdiocesan needs in the areas of distribution of available clergy and the vitality of the existing parishes.



[expand title="Table of Contents"]

Table of Contents

  • Cluster Planning Summary Report
  • Guidelines for Clusters
  • General Expectations and Principles


  • Cluster Pastoral Planning
  • Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee
  • Communication
  • Sample Bulletin Inserts
  • Draft Proposal for Cluster Catechesis
  • Planning for Parishes (John Paul II)

First Meeting

  • “The Parish Is”
  • Agenda
  • Parish Resource Study: Criteria for Parish Vitality
  • Questions for Pastor and Parish Representatives

Second Meeting

  • “The Parish Is”
  • Agenda
  • Starter Ideas for Cluster Planning
  • Cluster Pastoral Plan
  • Parish Resource Study: Physical Plant Worksheets
  • Something to Think About!

Third Meeting

  • “To guide and enliven parishes”
  • Agenda

Fourth Meeting

  • “Parish vs. Parochialism”
  • Agenda

Glossary for Cluster Pastoral Planning


[expand title="Planning Summary Report"]

Purpose of Cluster Planning:

To develop a planning process that will address the long-term Archdiocesan needs in the areas of distribution of available clergy and the vitality and the preservation of the existing parishes (Goal 1.2; Vision 2000).

Values/Assumptions of the Cluster Process:

  • We cannot continue to operate as a church of ten/fifteen/thirty or more years ago because of constant and rapid changes in:
  • population
  • economics
  • the numbers of clergy, religious and parishioners
  • ministry needs
  • The Episcopal Vicar will suggest a possible cluster/merger arrangement, but it should be validated by the parishes involved.
  • Efforts should be made to preserve, where possible, the identity of each parish.
  • The parishes should be involved in the process.
  • Professional staffing should be required in each cluster.
  • The number of weekend Masses should be limited to three, when possible.
  • All parishes of the Archdiocese should be connected by programs, personnel, or both.
  • The clustering process should be phased in as determined by the Episcopal Vicars.
  • Ordinarily the parishes will be given a year to prepare for cluster

Summary of Process

  • Clustering process will have two phases:
    1. Development of a Plan for Clustering; plan is to be approved by the Episcopal Vicar and the Archbishop.
    2. Implementation of approved Plan for Clustering.
  • The timeline for the complete formation of a cluster will be 3-5 years. The planning phase usually takes eight months to a year.
  • Episcopal Vicars and Deans determine the group of parishes that are to initiate a dialogue that leads to clustering. Criteria for selecting a group of parishes might include:
    • pastors nearing retirement age.
    • terms of pastor assignment coming due.
    • population shifts projected or already occurred.
    • the need for a new church because of population growth.
  • Episcopal Vicar meets with the Dean and the pastors in the proposed cluster to:
    • determine willingness to develop support for the clustering process.
    • clarify the leadership role of the pastor in every stage of the process.
    • consider the readiness of the parishes to begin cluster planning.
    • identify the major opportunities and problems that may be encountered in the process.
    • establish specific time schedules and meeting locations, and address other logistical concerns.

  • Episcopal Vicar meets with parish leadership and designated staff of the parishes involved to assess readiness for clustering. The goal is to reach an initial agreement among the parishes to pursue a cluster plan and agreement.
  • Pastors will initiate the process to elect representatives to the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee. They will inform their parishioners of the process (see sample communication materials).
  • A Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee (CPPC), consisting of the pastor and two representatives from each parish, should be formed when the Episcopal Vicar determines that the parishes are ready to begin cluster pastoral planning. Two alternates should also be elected to represent the parish in the absence of one of the original representatives. The representatives and their alternates are to be present at all Cluster Planning Committee meetings.
    The committee’s tasks will include:
    • studying the specific issues that the plan for clustering should address.
    • identifying in each parish the resources that support and sustain the mission of the Church.
    • identifying and prioritizing the strengths and limitations of the proposed cluster.
    • keeping Parish Council and parishioners informed regarding the cluster planning.
    • developing a plan for the clustering process including a timetable for implementation.
    • presenting the plan for clustering for the approval of the Episcopal Vicar and the Archbishop.
    • continuing to work on implementation of the approved plan.
    • preparing reports on cluster progress.
  • Episcopal Vicar receives Plans for Clustering approved by parish councils. If satisfactory, the Episcopal Vicar presents the plan to the Archbishop for his approval.
  • Episcopal Vicar reviews annual reports on progress of clustering. He may meet with the pastors or the CPPC for periodic reports or to assist in resolving problems that arise.


To guide and enliven pastoral units, the collaboration of the priests and lay persons is increasingly necessary. Around the pastor, the pastoral councils, leadership teams and the pastoral rotas play an indispensable role. In particular, they allow the best structuring of the various levels of ecclesial life: the local community, sometimes small, but a living and active team, the parish itself, then the district or the larger pastoral region, and lastly, the whole diocese. It is important to see that exchanges are fostered in both directions, that leaders hear the requests from the grassroots and that the instructions given by the leaders themselves, beginning with those of the Bishop, unite everyone. John Paul II “The Vocation of the Parish”


[expand title="Guidelines, Expectations, Principles & Planning"]

I. Definition:

A cluster is the collaboration and sharing among several parishes of pastoral leadership, staff, resources and/or programs.

II. Rationale:

The reason for the arrangement of parishes into clusters is to coordinate the ministerial activities of the parishes so that they might be a more effective expression of Church.

III. Goal:

The goal (aim) is to ensure that, by clustering, parishes have sufficient resources and facilities, both now and in the foreseeable future, to support a vibrant and vital faith community without placing unrealistic expectations and undue burden on the pastor, staff, or parishioners.

IV. Expected Outcomes:

That collaboration among neighboring parishes will promote sharing of parish life, parish resources, religious education programs, service programs, fundraising, etc., and will foster a sense of community within the larger cluster and Archdiocesan Church.

