By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published March 8, 2007
A diverse, cohesive group of Catholics from around the archdiocese has been convened as the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, forming in September 2006 at the request of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Its mission is to study the needs, issues and growth of the Catholic Church in North Georgia and to provide sound advice for those leading the archdiocese in planning and strategizing for future growth.
The group, composed of 16 members including the archbishop, vicars general, a Catholic school principal, a deacon, a pastor and various other members of the laity who have served within their parish communities, is working in conjunction with a consulting firm to identify the major needs and issues that confront the church today and use that knowledge to formulate a long-term strategic plan for the archdiocese.
Those who are serving on the committee meet monthly 10 times a year and have made a three-year commitment at this time. This committee is the second new group formed in recent months to serve in an advisory capacity to Archbishop Gregory. While the recently assembled Archdiocesan Pastoral Council’s focus is on pastoral questions—those that concern spiritual matters—the Archdiocesan Planning Committee is charged with analyzing the best use of the material resources of the church and articulating plans to use these resources most wisely as ministries, parishes and schools expand in the coming years.
Lori Clarke, executive director of development and stewardship for the archdiocese, said that the idea for the planning group grew from discussions about the need for resources to “help the ministries and programs of the archdiocese to grow.” In her role as development director, Clarke said that she “felt strongly that we had no ‘case statement’ for expanded growth because we really didn’t have any hard data regarding what the needs of the archdiocese are, how good a job we are doing now at meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of our people, and what the future needs will be based on the growth that is occurring and is projected to occur in our geographic area.”
According to Clarke, the group’s immediate goal is to project the growth in North Georgia in the next 10 to 15 years and “determine the implications of this growth on the ministries and mission” of the church. With this knowledge, the planning committee will advise Archbishop Gregory on how to prioritize and “most effectively allocate archdiocesan resources to meet these growing and emerging needs.”
In June 2006, Archbishop Gregory invited a number of people to serve in this endeavor as the archdiocese embarked on this yearlong planning study. In his letter to those asked to serve, he said, “The study will analyze growth trends for the past and future 10 years, and analyze the impact and implications of this growth upon the parishes, schools and ministries of the Archdiocese.” Archbishop Gregory added that he believes that each member of the group brings a “unique and valuable perspective” to the work of the committee. While the committee is relatively small, it is reflective of the different ethnicities—as well as the rural and urban communities—that make up the archdiocese.
Mike Cote serves as chairperson of the planning committee. With his five years’ experience on the board of Catholic Social Services and Catholic Charities, the last two years as chairperson, as well as his work on various parish councils at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs and on the board of trustees of Marist School, he brings a world of knowledge and leadership experience to his role on the planning committee.
Cote said, “Our objective is to create a long-range (10- to 15-year) plan for the archdiocese. To do this we are first working to understand the needs of the archdiocese by interviewing all of the priests, principals, (archdiocesan) administration … and many parishioners.” The committee is looking at the “expected demographic changes over the 10-15 year period,” in order to determine the gaps in services and create a plan to close those gaps. He said, “With the expected continued growth in North Georgia—especially within the Catholic population—I believe we need a detailed plan to meet spiritual, educational, evangelical and other needs.” The group plans to provide a written report of the long-range plan at the end of the study.
The first order of business for the committee was to hire consultants who would lead the committee in the planning study work and do the legwork in gathering information. After a proposal process, they “overwhelmingly selected” The North Highland Company, a firm based in Atlanta with national and international offices, specializing in working in partnership to address business issues, “look at problems from the inside out,” and assist in building strategies for success. Not only was North Highland poised to bring a business perspective to the tasks facing the committee, the team assembled to assist the planning group is composed almost entirely of local Catholics, who through their parish and Catholic school associations understand in a personal way the challenges facing the church today and the importance of arriving at a good plan for the future.
Cote has been “impressed” with the “excitement they have for this project and the work they have done to date. … They are very passionate about the work.”
Currently the North Highland team is compiling and analyzing demographic data about the archdiocese and conducting the personal interviews to “assess needs” with all pastors, department heads, school principals and others. Also planned in the next few months is a random sample survey of registered households that will provide statistically valid information, along with interviews with unregistered Catholics at selected parishes. According to Cote, “Our process has been very inclusive as we look at needs categories including, but not limited to, sacramental availability, religious education, evangelization, immigrant services, protection of life, parochial schools, social services, and stewardship.”
