ST. FRANCIS – 2020. It sounds so far away. But in church time, it is near – so near that Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and the Archdiocesan Planning Commission are preparing for it, particularly as to how the spiritual needs of the Catholic community will best be served.

“Parishes and Pastoral Leadership 2020,” approved and issued by Archbishop Listecki Wednesday, Aug. 8, notes “three principal factors” that will have an impact on parishes during the next decade:

Important terms

  Two terms – collaboration and cluster – will be heard and applied during the planning for the future of Catholic life in southeastern Wisconsin. In “Parishes and Pastoral Leadership 2020,” collaboration is defined by the plan’s authors as “the willing cooperation of two or more entities to work together on common projects for mutual benefit.”  
A cluster is defined as “a grouping of geographically bordering parishes working together on a shared vision and ministry plan.”  Clustering, the plan notes, is a “formal relationship between parishes” that involves sharing of personnel, ministries, programs and resources.

  • From 2010 to 2020, the number of priest retirements will exceed ordinations resulting in a projected 40 percent reduction in the number of priests serving in parish ministry. 
  • The costs of operating parishes and funding ministries are escalating rapidly and parishes can gain economies of scale by collaborating with other parishes. 
  • The one mission of the church, shared by all parishes, can be carried out more effectively by combining efforts and sharing resources.

There are 203 parishes in the archdiocese. By 2020, there will be 100 parishes and clusters.

“Of these, 28 are free-standing parishes and the remaining parishes will create 72 clusters,” the plan states. “The 72 clusters will be formed by bringing together approximately 175 parishes and establishing collaborative staffing, structures and ministries.”  

In an interview with your Catholic Herald Friday, Aug. 3, the archbishop said the plan “depends on us embracing our Catholicity.”

“The aspect of Catholicity is the true spirit that guides us. It was that Catholicity and that commitment that produced so many priests that we were able to have individual priests in a parish,” he said. “Now, maybe what we need to do is regroup, grab our Catholicity so it helps us to inspire those individuals to serve in various communities and that we might have more ordained personnel to serve in the future.”

Clustering, collaboration

About 86 percent of the parishes will operate as clusters, while 14 percent will not.

According to the plan, ”Some (parishes) are not clustered because of their size at around 7,000 or more members. Any parish which is owned by a religious order and most that are staffed by religious orders will remain as separate parishes. The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist will remain separate. Some personal parishes for ethnic and cultural groups will remain separate. Finally, a few parishes will remain separate because of their remote locations in relation to the nearest Archdiocesan parish.” (Maps showing clusters are available at

“Clustering” should not be misconstrued as “merging.” As one of its stated “assumptions,” the plan notes, “All current parishes will continue to operate as separate parishes or as partners in clusters unless a parish petitions the archbishop to merge with another parish or parishes.”

During the interview, Archbishop Listecki said, “We’re creating an environment for people to experience the inner workings and the positive aspects of collaboration.”

He said that at some point, the community (the cluster) may decide it likes operating as one body rather than as separate entities.

More information

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Office for Planning and Councils is advising and consulting with parishes as they cluster and/or collaborate. For more information about the process, contact Mark Kemmeter, coordinator of the office, at (414) 769-3352 or or his administrative assistant, Maureen Habetler, (414) 769-3353 or

View a PDF of “2020 Parishes and Pastoral Leadership.”

“But that takes awhile; that takes the spirit of a community to understand it; it takes a while to experience that. It has to take it out of the sense of somebody winning and losing, which is very important,” the archbishop said. “If that’s achieved, it’s achieved in the spirits of the communities that are being served; it’ll come from those to call upon us (the archdiocese) to consider that.”

In a letter that accompanied distribution of the plan, the archbishop noted the need for collaboration.

“Now that a long-term strategy has been determined for the archdiocese, it is extremely important for each parish and cluster to become actively involved in planning for the future,” he wrote. “Each pastor or parish director in consultation with the parish pastoral council is charged with the responsibility for these planning efforts. The full implementation of the plan will require the collaborative efforts of everyone in the archdiocese.”   

