Editor’s note: This month’s 150th jubilee liturgical celebration is the Chrism Mass on March 27 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. The liturgy will serve as a “Jubilee for Clergy and Pastoral Leaders/Coordinators.” The following story explores priests who serve as regional vicars in the Diocese of Green Bay.
ALLOUEZ — Leadership extends beyond parish boundaries for a group of pastors in the Diocese of Green Bay. Seven territorial divisions of the diocese called vicariates are served by regional vicars, also known as the vicars forane.
The responsibilities of the regional vicars are defined by the Code of Canon Law and applied by the local bishop. In 2012, Bishop David Ricken revised the duties of each vicar to include the following:
- Promote positive local pastoral leadership within the vicariate by communicating and coordinating pastoral activity; overseeing clerical life and work.
- Arrange for a meeting at least once per year among the priests and pastoral leaders of the vicariate.
- Be present at vicariate-based diocesan workshops and training programs.
- Visit each parish of the vicariate on a rotating basis, once every three years, to check the general condition of the church, make sure that the parish books are correctly maintained and ensure that the living conditions of the priest are adequate and appropriate.
- Serve as administrator when the position of pastor within the vicariate is vacant.
- Participate in the semi-annual meetings of the vicars forane with the bishop.
- Serve as a liaison to the diocese and the vicar for ministers regarding priestly care and significant parish events.
- Serve as vicariate contact at the time of a priest’s death.
- Provide consultation, when appropriate, regarding the assignment of a priest or pastoral leader within the vicariate.
“Probably the biggest role is visitation,” said Fr. Luke Ferris, vicar for clergy and pastoral leaders. “(Regional vicars) are asked to visit every parish in the vicariate every three years. First and foremost, they check the sacramental records.
“We are also looking at the general condition of all the buildings,” he added. “The bishop is on the board of each parish. He is the president of their legal board. He needs to know that they are keeping up the place. It’s an investment to make sure that everyone is being taken care of.”
Fr. Ferris is the former regional vicar of Vicariate I, the North Vicariate, the largest in size in the diocese. He served as regional vicar as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano. His successor as pastor, Fr. Tom Farrell, also succeeded Fr. Ferris as regional vicar.
Due to the large area in Vicariate I — which includes Florence, Forest, Langlade, Marinette and Menominee counties and parts of Oconto and Shawano counties — Fr. Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep serves the territory as assistant regional vicar.
During his parish visits as regional vicar, Fr. Ferris said that he would often take part in a meal or go out for coffee with the pastor or pastoral leader. Conversations included making sure the priest or pastoral leader was taking care of him or herself. The visits also served as an opportunity to affirm the good work going on in the parish.
Fr. Ferris let the pastor or pastoral leader know in advance what the visit would entail regarding records, administrative matters and parish properties.
“It’s about accountability,” he said. “If they lose those records, it’s a hardship to recreate them.
“You take a basic look at the housing,” he added. “You may need to pass along to the parish that they need to spend a little money on the rectory. Guys want to live in a decent place, so you need to keep it up.”
The visitation report forms are reviewed by the chancellor of the diocese, who oversees record keeping. Tammy Basten, chancellor, explained that, after addressing concerns, if any are found, the reports are sent to diocesan Archives. The reports are included in the sacramental records kept on microfilm at the parish office and in Archives.
“Historically, when people want to look up things on their own family, they go to the Catholic Church,” said Fr. Ferris. “They depend on us for this information.”
“When people have needs, they know that we have kept records,” said Basten. “It’s the history, the genealogy, the sacramental records.”
All priests serving as vicars in the diocese receive the title of “very reverend.” Regional vicars are appointed to a three-year term and can serve two consecutive terms. When a regional vicar seat is open, the bishop asks for nominations, which he takes into consideration for his appointment.
The regional vicar is often listed in the obituary for a priest because he leads the rite of the reception of the body.
“It’s usually at the (funeral) vigil the night before the funeral Mass,” explained Fr. Ferris. “It includes some simple prayers. It’s a funeral rite that can be done for anybody, but for the priests we want to make sure that the regional vicar, assistant or some special representation of the priesthood does that.”
The responsibility of the regional vicar to serve as administrator in the case of a death or an unforeseen circumstance, is required by canon law.
“You always have to have someone in charge,” said Fr. Ferris. “The beauty of the church is that you are not going to leave the parish vacant. The regional vicar is likely not going to make any big decisions, but it’s clear that somebody is there.”
Ideally, the diocese would like to have regional vicars look into issues at parishes when they arise, but it’s difficult due the pastors’ schedules, said Fr. Ferris.
“Some dioceses use them as a first resort,” he said. “Most people, when they have a problem with their priest, call the diocese right away. We would like them to call their regional vicar, but what we have found is most priests are too busy.”
The number of vicariates in the Diocese of Green Bay was reduced from 12 to seven in 2009. The 12 vicariates were established by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo. Bishop David Zubik first called for the reorganization to seven, which was implemented by Bishop Ricken.