My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The beginning of this month saw the transfer of several of our clergy to new assignments. Transitions of this sort are rarely easy for the priests or for the parishioners. It is a good sign that people love their priests and hate to see them go. It is also a good sign that priests love their people and hate to leave. Yet, we priests know that when we were ordained we promised obedience for the sake of the mission, and the very word “mission” is all about being sent out to preach the Gospel. If the apostles and first disciples of Jesus had been content to stay put, the church might not have ever grown past Jerusalem. We are “Catholic” because the church is universal, and the church is everywhere because we take seriously the Lord’s command to go out to all the world and tell the Good News of God’s kingdom.
Among the new appointments this year were several deans. Our diocese is divided into seven districts or regions called “deaneries,” and in each deanery there is a dean, also known by his formal title in canon law, vicar forane. When I was auxiliary bishop of Chicago, I was in charge of a region called a vicariate, and in my vicariate there were five deaneries. I used to meet with my deans regularly and referred matters to them frequently. I found this to be very helpful for me and ultimately for the cardinal to know what was going on in the parishes and to deal effectively and efficiently with matters as they arose. Since I am used to working in this way, I intend to work with my deans here in a similar fashion. Since that is so, I thought it might be helpful to describe more fully the role of the dean, since that may be unfamiliar to many people.
The office of dean is described in canon law (canon 555) as having the following responsibilities: (1) to promote and coordinate the common pastoral activity within the deanery; (2) to see to it that the clerics of his district lead a life which is in harmony with their state of life and diligently perform their duties; (3) to see to it that the religious functions are celebrated in accord with the prescriptions of the sacred liturgy, that the good appearance and condition of the churches and of sacred furnishings are carefully maintained, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist and the custody of the Blessed Sacrament, that the parish books (sacramental registers) are correctly inscribed and duly cared for, that ecclesiastical goods are carefully administered, and finally that the parish house is maintained with proper care.
The dean is also to see to it that clerics in his deanery attend theological lectures, retreats, meetings or conferences. He is to take care that the priests of his district have ready access to spiritual helps and is to be particularly concerned about those priests who find themselves in rather difficult circumstances or who are beset with problems. The dean is to take care that the pastors of his district whom he knows to be seriously ill do not lack spiritual and material aids, while seeing to it that the funerals of those who die are celebrated with dignity; he is likewise to make provision that when they are sick or dying, the books, documents, sacred furnishings or other things which belong to the church are properly maintained. The dean is obliged to visit the parishes of his district as directed by the bishop.
Having said all that, it is important to note that the role of dean is not a full-time job. Each dean is also pastor of at least one parish. While that may restrict the time he has available to dedicate to his duties as dean, the fact that he is also a full-time pastor is precisely what makes him able to understand the situations that face other pastors.
Thus, for example, if someone complains to me about something that has happened or is happening in the parish, I will often refer that matter to the local dean to look into it. Chances are that the dean has dealt with similar situations in his pastoral ministry and will be able to help the pastor solve the problem. This is also in keeping with the wise advice that Moses received from his father-in-law when he saw Moses judging cases brought to him by the people from morning to evening. In the Book of Exodus, we read about the reaction of Moses’ father-in-law when he saw this. Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and the people who are with you will wear you out” (Exodus 18:17). So he advised Moses to select suitable men to help him hear their cases.
When more serious matters are brought to my attention, I may also call upon the assistance of my staff at the Catholic Pastoral Center, such as the vicar general, vicar for clergy, chancellor, director of finance or victim assistance minister. This approach is certainly much more prudent than trying to handle everything myself that comes from our 130 parishes spread out over 28 counties from the Mississippi River to the Indiana border!
The deans in our diocese are: Father Jeffrey Goeckner, Alton Deanery; Father David Zimmerman, Decatur Deanery; Father David Hoefler, Effingham Deanery; Father Christopher Brey, Jacksonville Deanery; Father James Neuman, Litchfield Deanery; Msgr. Michael Kuse, Quincy Deanery; and Father John Nolan, Springfield Deanery.
To find out what deanery your parish is in, you can go to the diocesan website at www.dio.org/deaneries.
Please pray for our deans as they assist me in the pastoral care of our diocese.
May God give us this grace. Amen.