V. Guidelines for Parish Cluster Alignments:

  • Each priest serving the Cluster will celebrate Mass not more than three times on a weekend when ever possible.
  • Personnel other than a priest may be responsible for the administration of the parishes and the cluster.
  • Professional staff to assist all the parishes in the cluster should be hired.
  • A cluster budget, in addition to the parish budget, will be implemented for fair and equal distribution of costs incurred with shared services and personnel.
  • Parishes are encouraged to work toward collaboration and cooperation in programs and services.
  • Clustering parishes will determine the mechanisms of operation for their particular cluster, which best meet the goal and expected outcomes for clusters and is in keeping with the Archdiocesan guidelines for a viable parish in the areas of spiritual growth, education, parish life, social concerns, finance, administration and leadership.


The general expectation of every Cluster Pastoral Plan is that it promote the spiritual renewal of the people of the parishes within the particular cluster. Through this process, all the parishes within the cluster are expected to become more aware of the elements that identify them as vital communities of the faithful who are promoting the work of the Church. Members of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee propose how to advance both parish and cluster vitality by prayerfully reflecting on the use of the spiritual and the temporal resources of the parishes. The Cluster Pastoral Plan is intended to describe how the parishes in the cluster, working together, will develop and become increasingly vital throughout the next five years.
Certain principles should be followed in the development of a recommended Cluster Pastoral Plan. These principles are consistent with the fundamental principles of pastoral rule identified in the Directory of the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, Sacred Congregation for Bishops, 1973 (cf par ##93-98).

They are:

  1. To assure current and accurate knowledge of the common good of the diocese by ongoing study, by counsel with and discussions with the faithful (cf. Principle of the Common Good).
  2. To insure that clergy and laity understand the importance of deepening the unity among the faithful in parishes, the diocesan bishop and the entire Catholic Church (cf. Principle of Unity).
  3. To assist the Catholic people in the cluster to become more aware of Church issues which extend beyond the boundaries of their own parish to the wider community and to help them to cooperate in programs and to share resources so that the people are served more faithfully and effectively (cf. Principle of Responsible Cooperation).
  4. To insure respect for the legitimate competencies of others, by providing them with the influence they need and support for their initiatives (cf. Principle of Subsidiarity).
  5. To enable every parish in the cluster to have an ongoing willingness to consult and plan in collaboration with other parishes of the cluster to address pastoral needs which can be met more effectively through inter-parochial cooperation (cf. Principle of Coordination)


“Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. When you search for me, you will find me, when you search wholeheartedly for me, you will find me, Yahweh declares. I shall restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and wherever I have driven you, Yahweh declares. I shall bring you back to the place from which I exiled you” (Jeremiah 29:14-14).

The purpose of the Cluster Pastoral Planning is to reflect prayerfully on and evaluate the vitality of the Church in the reality of a cluster of parishes, and to effectively provide for pastoral leadership. The product of the Cluster Pastoral Planning is the recommendation to the Episcopal Vicar, for presentation to the Archbishop, of a five-year pastoral plan for the parishes in the cluster. The plan would include organizing and coordinating ministerial activities within the cluster for a more effective expression of Church in the parishes of that cluster. It would be developed within the spirit of the Archdiocesan renewal and according to the themes of the Archdiocesan Vision 2000 Strategic Plan.


Cluster Pastoral Planning is an integral part of the Archdiocesan Strategic Plan – Vision 2000, Community Goal 1.2, since it enables a group of parishes to find the ways and means to be better Church communities in our Archdiocese within the present realities and in the most authentic and effective manner possible. Because the catholicity of each parish calls it to be concerned with making disciples of all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19), a cluster of parishes will find value in comparing and coordinating their pastoral efforts with one another. Cluster Pastoral Planning allows parishes to learn from the pastoral plans of neighboring parishes, to blend with and support one another’s plans and when advisable, to combine these efforts with other parishes in certain common activities.
Through Cluster Pastoral Planning, the Episcopal Vicar gathers representatives from a group of parishes to reflect prayerfully and to dialogue about the vitality of the Church in that area. The Episcopal Vicar leads the group in a collaborative process to evaluate whether the parishes, parish resources, programs, buildings and organizational structures in a given cluster are of the necessary number, type and variety in light of the parish pastoral plans of that cluster. In the spirit of ongoing conversion, some change can always be anticipated in Cluster Pastoral Planning. In some instances, given the realities in a particular cluster, a parish may need to be founded there, or altered or even closed. The same could be said of schools, programs and other parish organizations as the situation warrants.


Members of the Parish Pastoral Council participate in ongoing pastoral planning on a parish level and some members participate as well in pastoral planning on the cluster level.

“And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. Each day with one heart, they regularly went to the Temple but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved” (Acts of the Apostles 2:44 ff).


Cluster Pastoral Planning begins with an appreciation for “what exists” in the parishes of the cluster; what gives “life” and activates parishioners’ competencies and energies. In Cluster Pastoral Planning, the knowledge generated in the Parish Resource Study is “put to work” to assist pastors and parishioners in carrying out the mission of the Church. The Plan for Clustering is intended to propose a potential for the parishes within the cluster that is challenging. It recognizes that the existing organization, structures and practices of the parishes are capable of becoming more effective if people from different parishes work together to develop a plan for parishes to cooperate.

The proposed Plan for Clustering is developed by a Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee. This committee assists by identifying the best way for parishes of the cluster to support one another in their work. After completing the Parish Resource Study, the Pastors and selected representatives from the Parish Pastoral Councils share with one another the results of their Parish Resource Studies, identify common goals and priorities, and plan how the parishes might work together to build up the Church in their area. A cluster agreement for making decisions that affect all the parishes in a cluster is developed and presented to the Episcopal Vicar. Plans for the future of the cluster are included in the proposal. Upon approval of the Cluster Plan by the Archbishop and the appointment of the pastor, the Cluster Council begins its leadership role.

