Journey of Faith
Holy Spirit at work in new families of parishes across Archdiocese of Omaha
June 2, 2023
Eight men and women from three different Omaha parishes came together to join the Church at Easter Vigil.
Three congregations celebrated Mass together for the first time since two African Catholic communities united with a historic north Omaha parish.
Two parishes undergoing racial healing from a historical wound began deepening their community.
Parishioners from seven parishes packed Newcastle for the first time for Eucharistic adoration during Lent.
The Journey of Faith has led to significant changes and some challenges across the Archdiocese of Omaha, but leaders from several families of parishes say these snapshots offer a glimpse of how this new collaboration is already bearing fruit.
“The Holy Spirit is really at work,” said Father Dave Korth, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha, who will also lead St. Benedict the Moor Parish.
JOURNEY OF FAITH
Work began in late 2021 to prepare the archdiocese to address declining number of priests and declining Mass attendance along with shifting populations in both rural and urban areas.
The Journey of Faith process brought parishes together into 33 “families.” Each family of parishes submitted locally generated plans showing how they will realign resources and work more closely together to become missional communities, outwardly focused on bringing the Gospel to everyone they meet.
Archbishop George J. Lucas reviewed and approved their work this spring. Changes will substantively begin in July.
“In rural and urban families of parishes, we are making these changes now so we can create stable and sustainable Catholic faith communities best positioned to equip disciples, live mercy and help others encounter Jesus,” said Director of Pastoral Planning Phil LaSala.
While virtually every family of parishes that will have fewer priests will be reducing its Mass schedules, 21 parishes in 9 families will be ceasing Sunday Mass this summer.
These churches might still be used for marriages, baptisms, eucharistic adoration, First Communions, parishes feast celebrations, Bible studies or other small group gatherings or ministries, and each family of parishes will determine what its future looks like in the coming years.
In Rural Family E, the news that five of the 12 parishes will experience Mass cessation weighed heavily this spring, said Father Mark Beran, the family’s convening pastor.
Tears welled in his eyes during a Good Friday service, Father Beran said, as parishioners from four parishes in the family gathered at St. Augustine Church in Winnebago.
Seventy people adored the cross together, continuing a standing tradition of Triduum celebration there.
“I know it’s been a painful year, and I know this next year is going to be painful as they see these changes to their churches,” Father Beran said.
But the fuller church pews that day offered a vision of the energy and vibrancy that is possible when parishes come together, he said.
“It just gave me hope that that’s what our church can be,” Father Beran said.
Teams at families of parishes throughout the archdiocese have begun efforts to more deeply collaborate, centralizing administration, sharing ministries and equipping themselves to become missional communities.
Some are doubling down on the evangelizing power of small group formation, reimagining religious education and hiring staff or forming committees focused solely on evangelizing.
On their Journey of Faith path, they’ve been praying, collaborating and moving forward with shared services and new ideas.
There’s an energy in the four-parish, west Omaha family, said Father Daniel Kampschneider, pastor of one of the parishes, St. Vincent de Paul. “Of course, that’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s really going to continue to spark with good things.”
They’ve been working together as they share common speakers and programs, work on combined communications efforts, marriage preparation, pro-life outreach, young adult ministry and helping the poor.
African immigrants in the Omaha area have the chance to be united in one place for Sunday worship at St. Bernard Parish as part of Journey of Faith.
Members of St. Michael the Archangel French Community and the Our Lady of Africa Chaplaincy had been worshipping separately at St. Bernard and St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, respectively.
Together the combined African community totals about 120 families. They can connect and preserve their distinct worship tradition, said Fr. Michael Gadache Ahmadu, who will be the new pastor at St. Bernard.
Most of the immigrants came to the United States for a better life, the Nigerian native said, but “they don’t want to be entirely disconnected from the style of worship that they have come from in Africa.”
“It’s going to be an integration of cultures at St. Bernard.”
Now is a time of renewed possibilities when each family of parishes can consider what they want to be known for, Archbishop George Lucas said.
“I invite each of us to reimagine what our experience of life in Christ can be,” Archbishop Lucas said.
At Sacred Heart and St. Benedict the Moor in north Omaha, the Journey of Faith is helping to heal a 100-year-old wound between two neighboring parishes once divided by racial segregation, Father Korth said.
St. Benedict the Moor Parish was founded in 1919 after black Catholics had been shunned from Sacred Heart.
But Journey of Faith helped to build on reconciliation work that began in 2018, as six people from each parish formed a team that came up with the family’s pastoral plan.
“We had to grow in trust of one another,” Father Korth said. “And that was just a beautiful process that took place.”
In working together, St. Benedict the Moor and Sacred Heart hope to build relationships with the people who reside in their neighborhoods and better serve immigrants.
They hope to be role models nationwide for parishes trying to overcome racial wounds and divides.
In Cedar, Dixon and Pierce counties, the seven parishes in Rural Family C held a 40 Hours Eucharistic Adoration challenge together – culminating in a communal adoration hour at Newcastle attended by members of nearly every parish.
Father Kevin Vogel, who currently leads two of the parishes in the new family, remembers how the event reassured one parishioner who had been worried about the future for their parish.
“Jesus is here with us,” the parishioner told Father Vogel, “and everything is going to be OK.”
Journey of Faith at a Glance
A response to long-developing trends
- Demographic shifts
- 22% fewer priests by 2033
- Less church participation–1 in 3 adults claim no religion
An opportunity to spread the Gospel
- 33 new families of parishes
- Renewed emphasis on mission
- Deeper collaboration
- Realigned resources