By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published February 14, 2008
The number of deaneries in the archdiocese has been expanded from six to 10 in order to promote closer working relationships among the pastors and priests in various regions of North Georgia by making each deanery smaller in size and having it comprise fewer parishes.
The deans have also been given expanded responsibilities by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. He has also given priests within each deanery input in selecting their dean, who must be a pastor or parish administrator.
“I asked our priests to nominate candidates for the office of dean so that the deans would enjoy the endorsement of their neighboring priests,” the archbishop said.
The 10 deans are: Father Paul Berny; Father Albert Jowdy; Father Michael Kingery; Father David McGuinness; Father Frank McNamee; Father James Schillinger; Father Daniel Stack; Father Paul Williams; Father Richard Wise; and Msgr. Terry Young. Each will head a deanery that includes the parish where he is pastor.
Seven of the deans are newly chosen. Msgr. Young, Father Jowdy and Father McNamee continue as deans but with reconfigured deaneries. Deans also serve on the Council of Priests.
The boundary adjustments have been needed for many years, priests say. Priests estimate discussions had taken place for over 12 years, but difficulties always arose over making new boundaries. The change came about now following a recommendation at the Convocation of Priests in 2006 that past efforts to realign the deaneries be reinvigorated and the process completed.
“I made the point that my deanery was at least the size of Rhode Island,” said Msgr. Stephen Churchwell, formerly dean of an area that stretched from the Tennessee-Georgia state line in the north to Madison on I-20 East.
Deans call deanery meetings as needed and are expected to visit each parish in their deanery on a regular basis, both to build communication among pastors and to corroborate by a personal visit that the facilities and the sacramental records in each parish are well maintained. However, that was difficult to accomplish when a dean was trying to cover as many as 23 parishes in a far-flung area while pastoring his own parish.
“It was impossible to get around,” Msgr. Churchwell said.
Re-examining the deaneries emerged from the convocation as a recommendation to the archbishop, particularly to build community and fraternal support, as deans are to be particularly concerned for the welfare of the priests in their region.
“There was a strong consensus that, as the archdiocese grew and priests’ lives became more stressful, we needed to find ways to communicate and support one another more effectively,” said Father Jowdy.
“The size of the existing deaneries was widely seen to be a barrier to that kind of mutual support and encouragement,” he added. “In some of the outlying deaneries, it took hours for priests to travel from one end to the other to visit each another. In the metro area, increased traffic congestion meant that travel times were just as burdensome. It is hoped that these smaller, more numerous deaneries will facilitate our collaboration and priestly fraternity.”
Following the convocation, the Council of Priests decided that a subcommittee of deans, chaired by Msgr. Joseph Corbett, vicar general, would review the existing deanery boundaries and the role of the dean and made recommendations to the council. The subcommittee included Msgr. Churchwell, Msgr. Young, Father Jowdy, Father Kingery, Father McNamee and Father John Walsh.
In addition to enlarging the number of deaneries and clustering parishes differently to ease travel, the process also led to a written description of the dean’s responsibilities.
After much discussion throughout last year, the new alignments and boundaries were set and made public Feb. 1, said Father Berny, chairman of the Priests’ Council.
Now “we want to see how it works,” he said. “We will try it for three years.”
“The sense that I get is the majority of the priests are very happy with this,” Father McNamee said. “I think it will help a lot of our priests, especially in the rural deaneries. It will make it easier for the deans to do what they are responsible to do.”
Penance services are a time when priests in a deanery all assist one another by gathering at the host parish to offer the sacrament to many people, priests said. It is also a time when priests in the deanery try to have dinner together at that parish, a rare and popular chance to socialize.
“Usually it is a good way to get together,” Father McNamee said. “Guys are great at helping out at the penance services and first reconciliation.”
Those who have traditionally helped one another are encouraged to still exchange invitations, Father Berny said, even if they are now in different deaneries.
Pleased with the adjustment in the size of the deanery he serves, now composed of 10 parishes, Father McNamee said those who worked on the realignment, like himself, look on it not as perfect but as “a beginning.”
The hope is that the deaneries can begin to engage in new types of collaboration, the priests said.
Father Berny, dean of the Northwest Metro Deanery, said their meeting in early February touched on the possibility of shared liturgical celebrations.
Father Jowdy, dean of the Northeast Metro Deanery, said deaneries have the potential to help those in ministry, whether clerical or lay, work together.
“Deaneries have historically been structures through which priests alone organized themselves and their work,” he said. “Over the last generation, however, as our ministry has more and more become a collaborative one alongside deacons, religious and professional lay people, several of the deaneries have begun including these other ministerial colleagues in at least some of their meetings. This has encouraged networking and collaboration among the parish staffs in the various regions of the archdiocese. I’m sure this kind of collaboration will only increase in the years ahead.”
Archbishop Gregory said that he hopes the changes will foster more interaction within deaneries, such as “pastoral initiatives like youth programs, outreach to language and cultural communities, and catechetical and sacramental training efforts.”
He added that he will also look to the deans to address locally some of the difficulties and challenges that arise, in addition to the responsibilities they already have under canon law.
“I would like to see the deans become more engaged in assisting their neighbors in resolving difficulties and in strengthening cooperative ventures,” Archbishop Gregory said. “I will also rely on the deans more when looking for pastoral changes or expansion efforts in establishing new missions or parishes.”
“As our archdiocese continues to grow, we need more ways to support the work of parishes and to provide for effective collaboration among our communities—that is why the restructuring of the deaneries was a welcome recommendation from our priests,” Archbishop Gregory said. “While the deaneries have been reorganized, we will have to see if other changes need to be made to correspond to these new units. All else regarding the length of service of the deans remains the same. I am very grateful for the pastors who have been nominated to serve as deans, and I look forward to working with them to build up the life of the Church here in North Georgia.”
Mary Anne Castranio also contributed to this story.
Note:The 2008 Deanery list can be found on the Archdiocese web site at www.archatl.com/parishes/index_bydeanery.html.