The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 29, 2000 Issue
Local News

Diocese seeks to improve homilies

Pilot program begins to help bring about better preaching in parishes

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

"It was too long."

"It didn't have a clear message."

"It's the same thing over and over again."

Are these comments you often hear or use yourself to describe homilies?

In response to a call for better homilies, the Diocese of Green Bay has launched a Preaching Pilot Program.

The program, led by Bp. Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese, and Fr. Willard VandeLoo, vicar for priests, brings together homilists for critique sessions and self evaluation. Members of the pilot group, which first met last week, include Bp. Morneau, Fr. VandeLoo, Fr. Mike Carroll, Msgr. Jim Dillenburg, Fr. John Bergstadt, Sr. Judy Miller, CSJ, and Dcn. Maury Reed.

Each member of the group records a homily presented on a designated Sunday. The tapes are transcribed and a written version of the homily is created. Members of the group critique the audio tapes. Tony Kuick, diocesan director of Communications, edits two of the written transcripts for grammar and syntax. The group is scheduled to meet four times.

The program is modeled after the Saginaw Program started in 1993 by Bp. Ken Untener. Bp. Untener, who is scheduled to speak at the 2001 Congress at St. Norbert College in De Pere, wrote Preaching Better Practical Suggestions for Homilists (Paulist Press, 1999) as a guide for the program. The text was given to the all members of the first pilot group.

"We plan to have completed two pilot groups before Bp. Untener is here, so the timing is good," said Bp. Morneau. "The goal of the program is to reflect, affirm and challenge. Catholics have shared that they want better homilies and we need to serve their needs."

Members of the first group had some reservations before the first meeting, said Fr. VandeLoo.

"It's a fearful thing knowing you're going to be critiqued," he said. "Many have never heard themselves before, which added to their fears."

"There was a certain amount of intimidation, but there was not a competitive mood at all," said Sr. Miller, parish director at St. Mary Parish, Oshkosh. "I found it interesting how the scripture text can reveal such different messages from different people. It demonstrates the richness of the power of the Word of God."

Sr. Miller found the critique sessions to be very constructive.

"There were some good points made," she said. "Many points applied to all of us. The people deserve the best, so they can relate to God in their lives. This process has potential to help us to better proclaim the vessel that speaks the Word."

"Are we swallowing words? Are we rushing? Is it focused enough with a real central message? These are questions we asked," said Fr. VandeLoo. "We also looked at how we put a homily together. When and how do we start the process?"

The pilot program will be continuously evaluated. Lay people may be recruited to review tapes for future sessions. Also, future groups will be strategically put together if possible, said Bp. Morneau.

"Bp. Untener tries to use a methodology for getting groups together," he said. "He tries to get a good mixture. For this first group, we invited four priests, a deacon, and a parish director by design. I hope that they share with their peers the benefits of the program creating enthusiasm and interest."

"This program gives us confidence that what we are doing is good and the hard work is allowing us to reach people," said Fr. VandeLoo.

"I found the first meeting very enriching, inspiring and very worthwhile," said Bp. Morneau. "It's a new experience that provides a great opportunity for personal growth that will benefit the people of the diocese."

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