Five years later, Verbruggen now heads up a bereavement support group in her parish, St. John Nepomucene, in Little Chute. The ministry she established currently serves the spiritual and emotional needs of 20 women.
Verbruggen credits a leadership training program, Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), with giving her the confidence and organizational and leadership skills to begin the ministry.
“The CRHP training actually changed my life. It made me way more involved in my church. It gave me direction. It gave me the courage to hear the calling to start a grief support group,” said Verbruggen, who serves on St. John’s adult faith formation committee of the parish pastoral council.
One of programs supported by Bishop’s Appeal
The CRHP program is one of numerous leadership building programs offered to parish councils and committees by the Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department of the Diocese of Green Bay.
The department is one of the ministries and programs receiving funding from the annual Bishop’s Appeal. On Feb. 23, the department held its biennial Pastoral Council Congress at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton.
Verbruggen volunteered to help out during the event for parish pastoral councils.
“I have binders of resources, DVDs and other materials given to me by the diocese. The feeling I am helping other people is huge in my life,” said Verbruggen, who took her CRHP parish building training to churches as spiritual director of CRHP retreats in Kaukauna as well as Little Chute.
Her evangelizing efforts planted the seeds for development of a young adult faith formation group at St. John’s serving parishioners 18 to 35 years of age.
Verbruggen’s experience is a prime example of the Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department’s mission of serving the needs of parish leaders looking to build more vibrant parishes, said department director Mark Mogilka.
“We hopefully provide parish leaders with the tools to help their parishes become vibrant and alive,” Mogilka said.
Bishop’s pastoral addresses parish planning
In his June 12, 2011, pastoral letter on priorities for parishes and the diocese, titled “Parishes: Called to be Holy, Fully Engaged, Fully Alive,” Bishop David L. Ricken said through pastoral visioning and planning “we are asking all of our parishioners to become engaged in their parishes and in living out their faith and their Christian vocations in the world today.”
In his letter, Bishop Ricken said the diocese appreciates the time and talents parish leaders — including those serving on parish pastoral councils, finance councils, stewardship committees and other groups — bring to their parishes.
“The diocese is only as strong as are each of her parishes,” Bishop Ricken said during the Feb. 23 Pastoral Council Congress. “We are trying to build a synergy between the diocese, priests and pastors and the people so that we are working together to advance the mission of the church.”
Mogilka said his department, which he referred to as an information and referral office for parishes looking to participate in the new evangelization, helps parishes to implement Bishop Ricken’s pastoral letter.
“Our job at the diocese is to exist to serve the parishes. It’s at the parish level where the rubber meets the road,” Mogilka said.
Parish councils part of church doctrine
The concept of a parish council was promulgated, or made part of church doctrine, during Vatican II in its Nov. 18, 1965, “Decree on the Apostolate of Laity #26,” said Robert Choiniere, director of parish planning for the Diocese of Brooklyn and the keynote speaker at the Pastoral Council Congress.
Choiniere said parish councils should act as a bridge between parishioners and the pastor.
Training is essential to help church councils “get people from attending church to participating in church,” and “allow gifts given by God to help the church grow.”
“The reason for getting on a church council is to get others involved in their own discipleship,” Choiniere said.
Mogilka said it’s important to offer groups such as parish pastoral councils, through training experience like the Pastoral Council Congress, an awareness of and opportunities to share the “resources and best practices used by other parishes in the diocese and around the country.”
Joe Weiland, parish pastoral council chairman at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Green Bay, has attended several parish council training programs offered by Stewardship and Pastoral Services.
Training offers mentorship skills
“The training allows me to be a better mentor and leader in my parish,” said Weiland, who is in his first year as council chairman. “We have a very active parish with a lot of committees. Trying to keep them together at times can be challenging.”
Weiland said networking opportunities offered parish leaders during diocesan training sessions “is very important to us.”
“You can talk to council members from three different parishes and hear three very different methods of running the parish council so you look for the strong points from each,” Weiland said. “It should be mandatory for any new people on a parish council to attend training workshops offered by the diocese.”
Parish pastoral and financial councils, as well as parish staff, are constantly reaching out to the diocese for assistance, said Deb Hohensee, parish planning director for Stewardship and Pastoral Services.
“Parish planning is looking at the future of our church — who we are and where we want to be,” Hohensee said. “What is the reality? What is the dream? Then we write down goals and create objectives to meet those goals.”
Goal to empower people, parishes
Hohensee pointed to Verbruggen as an example of her department’s goal of empowering people and parishes by fostering a close relationship with God.
“When people go through Christ Renews His Parish training they come out the other side on fire. They want to give back,” Hohensee said. “Prior to this program, Robin (Verbruggen) was a member of her parish, but was not coming forward as a leader. After the program she came forward to put on several retreats. Robin first went through the program as a participant, then became a parish leader who trained others and now has moved to another level in her parish by starting the bereavement ministry.”
Lauri Vandenboom, a former high school principal, was recently named pastoral assistant at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Waupaca.
Vandenboom, who attended the Pastoral Council Congress gathering and has gone through a number of council training programs, said the diocese goes out of its way to bring in pertinent people for training sessions including Matthew Kelly, author of “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic.” Kelly appeared at the 2011 Diocesan Leadership Convocation.
“The diocese is constantly searching for ways to reach the people to make them effective ministers to other people,” Vandenboom said.