ArchOmaha Unite punctuates a busy 2019

Inspiration and unity

The Catholic faithful of the archdiocese came together at the CHI Center in Omaha June 8, the eve of Pentecost, to call down a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit at ArchOmaha Unite, a celebration of faith and unity in Jesus Christ. Beginning with The Great Gathering celebrating the archdiocese’s history and diversity, the event continued with inspirational stories of faith, special programs for children, youth and Spanish-speaking people, opportunities for reconciliation and eucharistic adoration, and Mass. It concluded with a stirring multimedia/musical dramatization of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Attendee Janice Jochum of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus summarized the sense of unity she experienced: “It doesn’t matter who we are … where we are from, whether we’re rural or the metro, we’re all one family,” she said. “We have a common theme, and that is Jesus.”

Planning to meet pastoral needs

The Archdiocese of Omaha continued planning for the decline in numbers of diocesan priests and changing rural demographics, announcing in June plans to establish groupings of rural parishes served by a single pastor and one or more associate pastors. Lay leaders and pastors of affected parishes took part in planning discussions along with archdiocesan staff. “Change is always difficult, but parishioners see this as providing a future life of the faith in our parish communities,” said Father John Norman, pastor of a new grouping of six parishes in the western part of the archdiocese. “There’s a sense that the Lord is showing us a way forward.” The move also helps maintain a reasonable workload for priests and allows them a greater sense of community with one another. Father Kevin Vogel, who now assists Father Norman, said, “It’s closer to the biblical model that Jesus sets out for his disciples, sending them out two-by-two … serving together rather than in isolation.” As parishes took the initiative to develop plans for working together, the process of integrating parish functions moved ahead quickly, said Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar. “It’s been a very collaborative and positive process,” he said


Strengthening faith and education

In 2019, the archdiocese concluded its Ignite the Faith capital campaign, raising more than $53 million in pledges to support educational activities in Catholic schools, spiritual formation programs and ministries in parishes, infrastructure improvements and repairs, technology enhancements, and support for seminarians and retired priests. Begun in 2012 with a goal of $40 million, more than $50 million has been collected to date, with dollars already funding such investments as new reading and language arts programs, personal Chromebook computers to help students learn and faith formation programs for students and teachers. In all, more than 245,000 parishioners and 20,000 students have seen benefits in the archdiocese’s 139 parishes and 71 schools.

Promoting safety and accountability

In 2018, the attorney general of Nebraska required all three of the state’s Catholic dioceses to provide 40 years of records on clergy accused of sexual misconduct and the Omaha archdiocese released to the public its list of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct. Then, in 2019, the archdiocese took further steps to provide transparency and protect minors and vulnerable adults. On July 1, the archdiocese enacted an updated and expanded code of conduct for clergy. The code, which applies to bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and deacon candidates, provides more specific guidelines than the previous code. It also addresses respect for personal boundaries, appropriate use of communication technology, and misconduct such as substance abuse and gambling. The archdiocese had already met the requirements of the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for Protection of Children and Young People by establishing its Victim Outreach and Prevention Office and a review board to investigate accusations of misconduct with minors and vulnerable adults. Nevertheless, in 2019 it also created a ministerial conduct board to handle accusations not involving minors.


Bolstering faith through adversity

On March 13, a severe winter storm, or “bomb cyclone,” besieged much of northeast Nebraska with heavy rain, strong winds and widespread flooding. With the ground still frozen and steams and rivers still choked with ice, towns such as Fremont, Valley, St. Edward, Bellevue and many others sustained record flooding, massive damage and loss of livestock. Three people were killed. In Boyd County, the collapse of the Spencer Dam sent a torrent of water, along with massive chunks of ice, down the Niobrara River into the town of Niobrara, destroying buildings and a vital bridge into town. Through it all, Catholic parishes and their members rose to the occasion, raising money, collecting and distributing food and clothing, and personally assisting others. Francis and Carol Emmanuel, members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Bend, typified that spirit of Christian generosity as they opened their home to flooded-out neighbors and relatives, housing an additional nine people and several dogs. Carol said, “We grew up knowing that when somebody is in need you step up … If somebody needs a place to stay, you say ‘Come on out, we have room.’”

Sainthood cause advances

On July 22, the sainthood cause for Father Edward J. Flanagan, founder of Boys Town in Omaha, took a major step forward as a document called a “Positio” was forwarded to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The 400-page document, which summarizes more than 15,000 pages of documents sent to the Vatican in 2015 by the archdiocese, argues that Father Flanagan lived a life of heroic virtue and deserves the title “venerable.” A letter of support from Archbishop George J. Lucas accompanied the document, and a personal visit by the archbishop to the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, provided an endorsement. If the Positio is approved by the Congregation’s consultants and theologians, and member bishops and cardinals, the congregation will send a recommendation to the pope. Proof of one miracle due to Father Flanagan’s intercession would earn him the title “blessed.” Proof of a second miracle is needed for canonization. To that end, the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion is encouraging the faithful to pray to the priest for his intercession, said Steve Wolf, the league’s president.

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