Jesus’ Mission

The spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me to bring
glad tidings to the poor,
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year of acceptance
to the Lord.
Lk 4:16-22

Is Our Mission


[expand title="Cluster Pastoral Committee"]

The committee shall be formed when the Episcopal Vicar determines that the parishes are ready to begin Cluster Pastoral Planning. The committee is responsible for developing a recommended Cluster Pastoral Plan. Like the Parish Pastoral Councils, the committee must be guided by prayer, education, and reflection at every meeting.

1. Membership qualities. The committee consists of the Episcopal Vicar, along with the pastor and two representatives (and two alternates) from the Parish Pastoral Council of each of the parishes in the cluster.

Each person selected to be a representative to the committee shall:

  1. be a member with some experience (present or past) on the Parish Pastoral Council of the parish which they represent. Ordinarily, each member should have a working knowledge of the parish;
  2. be able to communicate to the members of the Parish Pastoral Council the suggestions of the committee and vice versa;
  3. have a positive attitude toward pastoral planning, a commitment to fostering the good of the whole cluster and the flexibility to assist in achieving consensus;
  4. have a vision of Church broader than her or his own parish;
  5. be willing to make a commitment to attend all the meetings of the committee;
  6. be willing to maintain confidentiality, when required;
  7. possess a sense of unity which unites parishioners with their pastor and the Archbishop.

In addition, it would be helpful if the representatives possess familiarity with the Vision 2000 Strategic Planning Process in the Archdiocese, a willingness to enter into and/or lead the committee in prayerful reflection at its meetings, and have a general contemporary knowledge of Church teaching.

Members identified to serve on the committee will normally continue to serve until the conclusion of the Cluster Pastoral Planning process even if their term on the Parish Pastoral Council expires during that time. In such cases, they should be invited to the Parish Pastoral Council meetings when issues of Cluster Pastoral Planning are discussed.

2. Selection and Size of the Committee. The Pastor of each parish shall nominate four members from the Parish Pastoral Council (past or present). The members of the Parish Pastoral Council shall then select from among these nominees two representatives to serve on the committee and two alternates (alternates are encouraged to attend meetings of the committee). Vacancies resulting from the loss of a parish representative will be filled according to this same process.

Committee Membership Roles

1. Episcopal Vicar. The Episcopal Vicar will consult with the Pastors of the parishes in the cluster to consider the readiness of the parishes in the cluster to begin Cluster Pastoral Planning, determine specific time schedules, meeting locations and other logistical concerns, identify the major opportunities and problems that could be encountered in the process, and clarify the specific role of the pastor in every stage of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Process.

After consultation with the committee, the Episcopal Vicar will determine the specific issues that must be addressed by the plan. The Episcopal Vicar may also consult appropriate Archdiocesan staff and others as necessary.

The committee shall be administered by the Episcopal Vicar, who shall convene the meetings, approve agendas, and review both the minutes and the summary communications of each meeting. The Episcopal Vicar shall appoint a Committee Coordinator who will chair the meetings (cf. “a” below), a Secretary (cf. “b” below) and a Communications Liaison Person (cf. “c” below).

The Committee Coordinator, in consultation with the Episcopal Vicar and the committee, may form ad hoc subcommittees made up of other individuals representing the parishes. Such individuals may include Pastoral Associates, Principals of the parish schools, Directors of Religious education, Parish Social Workers, Parish Directors, Chairpersons of Liturgy Committees, etc. This arrangement allows for participation by deacons, religious, priests or laity who hold such positions in the parish.

Without prejudice to the responsibility of the committee to achieve a consensus on its recommendations, the Episcopal Vicar always may call special meetings of some or all of the cluster’s pastors as spiritual leaders in their respective parishes to promote the spiritual welfare of the cluster. During Cluster Pastoral Planning such gatherings of the pastors may wish to consider, for example, evaluating the progress of the committee(s), reviewing special difficulties, and receiving suggestions to improve the work of that cluster’s committee(s).

The Episcopal Vicar will also review the plan to insure that the process was faithfully followed and to exercise his own pastoral discretion as a Episcopal Vicar in shaping the final product. He will either return it to the committee with his comments for further development or recommend it to the Archbishop for his approval. The Episcopal Vicar will ask the Dean for periodic progress reports on the cluster.

2. Pastors. The pastors have an essential role to assist the Archbishop through the Episcopal Vicar in leading the people of the parishes through the pastoral planning process in their cluster. The Episcopal Vicar, as leader of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Process, will consult with the pastors in the cluster to:

  1. consider the readiness of the parishes in the cluster to begin Cluster Pastoral Planning;
  2. determine specific time schedules, meeting locations and other logistical concerns;
  3. identify the major opportunities and problems that could be encountered in the process;
  4. clarify the specific role of the pastor in every stage of the Cluster Pastoral Planning process;
  5. assess the effectiveness of the committee in accomplishing its work.

3. The Parish Representatives. While some members of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee contribute designated services (such as the recording of meeting minutes) over and above their regular service on the committee, it is the regular work of every member of the committee to assist the Episcopal Vicar in devising a plan for the future of the Church’s work in that cluster.

  1. The Committee Coordinator. A Committee Coordinator will be appointed by the Episcopal Vicar from among the committee members. The Committee Coordinator assists the Episcopal Vicar in the ordinary business of the committee and chairs the meetings.
  2. The Committee Secretary. A secretary, who shall be a member of the committee, will be appointed by the Committee Coordinator to keep summary Minutes of each meeting. These minutes should be printed and distributed prior to the next meeting.
  3. The Communications Liaison Person. A communications liaison person, who need not be a member of the committee, shall draw upon the minutes and reports of the committee in order to draft regular communiques. These communications reports are intended to make information available uniformly to the Parish Pastoral Councils of the cluster and, through the Councils, to parishioners.

