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Road to Renewal consultation phase winds down; families of parishes announcement expected soon

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The Road to Renewal effort is an opportunity for the Diocese of Buffalo to reinvigorate the Catholic faith, fully optimize parish and diocesan resources and more importantly increase the reach and impact of ministries throughout Western New York.

In 2020, then Buffalo Apostolic Administrator Bishop Edward Scharfenberger commissioned the Parish Model Task Force and later the Diocesan Renewal Task Force (DRTF) to look at best practices regionally and nationally to learn how other dioceses facing similar challenges of diminished financial resources and reduced church and school attendance, have successfully promoted the mission of the Catholic Church in their regions.

The DRTF is a collaboration of clergy and laity who studied, gathered input, and documented recommendations for the diocese.  After study, it was recommended that renewal could be accomplished by bringing parishes together into closer collaboration for a larger good known as “Families of Parishes.” This model of grouping parishes together to share resources is forming the foundation for similar efforts across the nation.

In the fall of 2020, the DRTF and the vicars forane of the diocese organized ways to collect input from parishioners, while being respectful of restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic. Twenty-six Zoom listening sessions were conducted with more than 800 participants, an online survey was taken by 1,300 participants and emails and letters were received. 

From that unprecedented gathering of input, a draft recommendation for parish families was presented to Bishop Scharfenberger, the vicars forane and Presbyteral Council in early December. 

Permanent diocesan leadership was announced on Dec. 1, as Auxiliary Bishop of Washington Michael Fisher was named the 15th bishop of Buffalo by Pope Francis. Bishop Fisher was officially installed on Jan. 15.

In March, Father Bryan Zielenieski, pastor of St. Mary’s of Swormville, was named the episcopal vicar for Renewal and Development.  When Father Zielenieski arrived in the new role, he immediately began meeting with parishes and every vicariate in the diocese and gathering input from priests, deacons and laity on the proposed parishes in the family model.

In May, meetings within the vicariates were concluding with much consultation and input provided during this series of meetings. In June, the vicariate leadership renewal team was tasked to review the currently composed family of parishes. This was a big step in the renewal project and once again proved very consultative.  

From the discussions that occurred an additional pillar for the renewal was added – Priestly Life and Healing – and a spiritual renewal Mass was announced, and two lay representatives from each parish in the diocese were invited to the Aug. 29 Mass at the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine.

In early July, the draft of families was released, and parishes were invited to determine if the family they had been placed with would make sense and also would work in the future. The parishes were invited to share this information with their leadership and parishioners. And then parishes would have an opportunity to make a recommended change, if it was deemed necessary at the vicariate meetings scheduled in September. 

At that vicariate meeting, the renewal representatives and pastors/administrators were present to share their input and either confirm their family or make a recommended change. The draft of families continued to be refined and on Oct. 30, the Diocesan Parish Council reviewed the latest draft of parish families and either approved the prior recommendations or sent questions back to parishes in preparation of Bishop Fisher’s announcement of the final grouping of parish families expected by the end of November.

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