The Rural Proposal

As many of you already know, the Archdiocese of Omaha is going through a rural pastoral planning process. The primary impetus for this planning is the dramatic projected decrease of priests serving here in the archdiocese in the next 5 to 10 years. In 5 years we can expect 24 fewer priests and possibly 34 fewer in 10 years. To offer some perspective, there are 47 priests serving in the rural area today. Needless to say, every parish in the archdiocese will eventually feel the effects of this reduction.

How do we even begin planning for something like this?


We are recommending that where there are sparse populations in the rural areas we begin assigning pastors to regions and the parishes that lie within them. We would also assign associate pastors with that pastor as needed. To identify the regions, we simply drew circles around the geographical areas of parishes that made the most sense. To decide if a circle needed an associate pastor, we looked at a number of items including the number of Catholics, funerals, distances, Catholic Schools, etc. Since there wasn’t a deep analysis of the numbers and one can really only get the best sense of things on ground, some of the circles and numbers of priests assigned in that circle is somewhat fluid. Once the circles are locked down, we can then, at the local level with the assistance of the leadership from the Archdiocese, plan the best way forward for that region.

Bottom Line

We’ll do everything possible to keep parishes open and Masses available where they’ve been available, but there’s no guarantee that will be fulfilled. The numbers are going to be against us. While the plan is not to close parishes or turn them into chapels where Masses are only occasionally celebrated, it may be where the planning leads us. Bottom line: we just don’t have enough priests to go around. Many have seen this day coming. It’s here.

Not the End

We, for very good reason, equate our Catholic faith with Mass. Truly, it’s the source and summit of our faith, but it’s not everything about our faith.  Can the Catholic faith thrive, grow, and flourish in communities where there is no priest in residence and Mass isn’t available every weekend? Yes. Is it possible for faith communities that have to drive a distance for Mass to grow in holiness, experience meaningful community, and still engage in the mission of Jesus Christ? Yes. Can a parish still worship and grow together? Yes. We just haven’t had to experience it, but it’s been done and continues to be done in parts of the world where the Catholic faith is alive and thriving.

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