4. The Facilitator. A qualified facilitator, approved by the Episcopal Vicar in consultation with the committee, will be responsible for assisting the committee to complete its work. The facilitator is not a member of the committee. The Director of Pastoral Planning will serve as staff to the Episcopal Vicar and be responsible for assisting the CPPC to complete its work.


[expand title="Communication & Bulletin Inserts"]

Reasons to Communicate with the Parishioners and the Community where Parishes are Located

The value and effectiveness of Cluster Pastoral Planning is very dependent on keeping parish members and others in the communities around the parishes and the Church in Dubuque informed. In some degree, the need for information about this activity includes also representatives of the business and government communities. As a result, both in preparation for and throughout the work of Cluster Pastoral Planning, it is to the benefit of those involved in the process that they create an adequate system of regular communications both within the parish and throughout the cluster and the archdiocese. Parishioners want to be aware of significant developments in a timely manner. There are four general areas that should be addressed by every parish.

1. BUILD AWARENESS “This is what is happening”
give specific information about the Cluster Pastoral Planning process. Sample explanations that can be adapted locally and printed in bulletins and/or newsletters are included in this booklet.
restate and affirm the archdiocesan statements and the purposes for Cluster Pastoral Planning in the cluster.

2. PROVIDE A STATUS REPORT “This is where we are going”

  • share the findings about the cluster from the Cluster Report and from the information collected by each of
  • the parishes in their parish self studies.
  • share the goals of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Process.

3. FOLLOW-UP “This is what it will mean to you and how we will make it work

  • statements of support from the Episcopal Vicar, the Pastor, and the Parish Pastoral Council.
  • provide specific information on the options that will be tried in the cluster and how they might affect the parish and the people (for example, parishioners will be asked to support and participate in an adult religious education center to serve the cluster).
  • identify cluster planning as a way to get support from other parishes for individual parish goals that require the support of neighboring parishes.
  • listen to and act on parish staff and parishioners’ suggestions and needs.


The completion of the writing of the plan to be proposed to the Archbishop sets the stage for the Pastor, other members of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, and Parish Pastoral Council Members to become spokespersons for the plan, explaining how it will effect the life of the parish and encouraging parishioners to appreciate that which is being addressed by the plan.
The approval of the proposed plan by the Archbishop sets the stage for actions to begin in the parish to accomplish the goals. It is a moment in the history of the parish that calls for celebration.


Who celebrates?

The entire Parish.
Why celebrate?

To rejoice in the grace of the moment.

To affirm the goals as an expression of the parish mission.

To express appreciation for the time, talent, and treasure invested by the members of the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, the Parish Pastoral Council, and others.
How can you celebrate?

A prayerful celebration focusing on the three original questions that the parish self study process asked and that were enhanced by the work of the cluster pastoral planning:

Who are we?
What do we value?
Who do we seek to become as a parish faith community?

A presentation of the major goals and required actions from the Cluster Pastoral Plan.

A ceremony of appreciation to all the members of the Parish Pastoral
Council, especially those who served on the Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee for their gifts of time and talent to the parish.

A parish social gathering


[expand title="Draft Proposal & Planning for Parishes - John Paul II"]

Fr. Dennis Colter

1. Purpose: Assist pastors, deans and vicars in preparing parishioners for clustering.

2. Objectives/Content

2.1. Promote understanding and support for clustering based on these needs;

2.1.1. Enable parishes to share resources
2.1.2. Help maintain small parishes
2.1.3. Strengthen parish vitality
2.1.4 Promote lay ministry
2.1.5. Help meet clergy shortage

2.2. Promote understanding of Catholic community and its importance

2.2.1. Spiritual and theological importance of community
2.2.2. Levels of community Universal and archdiocesan church Parish Regions and clusters

2.3. Help parishioners confront gains and losses involved

2.3.1. Gains Services no single parish can afford Maintenance of small parish and service of a priest Increased sense of community

2.3.2 Losses Some loss of sense of parish identity For some, loss of resident priest For some, less frequent Mass For some, greater expense

2.4. Help parishioners understand theology of priesthood and role of the priest and laity

2.4.1. Baptismal priesthood of all the faithful and ministerial priesthood
2.4.2. Role of lay ministers
2.4.3. Role of the priest

2.5. Address issues relating to the Eucharist

2.5.1. Sign and symbol
2.5.2. Community and Eucharist: participation
2.5.3. Meaning of the Mass: Eucharistic prayer
2.5.4. The communion service in this context
2.5.5. Music, art, environment, personal and communal attitudes
2.5.6. Numbers of Masses
2.5.7. Mass times

2.6. Acquaint people with the planning process

2.6.1. Remind them of Speak Out process
2.6.2. Work of the Cluster Planning Committee
2.6.3. Vicars, deans, pastors and identification of potential clusters
2.6.4. Parish leadership involvement
2.6.5. Local Cluster Task Force
2.6.6. Vicars and Archbishop’s approval
2.6.7. Detailed planning and implementation

2.7. Acquaint the people with possible models

2.7.1. Ministries/resources which can be shared
2.7.2. Leadership models (pastoral administrators, etc.)

3. Methods

3.1. Talks, discussions, Q & A
3.2. Media presentations
3.3. Handouts, reading materials

John Paul II
(Published in Church, Summer ‘97)
To be discussed at Parish Council Meetings

“A parish’s vocation can be defined only according to the Church’s sacramental structure. It is here that Christ’s presence in the paschal mystery is visibly signified…. No effort should be spared to make available the principal gifts, which are the sacraments, at every stage of our life,” the Holy Father said to the third group of French Bishops to make their ad limina visit to Rome, when he received them on 25 January. Here is a translation of his address, headlined “The Vocation of the Parish,” which was given in French. It is reprinted from L’Osservatore Romano English edition (February 5, 1997), British spellings retained.