Who will serve?

Significant to Catholic life in 2020 is that there will be 100 archdiocesan priests “available for full-time parish ministry,” according to the plan. It also assumes that there will be fewer religious order priests but that they will serve approximately 20 percent of the parishes in the archdiocese – the same percentage they currently serve.

The plan projects that there will be more than 100 priests between the ages of 68 and 80 in 2020. 

“Some priests will continue in full-time parish ministry beyond the initial retirement age of 68.  Many of the senior priests in this age group will be retired from full-time ministry but will be available for sacramental ministry,” it states. “These priests will be essential to the overall future plan for the archdiocese because they can provide regular, vacation, and emergency sacramental assistance for priests in full-time parish ministry.”

Considerable attention is devoted to the diaconate, as the plan states, “Permanent deacons will play an important role in parishes and clusters in the future as well as with specific cultural groups in the archdiocese.”

Noting that “Lumen Gentium” delineates the ministry of deacons, the 2020 plan notes, “The provision of diaconal service must, of necessity, be driven by the needs of the particular worshipping community taking into consideration the gifts, talents and experience of the individual deacon.  These needs may vary by particular location, e.g., social ministry/charity, catechetics, sacramental, evangelization, etc.”

The archdiocese is served by 121 deacons, and the plan anticipates that ordinations will continue at a steady rate.  

According to the plan, parish directors currently serve in 5 percent of the parishes in the archdiocese. 

“It is conceivable that parish directors will continue to function in this capacity or in similar ways in the future,” the plan states, noting that a director might oversee more than one parish.

Two areas that receive mention in the plan are Hispanic and cultural ministries and campus ministry. Regarding the former, it notes that 29 parishes provide ministry for Spanish-speaking Catholics while 12 serve other cultural groups.

“Priests who are able to minister in multiple languages and with multiple cultures will continue to be essential,” the plan states. 

Stating the value that Catholic high schools and colleges/universities have in helping Catholics develop “lifelong practice of the Catholic faith,” the plan states, “These institutions have also become the best sources for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  The assignment of priests to these institutions as chaplains, at minimum on a part-time basis, will be strategized by the Priest Placement Board.”

Great expectations

Archbishop Listecki anticipates that clergy, religious and laity will do all that is necessary to meet the needs of the faith communities.

“Many of our parishes already have been blessed by lay ministers, by individuals who have been serving as DREs, parish directors, in various roles. There’s a ministry in finance with our business managers, the growth and influence of pastoral councils,” he said. “In that instance, we’ve seen this blooming responsibility being embraced by the laity.”

He added, “I don’t see this in any way, shape or form as an abandonment of priestly ministry or an abandonment of the religious, but rather as a call for all of us to step up and to serve.”

The archbishop expects that service will continue.

“There’s going to be an increased dependency upon them and those parishes that will be sharing the success of the ministry and sharing the message will be dependent upon all of us stepping forward and doing that collaboratively,” he said.

Archbishop Listecki said one of the aspects to the process that resulted in the plan, as well as the plan itself, that he liked was that it isn’t based on crisis management.

“I’m excited that we have a plan that gives a confidence to those who will be serving, a handle on an approach, so that we are not governed by the crisis, but that we anticipate the problems and we have a plan for them,” he said, while noting “there could be factors that come into play that we’re just not aware of.”

The archbishop expressed gratitude to the “many people who have offered input.”

“What that says to me immediately is the care they have for the church, the desire that the sacraments be available in our areas, willingness to work with pastors who will be called to go outside of parochial lines, and to serve communities. And it speaks to the growing ministerial strength of our lay ministers,” he said.   

In his letter, Archbishop Listecki noted that what had been developed was a working plan.

“The plan is meant to be a living document, able to adapt over time, and provide guidance in making decisions with long-range implications,” he wrote.