Collaboration: A Case Study


Over the past two years, the Parish Council of St. Pius X Parish in St. John’s, Newfoundland Labrador has been working on following the directive to collaborate from Fr. Peter Bisson SJ, who was Provincial at that time.

The parish developed a strategic plan based upon four key areas: building relationships, fostering faith and spirituality, social justice, and commitment to sustainability.  In addition to starting plans and initiatives in these four key areas, the Parish Council decided to change to organizational structure so that it was no longer an advisory council to the pastor, but an operational board with a greater amount of autonomy.

This year, the Parish Council wrote an annual report to the parish prior to a Town Hall meeting planned for mid-May.

The report highlights the collaboration that has taken place, the lead that the Parish Council has taken in some issues that come from the wisdom of the laity, the greater freedom for the pastoral team to focus on spirituality initiatives, and the continuing challenge of parish renewal within the context of an aging parish and the results of the sexual abuse scandal in the province.  Here are some excerpts.

“We live in a time where our church has been badly battered, and I’m sure we can all see that it is time for its laity to lend its helping hand.  We only have to recall that Jesus was a refugee to Egypt, the son of a carpenter, never a Pharisee or a priest or a king showing mighty power, to understand that Jesus, coming from the societal class of an ordinary man, made an impact; we stand by our brother who came from the same ordinary humble beginnings.  We can also make an impact.”

“Fr. Earl Smith SJ has been a model for collaboration in the Society of Jesus.  The Parish Council chair meets with Fr. Earl on a weekly basis to discuss a range of parish issues, from property issues to faith development.  The two have developed a very good working relationship that merges the lay and Societal visions into practical steps.”

“… The organizational structure has changed to make the parish council an operational board that manages the four key directives. The Chair of the Parish Council is now accountable to the Pastor for the actions of the Parish Council, and the wishes of the Pastor to the Parish Council are directed through the Chair; this makes the Chair more like the Chief Executive Officer of the Parish Council and its mandates.”

“The parish council’s communications goals are to better inform our parishioners of activities, announcements, messages, etc.; and to convey a clear message of our Ignatian principles as a parish, which are inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, characterized by hospitality to everyone, social justice, reflection and discernment, and joy in the love of God.”

Communication projects included joining “myParishApp”, available for Apple and Android that includes all the parish communication, like readings for the day, prayers, the parish bulletin, and even Vatican news.  Cancellations of Mass for weather are pushed through the app to alert people.

The parish bulletin was revamped to include many articles related to spiritual reflection written by Fr. Earl. We developed new brochures, one highlighting the Ignatian character of the parish, and the other our volunteer opportunities.

We continued and expanded our collaboration with our sister parishes in our area, and we have seen their increasing presence at the social functions we hold at our parish.  This year, all three parishes held a very successful reconciliation service together during Lent held at St. Paul’s.

We continue to play a big role in the St. John’s and Area Council of Churches, which includes all faiths, Christian and non-Christian.

New parish events have included a presentation on Medical Assistance in Dying, weekly Wednesday “Walk in the Hall” for seniors, which is a social event as well as a chance for regular exercise, weekly coffee after Sunday Mass instead of monthly.  We still have our usual Christmas Bazaar and St. Patrick’s Day party fundraiser for St. Anne’s in Jamaica.

The Safe Environment Committee was run entirely by the lay Parish Council members.  The registration of volunteers and the performance of vulnerable sector checks on high-risk volunteers working with seniors, children and money were carried out.  St. Pius X took the lead on this at an Archdiocese level.  Accountability to the parish and the public was a big issue for the Parish Council.

The Fostering Spirituality Committee with the pastoral team started a lot of new things.  We now have Sunday evening movies once per month, weekly Saturday morning “growth in prayer” sessions, small prayer groups focused on Ignatian spirituality, seminars by Fr. Wayne Bolton SJ on faith-promoting topics, and a commitment to parish missions in Spring and Fall.

The Support for Social Justice Committee spent the year meeting with every parish group involved in social justice activities, developing a needs assessment for each of them, with a process to create strategic plans for each of them for next year.

The Commitment to Sustainability held a volunteer fair for all the parish ministries, which will become an annual event.  In addition to an annual retreat for the Parish Council, consideration is also being given to hold retreats for the parish ministries.

St. Pius X is an energetic parish with approximately 40% of its members volunteering.  Yet we do not have enough people to carry things out.  Our parish is aging and shrinking, in need of new members.  This is a dilemma we haven’t figured out yet.

We remain faithful to the Spirit’s guidance, so we expect a way will be found.  We are ready, willing and able, working together, clergy and laity, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Dr. Michael Bautista is a physician practising in St. John's and is the recipient of the 2015 Ignatian Spirit Award from St. Bonaventure's. He is also the Chair of the Discipline of Anesthesia at Memorial University. and an associate professor of Medicine.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:45h, 24 June Reply

    Thank you very much Mike! This is great news.

  • Peter Chouinard
    Posted at 06:46h, 24 June Reply

    I enjoyed this article very much. Lots going on in your community and Parish. Fr. Earl Smith, SJ, is a wonderful man and Priest. I count myself very fortunate to have journeyed with him in his former roles as Esselecial Assistant to the Canadian and the Atlantic Christian Life Communities. These are Ignatian based organizations that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ through the examples of St. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA.

    May your Pastoral Council under Fr. Earl’s inclusive and encouraging leadership continue to flourish.


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