Mark Mogilka retires after 31 years in parish planning

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 2, 2017

Countless highlights dot diocesan leader’s decades of service to diocese

ALLOUEZ — A cartoon on the wall of Mark Mogilka’s office illustrates, he said, how God has interacted in both his life and his career in family, parish and pastoral ministry. The cartoon shows Dennis the Menace telling a friend: “Mr. Wilson says that, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

“So much of my life has been that way,” Mogilka said, with his characteristic laugh.

Mark Mogilka, pictured in his office at the Diocese of Green Bay’s Bona Hall in Allouez, retires after 31 years of parish and pastoral ministry. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

On June 23, after 31.5 years with the Diocese of Green Bay, Mogilka will retire as director of Stewardship and Pastoral Services. It brings to an end a 42-year career in the dioceses of La Crosse, to Columbus, Ohio, and Green Bay.

Yet, it could actually date back to the fifth grade.

Dream of missionary work

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night,” said Mogilka, who was raised in Cudahy, Wis., “having a dream that God wanted me to be a Jesuit missionary working in China.”

However, he “always put off” that vocations route until, while finishing his master’s degree in social work from UW-Madison, he decided that a priest’s collar wasn’t for him. At the same time, he realized there wasn’t much call for a lay man working fulltime in the church either.

Then came “another one of those faith moments;” he got a fellowship in ministry at the University of Detroit, which helped pay for his master’s in religious studies.

“Again, the skeptic would say I got lucky,” Mogilka said. “The person of faith thanks God.”

After graduation, his first position in the La Crosse Diocese was as administrative assistant to the director of Charities. Then he became co-director of the Family Life office.

Three years later, he became director of family ministry for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, and served for eight years there.

Green Bay post opens

He and his wife, Barb, had always planned to move back to his native Wisconsin. So when, in spring of 1985, an opening for a family life director at the Green Bay Diocese was posted, it seemed perfect. However, Mogilka had also been nominated for the presidency of the National Association of Family Life Ministers. Since he “was fairly confident that I was going to get elected,” he didn’t apply at Green Bay.

He was not elected — by six votes. Disappointment followed. However, at the same fall 1985 meeting where he lost the election, the job for Green Bay was again posted.

“(The election) had been one of those first of many times that I thought I knew what God’s plan was for me,” Mogilka said. “But of course, God had a different plan. … And we were off to Green Bay.”

The job — and the office — he accepted here evolved over the years: from Family Life, to Personal and Family Enrichment, to Pastoral Services, to the present Department of Stewardship and Pastoral Services.

Mogilka credits many “mentors,” from other diocesan department heads and colleagues, to priests and parish ministers. “So many great people through the years, I was blessed to work with.”

Highlights of service in diocese

Countless highlights dot the decades for Mogilka. Here are a few:

  • Serving as liaison to the Green Bay diocesan mission at Elias Pina in the Dominican Republic “is one of the top,” according to Mogilka. He recalls trips there, and the priests and countless volunteers who have served the mission and built up its parish, school, bakery and 30 chapels in the outlying areas.
  • There was the Renew 2000 program in preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. Mogilka recalled that 93 percent of diocesan parishes had Renew 2000 groups: people meeting regularly in small groups to share their faith experiences.
  • That Jubilee Year also included a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome with Bishop Robert Banks and 225 others, including Mogilka. He speaks especially of “the opportunity to meet and shake the hand of a saint: John Paul II.”
  • He also remembers the many years when diocesan departments, along with parishes, worked under a common two-year theme of discipleship. Mogilka and others, including the late Lee Nagel, director of education, developed themes like: “Tending the Soul” or “Feast the Hungry.”

Parish and pastoral planning have also taken a great deal of his time and led in many directions.

Mark Mogilka, bottom right, is pictured with members of his staff in a file photo taken in the mid-1990s, when the Department for Personal and Family Enrichment became Pastoral Services. (Photo courtesy of Diocesan Archives)

“I’ve taken a certain pride,” Mogilka told The Compass, “that, when I started doing pastoral planning, it kind of evolved: In the early ’90s, we had 215 parishes; today, we have 155. For the most part, in one way or another, I was in the middle of helping facilitate all those transitions. It’s with mixed feelings that I think about that chapter: My reason for ministry is to build and grow the church; it wasn’t, as one person said, to ‘downsize or right-size,’ although it was work that needed to be done.”