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

  1. During your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles, I am pleased to welcome you, the Pastors of the 10 Dioceses of the Apostolic Region of South – Western France. With you, I invoke Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church. May the first of the Apostles and the Apostle to the nations grant you success in carrying out your pastoral ministry with the light and strength that the Spirit of the Lord gives!
    I thank Cardinal Pierre Eyt, Archbishop of Bordeaux and president of your Apostolic Region, for his enlightening reflections on the Church’s situation in your Dioceses. The difficulties and limitations you suffer were emphasized, but it is also possible to give thanks for the many expressions of real dynamism in your communities.
  2. At this time, many Dioceses feel the need to reorganize and especially to consolidate or revise their territorial structures. Indeed, important changes have taken place and are recurring in the population and in economic activity. Life-styles are changing. One must also note that there is a greater mobility of people whose centres of interest and culture are evolving. The appearance of society is being markedly transformed.Lay people Are Ready to Take an Active RoleFor the Church, the most obvious facts are the decline in the number of priests and often in the number of her practicing members. The causes of these disturbing developments are complex and it is impossible to ignore the influence of social changes on the practice of the faithful and Christian communities long-established in these lands; indeed, institutional adjustments are far from being caused solely by fluctuations in the number of clergy. Established customs and habits abandoned today may be regretted by some, but it is not a question of cherishing nostalgic memories of a past which has sometimes been idealized, nor of blaming anyone. In your quinquennial reports your analyses show that you are aware of the situation and are working to build in these new conditions.Changes are also occurring in a positive way in the attitude of Catholics. You have taken stock of the spiritual journeys, conversions, and involvement within the Church which express a deep qualitative renewal of Christian faith and action. We see a true source of hope in the willingness of a considerable number of lay people to play a more active and diversified role in ecclesial life, and to take the necessary steps to train seriously for this.In this context, your essential mission as Pastors spurs you to reorganize your communities. You have shown that developments are guided by large-scale consultations which do not only consider the practical conditions of the consolidation of parishes or the creation of new pastoral units. Priests and faithful must create the conditions so that the Good News can be proclaimed and the People of God guided and assembled by Christ’s sacramental presence. Diocesan Synods have often been the framework for a remarkable maturing of the baptized, revealing to them their inalienable responsibilities and complementarity in ecclesial life.With regard to the current situations and renewed structures you are setting up, I would simply like to share a few reflections with you on the life of pastoral groups. My intention is to encourage you, with the clergy and faithful of the Dioceses in your country, to base the daily fulfillment of your common mission ever more firmly on the rock of Christ and on the communion of the whole Church.
  3. In making the changes I have just mentioned, the vital forces in many of your Dioceses have clearly understood the importance of the territorial structure of the Church: in close co-ordination with the other pastoral groups, it is essentially the parish which gives the Church concrete life, so that she may be open to all. Whatever its size, it is not merely an association. It must be a home where the members of the Body of Christ gather together, open to meeting God the Father, full of love and Savior in his Son, incorporated into the Church by the Holy Spirit at the time of their Baptism, and ready to accept their brothers and sisters with fraternal love, whatever their condition or origins.The parish institution is meant to provide the church’s great services: prayer in common and the reading of God’s Word, celebrations, especially that of the Eucharist, catechesis for children and the adult catechumenate, the ongoing formation of the faithful, communications designed to make the Christian message known, services of charity and solidarity and the local work of movements. In brief, the image of the sanctuary which is its visible sign, it is a building to be erected together, a body to bring to life and develop together, a community where God’s gifts are received and where the baptized generously make their response of faith, hope and love to the call of the Gospel. At this time when pastoral structures are being renewed, it will be appropriate to resume the in-depth study of the ecclesiological teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium and in the various documents providing directives, especially hose concerning priests and the laity.

    Promote Harmonious Unity among Faithful

    It seems to me that the main concern in this necessary reorganization is to allow the parish effectively to fulfill its functions which I have just recalled. It should therefore not be too small and, as far as possible, it should
    continue to be close to the practicing faithful and all their brothers and sisters. Even when a new consolidation joins Church members from several localities, it is essential to make the greatest efforts to safeguard their historical, material and human patrimony, doing all you can to provide Christians with the spiritual help they need, and seeing that shrines remain places of habitual prayer and that popular devotional practices are not forgotten.

  4. An essential question is obviously that of leaders. To guide and enliven pastoral units, the collaboration of priests and lay persons is increasingly necessary. Around the pastor, the pastoral councils, leadership teams and the pastoral rotas play an indispensable role. In particular, they allow the best structuring of the various levels of ecclesial life: the local community, sometimes small, but a living and active team, the parish itself, then the district or the larger pastoral region, and lastly, the whole Diocese. It is important to see that exchanges are fostered in both directions: that leaders hear the requests from the grassroots and that the instructions given by the leaders themselves, beginning with those of the Bishop, unite everyone.All this presupposes that priests and lay people clearly co-ordinate, without confusion, the concerns of the ministerial priesthood and of the universal priesthood according to the Council’s teaching in the Constitution on the Church, as I stressed in Reims (cf. Address to pastoral workers in the cathedral, n. 4, 22 September 1996; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 October 1996, p. 8). The lay faithful who carry out ecclesial duties know they do not replace the priest, but co-operate in a common task, which belongs to the whole Church.One of the main concerns of pastors and of the faithful who have responsibilities is to promote harmonious unity in the community. This is an essential condition if the local Church is to be a transparent sign of Christ’s presence in the eyes of the baptized who do not take part in her daily life and in society as a whole. Among Christians, there is an enormous diversity of social backgrounds, cultures, interests as well as charisms. The parishes’ vocation is precisely to enable each individual to express himself and to be part of the unity of the body formed by different but complementary members. Let us not cease to meditate on St. Paul’s lessons in this regard (cf. 1Cor 12).In particular, the ecclesial community must continue to be a meeting place for the generations, despite the gaps which are often observed. Without passively waiting, adults must keep in touch with young people, must be able to accept them, listen to their requests, understand their problems and their worries about the future, give them a place to which they are fully entitled, and a share in their responsibilities. Diocesan synods have often been concerned about this; it is right to do all we can to enable young people to continue their Christian formation among themselves as they often wish to do, but also to help them fit into the adult world to which they have a great deal to contribute. I will return to the pastoral care of youth, but at this point I am keen to stress that we should be careful not to isolate them from the whole context of pastoral life.

