The San Diego Diocese will have new Office of Family Life and Spirituality next year that will not only provide ministering at critical moments in the life of Catholics but will pursue new ways to deepen their faith.
The office will be led by a director and staffed by three coordinators: One to minister to engaged and newly married couples, one to support separated and divorced individuals, and a third to promote family spirituality.
The creation of that office begins to bring to life many of the proposals submitted by 120 delegates to a historic synod held in the fall to develop ways to strengthen marriage and families in the diocese. Since it ended on Oct. 30, Bishop McElroy has been working with the diocese’s leadership to study how to implement the proposals.
On Nov. 30, he met with a committee tapped to guide that implementation. Together, they began to set the foundation to fundamentally change the culture in parishes to better serve the variety of families that cross their doors who are confronting a host of modern-day challenges.
The committee is made up of 20 parishioners and five priests who had served as synod delegates. They represent a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and ages and many of the parishioners have significant experience as lay ministers.
The Bishop told the members that he had recently met with Pope Francis in Rome and had shared news about their synod, which had been inspired by the prelate’s own document “Amoris Laetitia,” or “Joy of Love.”
“He said he would pray for us and the work we were going to do,” the Bishop said. “So we have great blessings helping us.”
Then the Bishop laid out a plan to implement the first of the proposals and asked for feedback from the committee. Those proposals called for the reconfiguration of the existing Office for Marriage and Family Life and the creation of a new office to promote family spirituality.
The Bishop said this would be accomplished by creating a new Office of Family Life and Spirituality. This office would be headed by a bilingual director who would work with three coordinators. One would prepare engaged couples for marriage and support newly married ones. One would minister to individuals coping with the stages of separation and divorce. And a third would promote family spirituality in a variety of ways.
Fr. John Hurley, CSP, the synod’s coordinator, emphasized that the bulk of this office’s work would not be centralized at the diocese but rather done at the grassroots level in the local parishes.
One of the committee members, Father José Muro of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Chula Vista, expressed a concern that as the new office took shape with new personnel and new ways of doing things everyone needed to be on the same page.
“What are we teaching as the Catholic faith in the Diocese of San Diego to families, to the divorced, to young couples?,” Fr. Muro asked. “We need clarity, so we can all work together as a team.”
The Bishop said that all plans would be reviewed with the Priest Council and the deaneries, which would have an opportunity to shape them and develop continuity from one parish to another.
The diocese’s Human Resources director, Bobbie Espinosa, told the committee that job descriptions for the new office would be prepared in December and the positions would be advertised starting in January. The idea is to have the director on board by March, so he or she could participate in the selection of the three coordinators. The goal is to have the new office working by July.
The committee also formed two task forces to lay the groundwork for the new office to implement additional goals once it opens.
One task force will evaluate the available marriage preparation programs and recommend the best practices the diocese should follow, in consultation with priests and parish staff. The bishop said that between 1,300 to 1,400 couples marry every year in the diocese.
The other task force will develop a parish-based mentor program to welcome and accompany young adults and couples into the full participation of church life. The bishop said he was not aware of any such program, calling this group’s work “visionary.”
The committee members nominated individuals who could serve on those task forces, some volunteering to participate personally, as well.
They also nominated ten churches that would become “pilot parishes.” Each would form a team made up of five diverse couples who would promote the new vision for serving families, observing how initiatives fared once they were rolled out.
“We know some of the elements will fly high and some elements are going to crash,” the Bishop told the committee. “We need to identify what works.”
He said the teams were important because they would sustain the new vision without further burdening the pastor or staff.
The task forces and parish teams begin to move the synod’s priorities from the 120 delegates that formulated them to the churches themselves, where they need to be carried out, Fr. Hurley said.
The bishop underscored the ultimate goal in the effort to refocus the work of the diocese.
“The first and most important priority is making the parishes beacons of marriage and family life.”