ALLOUEZ — In a letter to priests and pastoral leaders dated Feb. 17, Bishop David Ricken announced the completion of a “Parish Boundaries Project.” The project has been in the works for more than a decade, he said, and its goal is to “build discipleship in our households, schools and parishes” by introducing updated parish boundaries as “parameters of our mission field.”
Each parish received an official decree that outlines its updated geographic boundaries. The decree includes written boundary details as well as maps illustrating the boundaries. In his letter, Bishop Ricken encouraged pastors and parish leaders to “jump in your car and tour your area.”
“Get to know and acquaint yourself with the neighborhoods within your responsibility so that later on you will have a great understanding of your own mission field,” said Bishop Ricken.
Bishop Ricken and members of his diocesan Curia, who were responsible for completing the Parish Boundaries Project, explained that the project aims to help parishes and the diocese achieve the church’s new evangelization mission.
“It is here in our neighborhoods that we ought to be reaching out first to offer all the people within our mission field the joy and the mercy of the Gospel, just as Jesus did,” Bishop Ricken wrote in his Compass column March 17.
In an interview, Tammy Basten, diocesan Chancellor, along with Department of Stewardship and Pastoral Services personnel Mark Mogilka, director, and Patricia Young, management support coordinator, offered background on the parish boundary project.
Mogilka said an attempt to update parish boundaries first took place approximately 20 years ago when Msgr. John Dewane was vicar for administration. “At that time we thought it would be a relatively easy project to clarify for parishes what their canonical boundaries were,” said Mogilka.
“For many of the parishes, their original canonical boundaries would say things like ‘up to the railroad track on the south side … and everything north,’” said Mogilka. “The only thing is, the train track is gone and nobody knows where it was.”
At the time there were 215 parishes needing updated boundaries, added Mogilka. “Msgr. Dewane decided it was too big of a project and it was abandoned.”
Another challenge, he said, was a misunderstanding of the purpose of parish boundaries.
Historically, he said, people saw parish boundaries as perimeters in which people who reside there must register and attend church.
“Over time we began to do just what Pope Francis is challenging us to get away from, which is turning in on ourselves and only serving those people who are registered and attend Mass on a Sunday,” explained Mogilka.
Basten and Bishop Ricken both stated that canon law is clear that the role of parish boundaries is to “assume responsibility for the care of all souls within a specified geographic area” (canon 518), and not just registered parish members.
“We also want to re-establish the idea that, if you have within your primary mission field a health care facility, a nursing home or a jail or prison, you have the primary responsibility” to minister to everyone within those facilities, said Mogilka. “Pope Francis has been very clear that he wants our pastors and I think our parish leaders to get the smell of their sheep on them.”
Updating the boundaries required the skills of numerous people reviewing parish records, typing information and using geomapping software to track boundaries and create maps for parishes. “Less than 30 percent (of parishes) had prior defined boundaries, so we then contacted all parishes to check their paper files,” said Basten.
The diocese utilized a demographic research tool called MissionInsite (missioninsite.com) to develop a mapping program.
Young was responsible for creating a database for boundary information and, with the assistance of her husband, Lee, created maps. “He has GIS (geographic information system) experience,” said Young. “He used a program he has and (MissionInsite) to tighten up boundaries. He wrote the text to define all of the streets and made it all make sense.”
The mapping project took about 18 months to complete.
Basten credited other Curia staff members for their assistance: Olivia Wendt, Tracy Granius, Betty Allen and Pat VonHaden.
Mogilka said MissionInsite offers elaborate features to help parishes, diocesan ministries and schools utilize demographic information for evangelization purposes.
“Now that we have the boundaries completed, we have the ability to very quickly, like in one minute and a half, click on a map and generate 50 pages of data and information values,” he said. Demographic details — such as whether an area’s population is growing or declining; income levels; size of households; what percentage are Catholic; even what percentage was Catholic 10 years ago — can quickly be accessed.
“A parish can give us a list of all their parishioners and we can put that in to MissionInsite and plot their addresses, so they can see where their parishioners live … or where their biggest pockets of people live,” said Young.
In his letter to parish leaders, Bishop Ricken underlined the importance of the Parish Boundaries Project.
“Boundaries help us define our areas of responsibility,” he said. “It has always been the teaching and practice of the church to make clear to every bishop and pastor that we are responsible for every soul within our jurisdiction; not just the Catholics.”
In his March 17 column, Bishop Ricken explained that the project fits in well with his plan to promote the new evangelization.
“In the light of the new evangelization and our mission to enhance discipleship in our households, schools and parishes, let us look to seize this opportunity by allowing our defined boundaries to become parameters of our ‘mission field.’”
Related: Compass editorial: Reconnecting neighborhoods.