Bishop Ronald P. Fabbro talks with young people during CCLC week, a summer camp run by the London diocese. Photo by Alyssa Minton, courtesy Diocese of London

London youth to benefit from amalgamation, diocese says

By  Christina Donati, Youth Speak News
  • January 26, 2018
LONDON, Ont. – The reality of a priest shortage is hitting home for the Diocese of London and raising concerns about the future of youth ministry.

Beginning Jan. 1, the diocese began its rollout of the Family of Parishes initiative which has combined groups of parishes into a single community manned by a team of priests and youth ministers. The idea, introduced in 2015, is that while an individual parish may lose a dedicated pastoral team, the community as a whole will be better off.

“I think there will be a lot of positives for younger people,” said Claire Bondy, the Family and Youth Ministry specialist for the London diocese. “I anticipate that every Family (of Parishes) will have someone on staff as part of the pastoral team who is responsible for ministering to young people and families.” 

London Bishop Ronald P. Fabbro appointed two pilot Families of Parishes — one in the Chatham area and one in the Port Dover area, each combining five parishes. The rest of the Families will roll out over the next eight years in the southwestern Ontario diocese that is home to 131 parishes.

These amalgamations mean there will generally be two to three priests in charge of looking after a grouping of parishes. 

When asked if clustering the parishes will affect youth groups, Bondy said, “I think youth groups are already impacted. The model of ministry that focuses on youth groups is crumbling and it has nothing to do with a shortage of priests or any other situations except for the societal norms, the stretching of family obligations and social media.” 

Bondy said that the clustering will be a good thing because parishes who couldn’t afford a youth ministry or did not have enough people in their parish for one, will now have the opportunity to have one. 

A manager will be hired to oversee the running of the parish with the support of a pastoral team, so the priest will have more time to attend parish community events, said Bondy.

Fr. Philip Joseph, pastor at Holy Name of Mary Parish in St. Marys, said he believes the Families of Parishes will help youth because they won’t just have one priest, but two, and a youth minister. 

“I will get to have a business administrator to do all of the things that I have to do right now, such as building maintenance,” said Joseph. “I will not have to worry about those things and I will have more time for the pastoral care, so that frees me to spend more time with the people.”

Joseph adds that the parishes joining with Holy Name of Mary may have a youth Mass that his parish’s youth could join. 

Although combining parishes presents a number of opportunities for young people, Joseph also foresees some concerns. 

“Right now, I have just one Catholic school and every week I am there. All of the children know me. I go to the classrooms and I joke around with the kids,” he said.

“With the clustering, I may not be the one doing this, I may lose that contact. There will be many more schools once we cluster and one priest can’t go to all of these schools, so that will not be the same.”

Bondy said as a community, we have to buy into the Families of Parishes process and support our pastoral team because “as individuals who represent the Church, we need to make sure we have a high level of integrity, and that we are authentic with who we are as we draw people in. We may be smaller, but we will be mightier to begin the rebuilding process.”

“People just have to accept it. There aren’t enough priests,” said Joseph. “It is not overnight that everything is happening and people get surprised. We have had meetings, people have been prepared.”

(Donati, 22, is a fourth-year English and sociology student at Western University in London, Ont.)

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