Monday, May 21, 2007

PA's First... Priestless Parish

Speaking of Pittsburgh -- faced with an intensifying shortage of clergy, the diocese has named its first "parish life collaborator":
Sister Dorothy Pawlus, 49, will assume many of the administrative duties at St. Bartholomew Parish after the Rev. David J. Bonnar concludes his six-year term as pastor next month. Sacramental duties -- such as saying Mass, hearing confessions, and performing baptisms and weddings -- will be performed by the Rev. James A. McDonough of St. Regis Parish in Oakland.

The steady decline in the number of priests serving the diocese's 214 parishes prompted then-Bishop Donald Wuerl last spring to approve a plan to appoint parish life collaborators in parishes with no resident priest. Two dozen priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh serve as pastors for two or more parishes.

The parish life collaborator will have 40 responsibilities, including worship, education, pastoral service and administration.

"This is sort of a trial," said the Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. "It's the first time in our diocese, the first time in the state of Pennsylvania, and we need to look at it and see if it is as effective as it can be."

In the year since the new position was announced, seven applicants -- two deacons, two lay women, a lay man and two nuns -- have been approved. Others will be announced in the months ahead.

"If there ever were enough priests in the future where we could staff parishes with priests, then it's possible that the role of the parish life collaborator would not be necessary any longer," Father Lengwin said. "But that's not the way the trend is going. We're expecting that there will be more parishes in the future that will also have parish life collaborators."

Father Lengwin said the diocese has high hopes for the program, which has been modeled after programs that have worked in other parts of the country for decades. And while Sister Dorothy is the first parish life collaborator, he said it would be wrong to place the burden of the local program's success on her.

"She's quite capable," he said, "but different parishes are unique in their own way. There's a lot of cooperation that needs to take place here."