ARTICLE – The Growth of Saint Benedict Parish (Fr. James Mallon)

James Mallon, a Canadian Catholic, served as the pastor of Saint Benedict Parish within the Archdiocese of Halifax, Canada. Thanks to his leadership, the parish underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving from an aging and declining community into a vibrant and flourishing one. Under his guidance, the once dwindling congregation experienced a revitalization, drawing in numerous individuals in search of spiritual fulfillment. His unwavering commitment and vision not only breathed new life into the parish but also created a welcoming space that resonated with those seeking a connection with God. 

Over the course of five years, the number of parishioners in this community has doubled from 1,500 to 3,000 individuals, with 40% of them being under the age of 40. Mallon asserts that the parish has experienced a rejuvenation marked by heightened engagement in Mass, confession, adoration, and personal prayer. It now stands as an exemplary model for parish renewal—a genuine house of prayer, a fellowship of disciples, and a dynamic missionary force. 

In his book Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Mallon stresses that the purpose of the Church is to evangelize, which entails sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone. He identifies several factors that prevent the Church from fulfilling its mission, such as clericalism, consumerism, secularism, relativism, lack of training and leadership, and resistance to change.  

Mallon urges parishes to adopt a posture of pastoral conversion, necessitating a transformation in mentalities, priorities, structures, and methods. Acknowledging the Church’s decline, he asserts the need for change. Mallon’s proposal involves redefining the mission of parishes, placing a stronger emphasis on making disciples of Jesus Christ, prioritizing evangelization and the formation of the faithful over property management or services. 

Mallon disapproves of the passive and habitual stance adopted by numerous parishes, satisfied with preserving the existing state without actively pursuing evangelization or self-renewal. He emphasizes the reluctance of certain parishioners to embrace change, holding on to traditions, routines, or structures that no longer align with the Church’s mission. 

According to him, there are several pivotal aspects crucial for the revitalization and expansion of a parish:

Transform the paradigm: transition from a maintenance mindset to a mission-oriented approach, emphasizing evangelization and discipleship development.

Outline a distinct, collectively embraced vision of a missionary parish, striving to connect with those distanced from the Church and nurturing them as disciples of Jesus.

Adjust attitudes: embrace renewal through the Holy Spirit, fostering creativity, innovation, and collaboration with other parishes and church movements.

Enact efficient leadership that aligns with the vision, assign responsibilities, cultivate future leaders, and encourage collaboration among ministries.

Restructure: form leadership teams, customize ministries to meet parishioners’ needs, and establish clear processes to guide individuals on their faith journeys.

Transform the culture: construct a welcoming, joyful, prayerful, and dedicated community where individuals feel loved and a part of a spiritual family.

Nurture Belonging: Foster an inclusive atmosphere for newcomers, visitors, and parish members, fostering connections and involvement to ensure a sense of belonging.

Cultivate Spirituality: Cultivate a spiritual environment centered on prayer and worship, fostering personal relationships with God, active engagement in liturgy and sacraments, and a passion for sharing one’s faith.

Reimagine sacramental ministry: Reimagine sacramental ministry by approaching the preparation of sacraments as opportunities for new evangelization, shifting from mere rites of passage to transformative experiences.

Welcome Non-practicing: Embrace non-practicing individuals by creating welcoming spaces and fostering dialogue, providing avenues for those not actively involved in church life to encounter grace and receive invitations to conversion.

Equip Disciples: Equip and guide individuals receiving sacraments to become missionary disciples, deepening their relationship with Christ and empowering them to share the Gospel through their lives.

Revitalize Liturgy: Revitalize the liturgical experience, enhancing the celebration of the Eucharist to be more aesthetically pleasing, participatory, and mission-oriented, with a focus on praise, impactful preaching, and a commissioning for outward mission.

Mallon asserts that the parish pastor assumes a pivotal role encompassing:

The leader’s function: Leaders are expected to embody the qualities of visionaries, communicators, educators, and role models for fellow church members. They are tasked with championing a lucid, collective vision of the church’s mission, effectively communicating it, mentoring disciples and leaders, and embodying Gospel values.

Leadership attributes: Leaders should possess traits such as passion, courage, humility, authenticity, and collaboration. They must exhibit fervour for both God and people, display courage when confronting challenges and change, humbly acknowledge limitations and mistakes, be authentic by embracing transparency, and excel in teamwork and task delegation.

Leadership tools: Leaders are encouraged to employ efficient tools for planning, organizing, evaluating, and enhancing their leadership and that of their church. This involves utilizing strategic plans, organizational structures, assessment systems, and continuous improvement processes.

Leadership challenges: Leaders must confront obstacles such as resistance to change, fatigue, loneliness, and temptation. Effectively managing these difficulties requires reliance on God, the support of their team, and engagement with their community.

In the pursuit of revitalizing and growing his parish, Mallon championed a missionary perspective and implemented a strategic plan for the transformation of his Christian community. Initiatives included the introduction of evangelization and mentoring programs designed to connect with individuals who feel disconnected or are on a spiritual quest. Weekend liturgy underwent renewal to infuse it with greater liveliness, joy, and openness. Small groups were formed to foster sharing and prayer, promoting spiritual growth and fellowship among parishioners. Additionally, Mallon empowered lay leaders through training, enabling them to assume responsibilities across various aspects of parish life.

In his book Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, James Mallon presents practical suggestions for reshaping parish culture, structures, and mindsets. He urges priests to embody traits such as passion, courage, humility, authenticity, and collaboration, acting as leaders who effectively convey a unified vision of the Church’s mission. Mallon advocates for the establishment of vibrant, hospitable, prayerful, and dedicated communities that enthusiastically proclaim the Gospel’s joy to all.

Pierre-Alain Giffard

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