By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
You have visited all 10 deaneries in the archdiocese to meet with priests and deacons, get feedback from them on some of their pressing issues and share with them some of your future plans. How have those visits gone?
It’s been wonderful visiting each deanery, and I’m planning to make this an annual practice. It’s been enlightening to me that each deanery has different issues that it considers the most important. For example, when I visited the St. Bernard Deanery last week, the three pastors expressed to me how they were reaching out to the fishing families whose lives have been turned upside down by the BP oil spill. Their incredible ministry at the parish level cannot be taken for granted. I am well aware that the real ministry of the local church does not take place at the archdiocesan administrative offices on Walmsley or Howard avenues but in our parishes, schools and Catholic institutions. One of my goals is to help our administrative staff – whom I like to call coworkers in ministry – realize that their main role is to work for and support our parishes, schools and institutions. We in administration need to provide the proper resources and embrace the attitude that we are here to serve.
You said last August at your installation that you would wait about 10 months before making any major decisions. Can you share some of your plans for the coming months?
There are a few hopeful things in the planning process. We have been in discussions with the Benedictine monks at St. Joseph Abbey on a plan to restore and upgrade the buildings at Camp Abbey. I believe Camp Abbey is sorely needed as a year-round facility for school, confirmation and parish retreats and also as the site for the boys’ and girls’ summer camps that were extremely popular in past years. We plan to lease the Camp Abbey buildings from the Benedictines and begin an extensive renovation in September, with the hope of having Camp Abbey reopened for the summer of 2011. We have received a major gift from a donor and a gift from a foundation to allow us to begin the renovation. The abbey has the Christian Life Center to accommodate married couples retreats. Sometimes couples can’t get away for a retreat because they can’t find someone to care for their children. With Camp Abbey coming on line, perhaps the children could be cared for there, and the entire family could get together for a dinner or barbecue on Saturday night. That would allow the entire family to get away for a spirit-filled experience.
You’ve been a big proponent for continuing education, especially among priests. Do you have any plans in that regard?
We need to cultivate unity among priests and honest communication between priests and bishops. I hope to offer a dialogue for priests that will require about a year to lay the groundwork. The process will start with small group meetings among priests to talk about their expectations. We also will survey priests about what they think are the best ways to foster unity. Then, in the fall of 2011, we will hold a three-day workshop for all the priests of the archdiocese. It will truly be a celebration of priesthood. As males and as priests, we tend to have an independent streak, and I think that has grown after Katrina because we’ve all been in survival mode. This is an opportunity to see ourselves as brothers and collaborators. I’m very excited.
I have begun to look at the administrative structure of the archdiocese, and it seems to me we could benefit from something along the lines of a Ministerial Council, which would do strategic planning across a multitude of departments to determine what our top priorities should be as an archdiocese. Also, I hope to use Lent 2011 as an opportunity to invite inactive Catholics to come back to our family and be active in the church. The present and future of the Catholic Church in New Orleans is bright. It is a privilege for me to serve as shepherd and to collaborate with so many dedicated clergy, religious and laity in ministry.
Archbishop Aymond welcomes questions from readers. Please e-mail questions to [email protected]