Clergy Prepare for FOP at Family Retreat and Formation Sessions

By. Deacon Mike Houghton, Director of Missionary Strategic Planning

There is nothing quite like a Family party. It’s an opportunity to deepen relationships with those you love, and a chance to try to better understand those who you may sometimes struggle to appreciate. It’s a chance to break bread together, to share stories of what has been, and to optimistically ponder what lies ahead.

Perhaps the analogy is a little bit hokey, but this is conceptually what is happening at a series of two-day Family Clergy Retreat and Formation Sessions that are occurring in May and early June of this year.

A total of four of these sessions has been scheduled, one for each Region of the diocese. Participants are the priests and deacons of each of the 26 Wave 1 Families, and they are asked to attend one of the four sessions as a Family.

Day one of these sessions is structured very much like a retreat. Three talks are given on the topic of discernment from three most distinguished speakers: Fr. Peter Ryan, Fr. Brian Cokonougher, and Archbishop Allen Vigneron. Each talk is followed by time for personal reflection, and then time for the clergy of each Family to discuss their thoughts on their own discernment to their vocation and how it impacts their role in their Family of Parishes. Day one also includes a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as a social hour to have more relaxed conversation.

Day two then gets into the nuts and bolts of what it means to function within a Family of Parishes, with special emphasis on the leadership structure. The first talk is on how Families are organized and structured, while the second and third talks provide a deeper dive of the Mission Support and Mission Direct ministries. Between the second and third talk there is a Mass which is presided by the Bishop of the region, and all of the priests are invited to concelebrate.

One important aspect of day two happens at the very end, just before the session is closed. This is when the priests of the Family begin their work on the Family Priests’ Covenant, something that they will continue to work on over the next few months. The Covenant enables discussion around some key issues that they will face in their Family, including both interpersonal communion and ministerial relationships. As the priests begin their work on the Covenant, the deacons spend time together discussing their role in Families and other strategic issues for the diaconate community as they now move forward under the leadership of Deacon Chris Beltowski.

Day one is generally well-liked by the participants, as one would expect. Day two is appreciated, as we all want to make Families a success, but it is also a day with questions that are sometimes pointed and reflective of some of the concerns that the Clergy have. This is understandable and very much appropriate. Our move to Families is a big change, and it will not come without leaving behind some things that we’ve grown to love and taking on some new things that we don’t yet fully understand.

The original plan was to have all of these sessions be at a retreat house to allow for overnight stays, but the pandemic has forced three of the four to be moved instead to a local parish in the region. The final session in June will in fact be at the St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center, as reduced restrictions have allowed for a group of this size to gather there.

Even though we don’t officially launch our Wave 1 Families until July 1, our move to Families of Parishes is well underway. The priests and deacons of the Wave 1 Families are working hard to be sure that when we do launch in July, we are as prepared as we can be.

It’s hard work to be sure, but what better way to appreciate all that lies ahead than to have a Family party? May the Lord in his goodness bless our Families and enable us to be his hands and feet here on earth as we go about making disciples of all nations by unleashing the Gospel here in southeast Michigan.