Bishop Murry charts course for the future

Bishop Murry - One Year Later

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Bishop Murry - One Year Later

By Linda M. Linonis

Now that he’s acquainted with the diocese, the bishop wants to develop a strategic plan.

YOUNGSTOWN — Bishop George V. Murry has spent the last year meeting and mingling with clergy and the faithful in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown to get a better handle on the challenges facing the diocese.

He was installed March 28, 2007, as the diocese’s fifth bishop, and he’ll soon unveil his strategic plan.

When he was introduced at a press conference Jan. 30, 2007, this is how he responded to a question about the biggest challenge in the diocese: “Ask me in a year. I need to talk to priests, the chancery staff and people about what makes the diocese tick. I didn’t come in with preset expectations.”

True to his words, Bishop Murry has accomplished what he set out to do. “I’ve put 31,000 miles on my car,” the bishop said, and noted he has only six more churches and about 10 schools to visit for the first time. The diocese includes 115 parishes, two missions, six high schools and 17 elementary schools in Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark and Trumbull counties.

Now he’s ready to tackle the challenges. “A letter went out to parishes and schools ... and it came out of what I have heard and what I have seen in the last year as I have moved around the diocese. We need a strategic, comprehensive plan in terms of the future for parishes and schools,” he said. “Soon after Easter, we will begin this comprehensive overview,” the bishop said.

A final report will be ready for implementation in January 2009. That’s the third part of his plan.

Volunteers from the diocese will serve on the pastoral planning and school planning committees. In regard to schools, the yearlong study’s goals are:

UTo ensure quality education throughout the diocese.

UTo exercise proper stewardship of resources, human and financial.

For parishes, the goals are:

UTo determine parish viability using the criteria of availability of clergy, the quality of worship, faith formation, outreach to the poor, financial stability and demographics.

“The overall goal is to make schools and parishes as efficient as possible. And I understand people will be concerned,” he said. “We don’t have unlimited resources in money or people. We have to find the best ways to use the resources we have to build for the future.”

From his meetings with clergy and visits at churches and school, Bishop Murry has developed a sense of the diocese and its people.

“I’m impressed by the level of faith among adults and young people who believe in our Lord Jesus,” he said. “They want to live out their faith. As I have met people, their faith has come through. That is encouraging and hopeful.”

The clergy of the diocese also has earned the bishop’s admiration. “The priests of the diocese are sincere, hard-working and devoted to sharing the word of the Gospel. They’re generous with their time,” he said.

The bishop also had praise for the chancery staff. “They put in so much time and effort.” The bishop described Monsignor Robert Siffrin, who had served as diocesan administrator between Bishop Tobin’s reassignment and Bishop Murry’s being named, as “a great gift to me.” Monsignor Siffrin is vicar general.

Bishop Murry appreciates being asked about what he does because it gives him another chance to talk about faith. “Finding the best way to communicate the message of the Gospel” is a priority.

“I’m often asked by students, ‘What is the bishop’s job?’ I tell them it’s outlined in Scripture ... to teach, administer and sanctify. It’s teaching the faith, for example, through homilies. Administering is the oversight of diocesan programs and ensuring schools provide religious education. Sanctifying is helping people lift their hearts and minds to God.”

The bishop noted many factors play into the decision-making process that will be the strategic plan. “Many buildings are involved, and of course the upkeep. Demographics have changed. The spiritual needs are the most important,” the bishop said.

But, he noted, the diocese also must weigh many factors including economics.

When Bishop Thomas Tobin was reassigned in 2005 and became bishop in the Diocese of Providence, R.I., some diocesan organizations ceased functioning. Bishop Murry has reinstituted the Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Consultors, two groups of priests who offer recommendations, and Diocesan Pastoral Council, representatives from parishes. They will offer important input into the diocese’s future, he said.

Bishop Murry also has other responsibilities. He was elected secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2007. “If I was still in the Virgin Islands, I never would have accepted it,” he said, “The travel would have been too much. When I’ve needed to go to Washington [D.C.], I’ve even gone in the morning and returned that night. And, there’s also so much that can be done by phone, e-mail and fax.”

The secretary is one of five executive positions. Bishop Murry reviews the plans and financing of some 30 committees within the conference.

As a board member of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas arm of the U.S. bishops, he sometimes travels abroad. He journeyed to Africa in January.

On the local level, the bishop has participated in interfaith events including the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast last November. He will speak next Sunday at an interfaith dinner at First Presbyterian Church in Niles and April 23 at the Jewish Community Center.

He said also has talked to Mayor Jay Williams from time to time.

He mentioned Catholic Charities as an important outreach into the community and the churches’ prison ministry.

“The lack of family structure is a problem,” the bishop said. “We need to build up families and make a solid education available. The church can’t be isolated in the community.”

Visiting churches has been a feast of ethnicity. “Just recently I was at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, and they have treasured Polish traditions. They made every effort to include me in their community,” he said. “I really appreciate the diversity. I’ve learned a lot about the history and background of cultural groups here.”

The bishop offered this Easter message: “It’s about life. The promise that God made Adam and Eve when they left the Garden of Eden. The promise is announced at Christmas and is verified at Easter,” he said. “God so loved Jesus that he would not let him die. Jesus loved us so much, even though we had fallen and carried our own crosses, that we would be part of resurrection and new life.

“Death is not the end. Jesus conquered death,” the bishop said. “And because of Jesus, we also will conquer death.”

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