Valerie Landau serves on the committee as a parishioner and pastoral council member at Christ Our King and Savior Church in Greensboro and also as a representative of the many small communities outside the metropolitan Atlanta area. At a meeting last fall, she stated the obvious, “This is a huge undertaking,” but also noted with enthusiasm this “interesting group of people” working together with a “good business approach” to consider the ramifications of the explosion of growth in the archdiocese. What really surprised her, she said, was that “everyone is on the same page” looking at these problems from “outside the box.” Their work together, she asserted, has been “challenging and inspiring.”
Bill Hughey, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church in Conyers, has also had a “positive experience” in his work on the planning committee. He retired from the American Red Cross after a 32-year career and currently works in strategic planning and coordination of services for at-risk children and their families in Rockdale County. He believes his role is to “bring my best thinking and skills to the work of the committee. … So far the process has been most educational—we are still gathering information from multiple sources.” Although it is early in the process, Hughey believes that the committee will “produce a plan for the future growth and development of the archdiocese.” He shared a personal belief that “organizations that fail to plan for change will not survive.”
A parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, Chris Reynolds is another person who is happy to serve the archdiocese with his work on this committee. He said, “My hope is that our committee can develop a multi-year plan that will enable our diocese to meet the challenges of our rapidly growing community. We established a very challenging and rigorous schedule for our committee. We recognize that we have many needs that have to be addressed sooner rather than later, but we want to be as thorough and thoughtful as possible.”
Committee member Deacon Jesus A. Nerio, a parishioner at St. Peter Chanel, Roswell, said that the planning committee’s overall mission is to create “a plan of expansion to meet the needs of the People of God. I believe that the establishment of the committee and the consultants is to come to a conclusion/agreement as to where that expansion will take us, as a Church.” As an attorney, he has been greatly involved in the immigration problems facing Georgia and believes that he brings a multicultural perspective to the questions facing the committee, with a special concern for the immigrant communities in the church. “We know that the communities of Vietnamese, Korean, Brazilian, Asian and Hispanic (Catholics) are leaving the Catholic Church for other denominations. My experience is that these communities are being actively pursued by other denominations…”
He added, “If I can make the committee aware of the cultural differences as well as the need to integrate rather than segregate, then on behalf of the immigrant population, I will have accomplished a major goal.”
Clarke described Archbishop Gregory as both a “listener and participant” on the planning committee. She said, “He gives committee members free rein in expressing their views and concerns and is very careful not to sway them to some preconceived notions of his own. Like the rest of the committee, the archbishop wants to get a good grasp on what is happening in North Georgia, both in terms of the demographic changes we are experiencing and how well we are functioning as church. … It is his personal style to gather as much information as possible and appropriate before making a decision.
He is very conscious of his leadership responsibilities but also that he has a flock that wants and needs to be heard.”
In addition to the archbishop, committee members include Clarke; Brian Choi, Alpharetta; Father Joseph Corbett, vicar general; Cote; Hughey; James Judson, Roswell; Landau; Paul Maggard, Alpharetta; Msgr. Hugh Marren, pastor of St. Andrew Church, Roswell; Deacon Nerio; Patrick Okpala, Grayson; Reynolds; Karen Vogtner, principal of St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville; and Father Luis Zarama, vicar general. Patricia Chivers, communications director for the archdiocese, and Diane Starkovich, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, are the staff observers.
Cote said that Catholics in the archdiocese should “continue to be excited about Archbishop Gregory’s leadership. He fully supports this process and wants to understand the current and long term needs of the archdiocese and develop a plan to achieve the goals once they are determined. … We will periodically report our findings and the plan, but this process will take until some time around the end of this year or mid-2008. We do not want to rush the process but rather make sure we have all inputs and appropriately ‘digest’ the information.”
Ultimately Clarke believes that the work of the planning committee will have an energizing effect on her work in development and stewardship and on the work of the church in the community. “Asking people to contribute to any charitable cause (and this includes the church) involves … articulating what is needed and why, how much it will cost, and what benefits will occur as a result of attending to those needs.” Articulating these needs effectively will help the church to “secure the financial resources to address the prioritized spiritual, pastoral, educational and social service needs of the archdiocese, which will be based on factual research and not just what a few people think we might need.”
Deacon Nerio said that the success of the planning process will come from the participation of all Catholics in the archdiocese. “The ‘Catholics in the pews’ need to know that we are One Body and that the plan will not work without their active participation, whether it is in the metro area or at the borders of the archdiocese.”
For questions about the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, contact Lori Clarke, executive director of development and stewardship, at (404) 885-7226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.