Bishop Ronald Fabbro, Diocese of London, ON. Register file photo.

Diocese of London learning lessons of its new reality

By  Mickey Conlon, The Catholic Register
  • June 21, 2019

The baby steps are out of the way, but no one is about to go sprinting through the next phase of re-constructing the Diocese of London.

As the diocese launches the second phase of its Family of Parishes that will bundle a number of parishes under one umbrella this summer, the lessons gleaned from the initial phase are expected to iron out the rough spots, says Bishop Ronald Fabbro.

The primary lesson, said Fabbro, is giving parishes a six-month transition period before the new “family” is activated. When all is said and done, in about four years time, London’s 131 parishes and missions will become 30 Family of Parishes serving 444,000 Catholics.

“Families that are prepared for this, it goes much more smoothly,” said Fabbro. “The people understand it, they understand the reasons behind it and it works much better than if they’re presented with something that’s totally new.”

The London bishop believes the people in the pews understand the reality the Church faces in his southwestern Ontario diocese — priests are aging and their numbers are declining, parishioners themselves are getting older and dying off and younger people are not taking their places in the pews. So they’ve been receptive to the diocese’s plan that has already seen 10 parishes come together into two families during the “pioneer” phase launched in 2018 and another six families to be activated on July 2.

“I think they see this as a positive way forward, that the diocese can continue to serve our parishes by working together,” said Fabbro.

The Family of Parishes concept came out of The Task Force on the Future of Pastoral Care in the Faith Communities of the Diocese of London established by Fabbro in 2014, which brought together clergy, diocesan personnel, representatives from St. Peter’s Seminary and the Institute of Ongoing Formation and parishioners. After consultation and discernment, the task force chose the Family of Parishes model as the way forward to assure the stability to be a diocese of mission-oriented parishes.

“The message we’re getting out now with the families is we’re not just bringing four or five parishes together, what we’re doing is we’re building stability in our diocese as we look to the future which will enable us to be more mission-oriented,” said Fabbro.

The pioneer phase brought together five parishes each under two families, in Chatham and Norfolk County. Three priests are serving the Chatham family and two are looking after needs in Norfolk.

Starting July 2 there will be one new family in each of the London and Essex deaneries, with two each in the Windsor and Kent deaneries.

Fabbro said it was important to get the input from the first two families before moving forward. Retreats were held where priests could share their implementation experience. 

Fr. Jim Higgins is pastor of the Chatham Catholic Family of Parishes. He likens it to a “blended family” where each parish brings its own unique qualities to the table. In an e-mail to The Catholic Register, Higgins said that even though it’s been in existence for a year, “we are still evolving and learning how to best minister and serve the family we have been graced to lead.”

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