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Features Ministry Press Release

Father Bryan Zielenieski appointed new vicar for Renewal and Development

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Father Bryan Zielenieski, pastor of St. Mary in Swormville, has been chosen to lead the diocesan Road to Renewal initiative.

Bishop Michael Fisher has announced the appointment of Father Bryan Zielenieski as episcopal vicar for Renewal and Development. In this newly created role, Father Zielenieski will work with a small team to oversee the coordination of the Road to Renewal planning process that includes consultation, education and promotion of the renewal initiative among diocesan offices, parishes, schools and ministries.

“As we together advance the work of renewal across our diocese, it is clear to me that we would benefit from a dedicated team and leadership that will serve to coordinate the essential input and learnings being gathered from our parishes and schools, and as we define our most essential near- and long-term priorities. Toward this end, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Father Bryan Zielenieski as the episcopal vicar for Renewal and Development, a position that is effective immediately and which will report to me,” Bishop Fisher wrote in the announcement.

This appointment is for a term of five years, effective March 9, and renewable at the pleasure of the bishop. Father Zielenieski will remain pastor at St. Mary’s in Swormville.

Father Zielenieski spoke with the Western New York Catholic about the new position.

WNYCatholic.org: Exactly what will you be doing in this new role?

Father Bryan Zielenieski: The position is vicar for Renewal and Development. So, in this role I’m supposed to be helping lead the Road to Renewal and helping us with our mission moving forward as a diocese.

Was there a directive from the bishop on how to do this?

There’s the diocesan Road to Renewal Task Force. The task force was created under Bishop (Edward B.) Scharfenberger and came up with some rough data and plans for how the renewal needs to take shape. I’m taking their recommendations and now it becomes my job to get the message out there that we’re doing this renewal, get more input through consultation and listening. Then we have to modify the plans as we see fit, based on all the input, and then actually implement what we come up with. So, it’s a lengthy process.

Is there a timeline of when this will be done, or when the next major hurdle will be?

No, there’s no specific timeline in place. The whole idea is that this renewal is really something that should be happening all the time. We’re just trying to get it started and get the ball rolling. Then it’s really looking at the mission of the Church and how do we constantly renew ourselves to be better. So, it’s a whole lifestyle change.

Can you define our short-term and long-term priorities?

The long-term priority is to certainly strengthen the parishes within the diocese, help people to make disciples and evangelize, and really be good stewards of the resources that have been given to us. Short-term goals are really identifying the immediate needs of our parishes and helping them to move forward post-pandemic.

Can you describe what the diocese will be like a year from now, or six months?

I would say, only God knows. That’s very hard to say at this point because we’re entering into the consultation phase of this Road to Renewal. There’s been some rough data taken before, but now we’re into the consultation phase. So, what’s it going to look like in a year? It’s all going to depend on what the fruit of the consultation is.

What should pastors and principals and even people in the pews be doing now?

They should number one be praying for the Road to Renewal. Pray for renewal in our diocese and in our parishes. Number two be open to the Holy Spirit. Be open to looking at ways we can do things better. That might not be the way we used to be, but it’s a new way to collaborate and cooperate with one another. So, they can already start identifying what are the strengths of their parishes and what are areas that need to be improved. Those are the facts we’re going to look at in helping to renew moving forward.

We’ve been dealing with Covid for the past year. That’s had a major impact on the parishes. As a pastor yourself, has Covid had an effect on knowing your strengths? Will your parish be different in six months?

Correct. That’s why we need more consultation because the effect of the pandemic on our parishes; we really don’t know what that’s going to look like because some parishes are struggling more than others because of the pandemic. A parish that thought it was strong before, might not have the people coming to Mass. That why we have to consult more – to find out what are the effect the pandemic has had on our parishes and how can we help these parishes to more forward and have the resources and help that they need. It might be in collaborating with one another. That’s something different that maybe hasn’t happened as much as it should if in the past.

There’s been talk about mergers and parishes sharing resources. Is that something we can expect?

That’s the big question people ask. Are you going to close and merge places? The answer is, I don’t know yet. That’s the honest answer. Until we consult to know what’s going on and what’s out there, it would be too preliminary to say anything. The whole idea behind the renewal is to strengthen one another. The goal would be to close no parishes, but to help strengthen each other to be the best we can. Whether we are able to achieve that is yet to be seen.

Do you know when the consultation phase will be over?

Right now, I’d have to say it’s kind of rolling as we go along. Bishop Mike is completing his visits to all the vicariates right now. I will be going around to all the vicariate as well, talking with the clergy, dealing with the statistics of why this renewal has to happen now and how we’re looking at doing some of this, and asking for input. I’ll be doing that with clergy and with the laity in each vicariate. That’s at least going to take me two months probably more like three to do a good job, three or four. We’re trying to make sure there’s a sense of urgency, but we need to be thorough. We can’t rush this.  

What are the people’s concerns?

Right now, most questions are: What is the renewal? Most people don’t know what the renewal really is. That’s the preliminary work that needs to be done right now. What is it about? Unfortunately, when people hear renewal immediately they think closures and mergers, and it’s not that. 

How do you define renewal then?

It’s a revitalization. The whole thing is about bringing life back.

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