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2016: Year in review

Looking back, looking ahead

Accomplishments, milestones – and a look into the future. Those attributes mark several major news stories in the Archdiocese of Omaha in 2016, headlined by Archbishop George J. Lucas’ announcement in October of a multi-year pastoral vision and priority plan for the archdiocese that stresses unity, evangelization and living out God’s call to mercy.

With goals that include developing and implementing strategies for all three priorities by 2018 or earlier, the effort will help guide parishes, schools and ministries for the next three to five years.

Several other future-shaping developments that dominated events in the archdiocese include an announcement in May of a long-term planning effort for rural parishes and schools; the August opening of the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha; and in November, elevation for the first time of a Nebraskan as a cardinal of the church.

Other major stories include the largest class of men ordained to the priesthood in nearly 15 years; a second straight year of enrollment gains for Catholic schools in the archdiocese; Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir’s participation in the Year of Mercy’s closing Papal Mass; state voters overturning a law banning capital punishment; and Archbishop Lucas visiting China.



The archdiocese’s pastoral vision, "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy," grew out of nearly a year of discernment, with Archbishop Lucas and others gathering, studying and praying about suggestions from parishioners across the archdiocese. In the coming months, three teams of a dozen or more people will study programs and initiatives to suggest ways parishes, schools and other ministries can act on the priorities.



A multi-year planning process that will encompass all 87 rural parishes in the archdiocese was announced in May, and the first meetings with several parish and school leaders were held in September in Columbus and Norfolk. Similar efforts the last few years created plans for parishes in east Omaha and growing areas of suburban and west Omaha. The focus is on deepening the presence of Christ for people and determining the best use of resources to meet that goal. A key part of the process will be responding with prayer and initiative to the archdiocese’s overall pastoral vision and priority plan.



Designed as a place for students to encounter Jesus, grow in their relationship with him and commit to serving as his disciples, the Newman Center near the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus opened in August. Up to 164 students can live in the $22 million center, which includes student apartments, a commons area, multi-purpose and meeting rooms, community and study lounges, indoor-outdoor fireplace, courtyard, rooftop deck, rectory and chapel. The center also will offer speakers and other opportunities to serve and involve people from the wider community.



For the first time, a Nebraska native has been elevated to cardinal, one of 17 created by Pope Francis during a Nov. 19 consistory at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, born and raised in Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Omaha and now archbishop of Chicago, celebrated with family and friends in Rome and back in his hometown at a Dec. 30 vespers service and reception at St. Cecilia Cathedral. Cardinal Cupich will help shape the direction of the church, serve as an adviser to Pope Francis and be among those in the College of Cardinals able to elect a pope.



People across the archdiocese lived out in prayer and action Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, from Dec. 8, 2015, to the Nov. 20 closing Mass in Rome. The Archdiocese of Omaha and other dioceses around the world held Masses to open a special door of mercy Dec. 13, 2015, and close it Nov. 13. Pope Francis wanted to emphasize Christ’s love and mercy, and he urged people to carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – during the year and beyond.

To help mark the Year of Mercy, the archdiocese encouraged people to make a pilgrimage to St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha on May 15, the Solemn Feast of Pentecost, and participate in opportunities for reconciliation, pass through the cathedral’s door of mercy and celebrate at one of several Masses.

A special, international role for the archdiocese came into play at the jubilee’s closing Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, when members of St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir traveled from Omaha to participate with members of several other U.S. choirs and the Sistine Chapel choir. Members of the cathedral choir also sang at the consistory for Cardinal Cupich and the other 16 churchmen created cardinals.

The Catholic Voice contributed to the year’s efforts with a seven-part series highlighting people around the archdiocese who live the call to mercy every day – including mental health counselors, food pantry volunteers and parishioners who provide funeral luncheons for those mourning the death of a loved one. The series also included reflections on the works of mercy from seven priests of the archdiocese.



Six men – the largest class in the Archdiocese of Omaha since 2002 – were ordained priests June 4 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. Father Joseph Taphorn, moderator of the curia, noted at the time that the ordination of six men underscored a great strength and zeal for the faith among young people, and the fruit of many prayers for vocations. Vocations to the priesthood in recent years have included classes of five in 2005 and four in 2006 and 2011. This year, two men are preparing for June ordinations to the priesthood.



The number of students being taught in the archdiocese’s 70 Catholic elementary and high schools grew for a second straight year – bucking a national trend of declining enrollments and bringing overall enrollment to 19,838. Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools, said a "beautiful synergy of many strategies" helped explain the gains, including an archdiocesan marketing effort fueled by the successful Ignite the Faith capital campaign, tuition grants for public, private or home-school students transferring into archdiocesan schools, and funding from the archdiocese for new preschools and other programs.



Nebraska’s three bishops said they will continue to call for repeal of capital punishment in the state after voters reinstated the death penalty Nov. 8. Nebraskans voted 60.9 percent to 39.1 percent to repeal the state Legislature’s 2015 ban on the death penalty. The vote came after state lawmakers overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of the ban. Ricketts and others contributed financially to a petition effort, and enough signatures were gathered to place the issue on the general election ballot. The death penalty should be repealed, Archbishop Lucas and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island said, "because it is not necessary to protect public safety."



A two-week trip to China began March 30 for Archbishop Lucas, who visited with people who have persevered in their faith for decades in the communist-controlled country. The archbishop also learned more about the efforts in China by the Missionary Society of St. Columban, which has had its regional headquarters near Bellevue since 1921. The Columban Fathers organized the trip, and Archbishop Lucas traveled with Father Thomas Griesen, a priest of the archdiocese in residence as a servant minister at St. John Vianney Parish in Omaha.


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