    Word of God is a Priceless Gift

  5. The ecclesial community’s vitality emerges in its fidelity to the mission which the Lord entrusted to his disciples: evangelization. We are the guardians and messengers of the Good News. In all its forms the apostolate consists first of all in transmitting and preaching the word of salvation, and knowledge of the Word who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. God’s Word alone can truly illumine each individual’s path, give full meaning to family life, to professional activities and to the thousand tasks of social life, and open the way to hope.The Word we acclaim in the liturgy and for which we glorify God is directly addressed to the faithful who are present. The community gathered together must itself be constantly evangelized: each believer always needs to let himself be challenged by Christ and to be converted by listening to the Word which makes great demands but at the same time is a priceless gift, for it is the proclamation of salvation, reconciliation and the victory of life over death.The preparation of children and young people to accept the Word of life is a fundamental mission of evangelization for communities. “That … which we have heard … which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life’ (1 Jn 1:1), we must proclaim from generation to generation. Awakening the faith in children catechesis and Christian initiation must inspire the deepest devotion in those who dedicate themselves to this task and to acquiring skills without which the other parishioners might lose interest in what continues to be a mission for all.Should Catholics not also be constantly challenged about what they do to present Christ’s message to those who only occasionally go to church, to baptized persons who let the grace received in childhood remain buried? may they find at their side convinced and welcoming witnesses, respectful of each one’s way but ready to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15)! We are fortunate to believe, and must know how to share it.If we are imbued with the grace of the faith enlivened by hope and inspired by charity, there is no happy or sad aspect of village or neighborhood life which can fail to move us. Thus evangelization will take different forms in social solidarity, family life, work, neighborly relations. An isolated witness has its limitations, but witnesses stimulated by the community will be better able to share the “hope [that] does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).Within the context of parishes or pastoral districts, as I briefly recalled, movements and associations of the faithful give the mission a valuable incentive, seeing to its good co-ordination and integration in the whole. They help develop the spiritual life, form youth, share apostolic concern in the different walks of life and see that the service of the most underprivileged is effective and constant (cf. Apostolic actuositatem, n. 24; Exhortation Christifideles laici, n. 30).

    Invite People to Pray for Priestly Vocations

    Today I would once again like to encourage the faithful of your Dioceses to renew the commitments to evangelization as individuals, in the family and in the groups which have been formed. They will be encouraged by the Letter to the Catholics of France recently adopted by your Episcopal Conference.

  6. After dealing with the question of responsible community leadership by priests and lay people, and that of evangelization missions, it would now be appropriate briefly to recall the heart of ecclesial life: for the parish is the most important place for the celebration of the sacraments, and in particular, for the Eucharist, the source of sanctification for every state of life. A parish’s vocation can be defined only according to the Church’s sacramental structure. It is here that Christ’s presence in the paschal mystery is visibly signified. At Mass, the offerings of all converge: of happiness and suffering, apostolic efforts and fraternal services of all kinds. The Lord associates the sacrifices of his brothers and sisters with his own sacrifice. He gathers us in his Holy Spirit, he strengthens our faith and our charity, he listens to our petitions to the Father to extend reconciliation, salvation and peace to the whole world and unites us with the saints of every age as we wait for full communion in his kingdom.It is true that many of the faithful suffer from the fact that Mass can no longer be celebrated near their homes nor as often as formerly. Priests are less numerous and further away. For this reason it is all the more important that we give the Eucharist its full value. A community is impoverished if it does not fervently discover this vital link with the Lord, the source of all Christian life and every apostolate. The Eucharistic gathering is the place where this fundamental reality of the faith is tangibly recognized.No effort should be spared to make available the principal gifts, which are the sacraments, at every stage of our life. Christian life begins with the sanctifying grace of Baptism; young people’s entry into Christian maturity is strengthened by Confirmation; the constitution of the couple and foundation of a family are consecrated by participation in the covenant of Marriage; in facing evil and sin, the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation is granted and explicitly signified by the sacrament of Penance;
    suffering is linked to the Cross in the Anointing of the Sick. At the heart of the Christian communities’ mission, preparation for the sacraments is obviously of primary importance.Doubtless a keener awareness of the gifts bestowed upon his Church by the Lord will invite people to value vocations to the priestly ministry, so that God’s word may be imparted, Christ be made sacramentally present and the People of God be guided. May your pastoral communities never cease to beg the Lord to call young people to total consecration in order to serve him among their brothers and sisters!
  7. It is true that the vastness of your mission may seem to exceed the possibilities of communities which know their limitations and their poverty. It is by faith that they must discover that they are created in the image of the Son of Man and the little band of his disciples who had their weaknesses, nonetheless, they laid the foundations of the Church, which received the promise of fidelity from Christ the Good Shepherd.Poverty of numbers, means and abilities must invite us to rely truly on the Lord. The Church knows she is vulnerable but signs of grace are apparent in the apostolic dynamism to which you witness and for which we must thank Christ who never abandons his flock but guides it by the Holy Spirit.May your meeting with the Bishop of Rome strengthen you in your ministry! Please convey my affectionate greetings and encouragement to the diocesan priests, deacons, religious and lay people who are involved in pastoral councils, leadership teams or the pastoral rotas, to the sick and to all the faithful, that they may advance in their various missions as baptized persons in the organic unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.I invoke Our Lady’s motherly intercession and the grace of divine blessings on you and on all your diocesan communities.

