Fr. Greg's Pastoral Letter--October, 20, 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers –

In June 2018, Fr. Ray Allender, S.J., pastor of St. Agnes Parish, and I wrote a joint letter to our two parishes. In that letter, we communicated to you the desire of our Provincial, Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J., to engage in a process of discernment that answered this question: Given the pending retirement of Fr. Allender as pastor, what pastoral and administrative structures are necessary to maintain two distinct, vibrant Jesuit parishes in San Francisco, with one pastor (intended to be me)?

Over the course of the past year, five representatives from St. Ignatius (Jim DeGraw, Dan Ehrmann, Annette Lomont, Mary Romo, and Bill Walsh) and five from St. Agnes met monthly with me, Fr. Ray, and Fr. George Murphy, S.J., a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. At each meeting, we spent time discussing some version of the questions, “Where have you noticed God in your parish?” and “How has God been active at St. Ignatius/Agnes?” We also reviewed how some key administrators spent their time, particularly the pastors and directors of operations (Gary Price, in our case). As a result of those monthly meetings, we made a number of discoveries:

• We are more alike than different.

• Each parish has charisms/characteristics/programs that make it unique.

• We share a number of ministries already, particularly in the areas of social justice.

• There are many opportunities for greater collaboration between our two parishes.

At the last meeting of the year, this past May, we included the members of our respective parish councils. At the end of the meeting, a woman from St. Agnes, who had been at our shared Confirmation Mass a week or two before, captured the feeling in the room by harkening back to one of the hymns we sang on that occasion: “We belong together.” There was heartfelt agreement around the room.

Concurrent with the discernment process, there has been another process, related to our magnificent 105-year-old building. In the past years, we have had a number of studies done on various parts of the church: windows, masonry, exterior lighting, cladding on the spires, the roof, and more. As you might imagine, there’s a hefty price tag for all that restoration and maintenance, so the other process was a study to determine how much we might raise to tackle those projects. The good news is that we can get it done over the next three to four years. The not-so-good news is that it will take a large amount of my time, which is an important piece of new information in the St. Ignatius-St. Agnes conversation.

Fr. Ray and I updated Fr. Scott (the provincial) on this matter last month. Without going into all the details, the new plan is for each parish to retain its own pastor. In his letter to us, Fr. Scott states:

   “I would therefore like to charge the two parishes with discernment of the best structure, both for Jesuits and lay partners, for a ‘San Francisco Parish Ministry Team,’ that would staff both parishes, with a canonical pastor in each parish. This structure, in my opinion, ought to include the following:

• Overlap as much administration as possible under the one team.

• Allow the charisms of each parish to continue to be vibrant.

• Share as many programs as possible. For example, I understand that social ministries are an area shared by both parishes. Bravo! I believe the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center at St. Agnes  could also be an area of overlap and sharing as well, with openness to members of the larger USF and SI [College Prep] Ignatian family as well.”

Fr. Ray, Fr. George, and I are currently in conversation with a couple of experts to come up with a process to discuss and discern where and how our two parishes can move forward with greater collaboration. When we have something concrete to share with you, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, please pray that we listen well to the Holy Spirit.

And be sure your calendar is marked for 10:00 a.m. Sunday, November 17 – I want everyone Home4Dinner!

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. Greg