Deaneries encourage common action among parishes

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It started with a call to Msgr. Mark Rivituso — a pastor asked about moving his parish to another deanery to join with parishes that were more similar.

It prompted the archdiocese's vicar general — the archbishop's second in command, if you will — to take a closer look at the organization of the archdiocese's 10 deaneries, which span 11 counties and the City of St. Louis.

Deaneries, quite simply, are clusters of neighboring parishes that serve to "foster pastoral care through common action," as noted in Canon Law (can. 374, 2). Dioceses go back to Roman times, when areas of government were organized into regional sectors; with Church structure, parishes are divided into deaneries, or clusters, to communicate and collaborate on issues facing each area.

"They help assist the archbishop to address the organization and pastoral and sacramental needs of those particular areas," said Msgr. Rivituso.

The boundaries hadn't been touched at least since 1962, so it was certainly time for an evaluation. In the last 50 years, the number of parishes in the archdiocese has dropped by nearly 20 percent. Some deaneries have dropped by half or more, including North and South City and Northeast County. Others have grown, including Southwest County and St. Charles. Rural deaneries (Festus, Washington and Ste. Genevieve) have largely remained stable in the past 50 years.

"Things have changed with population trends and priests having more than one parish," Msgr. Rivituso said. "They're dealing with a whole new set of needs, so there was a need to look at how we can collaborate better and more effectively."

Last fall, the deans — priests appointed as deanery leaders, known in Canon Law as vicars forane — were asked to reconsider a reconfiguration of the boundaries. The new configuration, which was approved by the deans, and later by the Priests' Council, shifts some parishes into different deaneries, and creates several newly named deaneries. The changes are expected to go into effect later this year.

Practically speaking, the priests, deacons in some places lay representatives of each parish in a deanery meet about once a month to discuss issues parishes and schools are facing. Deaneries function in other ways, such as collaboration among parish pro-life coordinators and youth ministers on a deanery-by-deanery basis.

"Not every parish has the same resources," Msgr. Rivituso said. "Maybe one parish has a grief ministry, and others can plug into that. Or maybe another has support for divorced or separated Catholics, or a better way for St. Vincent de Paul (conferences) to collaborate and serve the poor."

When the proposal was made last fall to bring three south St. Louis schools together under a new model of governance, the information was communicated to pastors at a South City Deanery meeting in advance of the general public.

"We all heard the same thing at the same time, and were able to ask questions, and that was very helpful," said Father Carl Scheble, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish and dean of the South City Deanery. "We heard it first and could get our heads wrapped around it, so when it was announced later to the broader community, we could certainly answer questions that were going to come at us." 

>> Number of parishes by deanery

                                           1962                        2017

North City                                35                           10

South City                               43                           24

Northeast County                    26                           10

Northwest County                    19                           15

Southwest County                    21                          27

Southeast County                    17                          19

St. Charles                               19                          24

Festus (formerly De Soto)       14                           14

Washington                              21                          20

Ste. Genevieve                        21                          18

TOTAL                                    236                        181 

Deanery reorganization

As seen in the map of the new deanery boundaries at right, the parishes in the City of St. Louis are split roughly equally into the North City and South City deaneries. The St. Louis County deaneries have been reorganized into North, South, West and Mid-County deaneries from the former Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and Northwest county deaneries. Deaneries outside of St. Louis County remained largely the same, with a few parishes shifting deaneries. 

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