The parish is,
first, a people.
It can be called
an expression of the
character of
Catholic Christian life.
But simply stated,
it is a people,
a people called together
by God.
It is a people
empowered by the Spirit
to make increasingly
true and obvious
their response to God
through Christ.
The parish tries
to take shape
in this context
of faith and prayer,
always with openness
to the Spirit.

“A Statement of the Committee on the Parish,” National Conference of Catholic Bishops


[expand title="First Meeting of Cluster Committee"]

Clustering – First Meeting of Cluster
Pastoral Planning Committee

introduce the cluster process
provide archdiocesan perspectives
identify first steps for parishes
initiate theParish Resource Study
answer questions

Participants: Episcopal Vicar,
Dean, Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, Staff, Parish Councils, Director of Pastoral Planning


  1. Welcome, Prayer and Introductions
  2. Rationale for Clustering ProcessDefinition of a cluster
    Experience of clustering in the Archdiocese of Dubuque
    Reason for clustering now
    Vision 2000 commitments – Community Goal 1.2
    Availability of priests and religious
    Vitality of parish life
    Rationale for this grouping of parishes
  3. Expectations of the dialogue among parishes
    Sharing of parish studies, identifying strengths and limitations
    Assessing staffing requirements
    Affirming or adjusting the grouping of parishes
    Developing of a plan to implement clustering
  4. Process
    Appoint a chairperson and identify a secretary/communications person
    Explain the structure of the committee
    Give directions for the Parish Resource Study
    Review cluster models
    Develop a plan for this cluster
    Describe the approval processNext meeting: Date: Place: Time:

    Prayer Leader: _________________________________

  5. Tasks to be completed by next meeting:
    Parish Resource Study completed by each parish council or sub-committee
    Pastors and Parish Councils share information regarding cluster process with their own parish, e.g., bulletin inserts and/or meeting
    Minutes distributed to CPPC
  6. Closing Prayer

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[expand title="Second Meeting of Cluster Committee"]

Clustering – Second Meeting of Cluster
Pastoral Planning Committee


  • determine current resources such as personnel, programs, services, etc.
  • share Parish Resource Study reports
  • identify strengths and limitations of the proposed cluster
  • initiate discussion of the plan for the cluster
  • appoint a committee to write a draft Plan for Clustering

Participants: Episcopal Vicar, Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, Director of Pastoral Planning, parishioner observers

  1. Welcome, Opening Prayer and Introductions
    Minutes of previous meeting
    Report on efforts to share information with parishioners
  2. Parish Resource Study reports
  3. Prioritize strengths and limitations
  4. Initiate discussion regarding plan for clustering
    Archdiocesan Guidelines
    Episcopal Vicar’s expectations for the cluster
    Ways to preserve the strengths and address the limitations
    Impact on each parish
    Next meeting: Date: ___________Place: ________________________Time:_________
    Prayer Leader: _________________________________
  5. Tasks to be completed by each Parish Council or a sub-committee by the next meeting:Review the strengths and limitations of the cluster
    Review statistical reports affecting the proposed cluster
    Identify and address impact of clustering on the parish
    Review Starter Ideas for Cluster Plan
    Discussion with parishioners
    Review other cluster agreements
    Prepare a draft of the Plan for Clustering (can be done by sub-committee of the CPPC
  6. Closing Prayer

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[expand title="Third Meeting of Cluster Committee"]

Clustering – Third Meeting of Cluster
Pastoral Planning Committee

review the first draft of the Plan for Clustering
identify and address impact on parishes

Participants: Episcopal Vicar, Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, Director of Pastoral Planning


  1. Welcome, Opening Prayer, and Introductions
  2. Review first draft of Plan for Clustering
  3. Revise if necessary
  4. Discuss impact on parishes and readiness to address them
  5. Review process for approval
  6. Recommend plan to Parish Councils for approval
    Next meeting: Date: ___________Place: _______________________Time:_______________
    Prayer Leader: _________________________________
  7. Tasks to be completed by next meeting:

Plan for Clustering to be approved by all Parish Councils


Parish vs. Parochialism

Parochialism is wary of “others”;
a parish welcomes them.
Parochialism separates us from “them”;
a parish unites us with them.
Parochialism closes us in;
a parish opens us out.
Parochialism forms a club:
a parish fosters community.
parochialism sows suspicions;
a parish promotes respect.
Parochialism segregates and excludes;
a parish incorporates and includes.
Parochialism constricts and confines;
a parish expands and overflows.
Parochialism would have us dig in;
a parish bids us to reach out.
Parochialism is self-centered and self-serving;
a parish is self-effacing in its service.
Parochialism preaches: “Only for us!”
a parish should be magnanimous.
When, therefore, worshipers are concerned
only about their own interests,
they are guilty of parochialism.
If, however, our interest is
in the concerns of others,
we form a true parish.

Walter J. Niebrzydowski

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[expand title="Fourth Meeting of Cluster Committee"]


share Archbishop and Vicar’s approval or reaction to Plan for Clustering
finalize plans for implementation

Participants: Episcopal Vicar, Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee, Director of Pastoral Planning

  1. Welcome, Opening Prayer and Introductions
  2. Episcopal Vicar’s report on status of the Plan for Clustering
  3. Organizational structure determined for implementation of plan
  4. Expectations, Exhortations, etc., from Episcopal Vicar
  5. Celebration of Beginnings and Closing Prayer


[expand title="Glossary"]

An administrator is a person, ordained or non-ordained, whom the Archbishop entrusts with the pastoral care of a parish on a temporary basis when it is vacant or when its pastor or pastoral administrator is unable to fulfill the functions of their office.

Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE)
The Archdiocesan Board of Education is responsible for formal education programs in the Archdiocese. It operates under a constitution approved by the Archbishop from whom it derives its jurisdiction.

Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC)
The APC is a consultative body to the Archbishop which studies and makes recommendations regarding all areas of pastoral ministry; its members are priests, deacons, religious and lay persons elected by their respective groups, or appt. by the Archbishop.

Associate Pastor
An associate pastor is a priest who renders service in pastoral ministry as co-worker with the pastor in common counsel and endeavor with him and under his authority.

A process through which individuals and communities systematically acquire and deepen their Christian faith.

A chaplain is a person, ordained or non-ordained, who provides pastoral care to a hospital or educational community.

Closing is the canonical declaration by the Archbishop in consultation with the Priests’ Council that a parish ceases to exist. Members of the parish join one of the neighboring parishes.

Cluster Pastoral Plan
The plan is a recommendation to the Episcopal Vicar, for presentation to the Archbishop, of a 3-5 year plan for the parishes in the cluster. The plan would include plans for the administrative and ministerial activities within the cluster.

Cluster Pastoral Planning
Cluster pastoral planning is a planning process in which parishes in the same geographic area plan together through prayerful dialogue to carry out the mission of the church in their area.

Cluster Pastoral Planning Committee
Ad hoc committee convened by the Episcopal Vicar, and facilitated by the Arch. Dir. of Pastoral Plan., for the purpose of developing a pastoral plan for the proposed cluster; the pastors and 2 parish council reps. from each parish serve on this committee.

Clustering is the grouping of two or more parishes served by one or more priests. The parishes retain their separate identities, but collaborate in the sharing of ministries and resources.

A process of arriving at a decision after a time of prayer, study, and discussion; characterized by general agreement rather than by voting. It results in a decision that all, or nearly all of the participants agree to accept and support.

Standards by which a parish can measure itself to help clarify its vitality.

Criteria for Vitality
The standards for parish life and ministry required to meet the needs of parishioners in the post-Vatican II Church. The Criteria were developed through a process involving all parishes. deanery councils, the APC, and PC.

A deacon is an ordained minister of the Church assigned to serve a parish in certain sacramental and non-sacramental roles, according to his ministry agreement.

The dean is a priest appointed by the Archbishop to promote and coordinate pastoral activity with a deanery. His specific duties are delineated in Canon 555.

A deanery is a grouping of parishes for the purpose of coordination and collaboration in pastoral activity.

Deanery Council
A representative body of the parishes within a deanery, and serves as a link between the parishes and the APC. It also serves as a forum to facilitate communication and cooperation among the parishes of the deanery and between those parishes and the Archdiocese. Parishes are represented on the deanery council by their pastor/pastoral administrator and one lay representative designated by the parish council.

Episcopal Vicar
An Episcopal Vicar is a priest appointed by the Archbishop to supervise pastoral activity in a certain region of the Archdiocese, and to be the Archbishop’s representative, acting in his name and by his authority, in the region to which he is assigned.

A facilitator is a person identified to have the responsibility of keeping the committee clearly focused on the discussion at hand in an ordered, purposeful way so that the participants’ time together is more productive.

A goal is a purpose toward which an endeavor is directed; a desired end or achievement.

Merging is the joining of two or more parishes in a single new or consolidated parish.

When a parish is closed, the church building may be designated an oratory, where liturgical services may be celebrated on special occasions (e.g., funeral or marriage anniversary of long-time parishioner, etc.) for the benefit of former parishioners.

A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful, established on a stable basis by decree of the Archbishop, and whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor.

A pastor is a priest appointed by the Archbishop as the spiritual leader and administrator responsible for the life and mission of the faith community.

Pastor, multi-site
A pastor residing in one faith community and responsible for one or more others.

Pastor, non-resident
A pastor who does not reside in the faith community.

Pastoral Administrator
A deacon, religious, or lay person appointed by the Archbishop as the spiritual leader and administrator responsible for the life and mission of the faith community; a priest is designated to provide Eucharist and other sacraments.

Pastoral Associate
A deacon, religious, or lay person who serves the parish in multiple areas of ministry. This position is analogous to that of an associate pastor in that he/she assists the pastor in fulfilling the entire pastoral ministry of the parish.

Pastoral Minister
A pastoral minister is a deacon, religious, or lay person who serves the parish in a specific ministerial role (e.g., Youth Minister, Director of Religious Education, etc.).

Pastoral Team, interparish
Two or more clergy or laypersons appointed by the Archbishop to provide spiritual leadership, administration, and other pastoral services for several faith communities.

Priests’ Council (PC)
The Priests’ Council is a consultative body to the Archbishop whose members are elected by the priests of the Archdiocese or appointed by the Archbishop.

Priests’ Personnel Advisory Board (PAB)
The PAB is an advisory body to the Archbishop which makes recommendations regarding the assignment of priests. Members are elected by the priests of the Archdiocese.

A region is a district of the Archdiocese, in which pastoral activity is supervised by an Episcopal Vicar. The Archdiocese of Dubuque is divided into three regions: Cedar Rapids Region, Dubuque Region, and Waterloo Region.

Sacramental Minister
A sacramental minister is a priest assigned to perform sacramental ministry in a parish whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a pastoral administrator.

The cooperation among several faith communities relative to pastoral leadership, staff, resources and/or programs.

Supervising Pastor
A supervising pastor is a priest (usually the Dean) who is assigned to supervise the pastoral care provided to a parish by a pastoral administrator.

Vicar General
The Vicar General is a priest who is appointed to exercise the executive authority of the Archbishop in all matters of diocesan administration except those which the Archbishop has reserved to himself, or which, by law, require a special mandate.