Most of all, he said that he cherishes the relationships he has built with priests and pastoral leaders, including his unique role — for the past 15 years — as a lay member of the diocesan priests’ personnel board.

National recognition

And much of the work with parishes and their leaders helped focus national attention on the Green Bay Diocese and on Mogilka. He was asked in 2004 to chair the National Council of Catechetical Leadership’s Multiple Parish Pastoring Committee after it had received a $1 million Lilly Grant to study emerging models of parish leadership — specifically, pastoring multiple parishes. Today, he travels the country and the world as an expert in parish planning. This March, he went to Rome as one of 14 researchers who gathered with hundreds of church and parish leaders for “A Festival of Creative Church Management.”

The same work also led, in 2007, to Mogilka receiving the Yves Congar Award for “extraordinary service, initiative, creativity and service” from the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. In 2009, he co-authored a book with Dr. Kate Wiskus entitled, “Pastoring Multiple Parishes.”

During these three decades, he has also helped the Green Bay Diocese become recognized as a leader in the nation in the area of “pastoral leaders,” sometimes also called “parish directors.”

“I think we have the largest number of them of any diocese,” Mogilka said. “To see the work they have been able to do and to see how they have extended the life of our senior priests.  We’ve had so many great ones, from Sr. Mary Bride on. (In 1986, Sr. Mary Bride Grubbs became the first “parish director” in the diocese, serving at St. Patrick, Stephensville.)

Many new pastoral ministers today train in the diocese’s Emmaus Program, in partnership with Silver Lake College. For 10 years, Mogilka has taught in the program in the area of pastoral leadership.

“Just to see that commitment, dedication and talent of lay people and future deacons,” he said. “It’s great to be part of that journey with them.”

Landmark study on spirituality

Mogilka has always loved research and was part of a diocesan initiative that grew into what he calls “a landmark study on household spirituality, which to this day still holds insights into how to help people cultivate their prayer life.” The study showed key points of daily prayer in people’s lives today, such as in the morning and evening and at meals. The study taught Mogilka that “we should build on people’s strengths.”

Another element that “played to people’s strengths” was the diocesan Education Department’s event known as “The Gathering” held for many years at St. Norbert College and drawing nationally known speakers. The Gathering ended several years ago and has been rebuilt, Mogilka noted, into the Leadership Convocation held each fall.

As he looks forward, Mogilka said he would still love to research in more areas of church ministry, from how to accompany young adults (“a major challenge for the church in the future”), to the role of technology in ministry; to what can be learned from other denominations, especially in the area of “the multi-site church.”

As for retirement, he said that his wife, who retired three years ago, has been urging him to consider it. The couple has four adult children and eight grandchildren, who live around the country, and Barb said she’d enjoy more family visits. Mogilka himself wasn’t sure he was ready for that.

Mark Mogilka is pictured with an unidentified admirer during a celebration at the Chancery marking his 40th birthday in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Diocesan Archives)

But then, he said, God seemed to intervene. First, there was a 2016 trip to the Holy Land, where he pondered the retirement question. When he accidentally hit his head on the altar at Calvary, he remembers thinking, “God, are you trying to tell me something?”

Then, offers in new areas began coming in:

  • Since August, he has been a consultant for the Meitler Group, a firm that assists in church planning. Mogilka has been “helping them with diocesan reorganization, parish renewals, with some processes they are doing in dioceses around the country.”
  • St. Norbert College in De Pere asked him to teach next spring in the Master in Theological Studies program, in the area of leadership and parish models.

And other dioceses began asking him “to do clergy and staff continuing education days.”

Suddenly, it seemed that things were coming together into “a great opportunity to not totally retire,” while still not having to get on so many airplanes or come to an office every day.

Mogilka, a member of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, admits to approaching June 23 with “a whole host of mixed feelings and emotions. For 42 years, my life — in addition to my family — has been working out of a diocesan office. While it looks like my life will be plenty full, there is still the anxiety of pushing out into a new stream, lake, river, that isn’t going to be coming to an office every day.”

But then, erupting into another laugh, he said: “And I believe God has a few more chapters of surprises.”

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