Kevin Sullivan was recently hired by Fr. David Neuschwander, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Hayward, for a new director of discipleship position. The salary for the position is being partially subsidized through a three-year grant acquired through Catholic Extension with the help of diocesan director of development Steve Tarnowski. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“If you want to see fruits of the (Catholic Services Appeal), look at me,” asserted Fr. David Neuschwander, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Hayward and St. Ann Church in Cable.

“Looks at your priests,” he said, and referring specifically to his college and seminary formation, added, “I am a bi-product of the CSA.”

The priest, ordained in 2014, shared what a privilege it was to have seminarian Dan Tracy serve his parish cluster for the summer of 2020.

When he recently reported to the parish that the Diocese of Superior has accepted four new seminarians, a standing ovation was the response.

“But that means four educations and their costs,” Fr. Neuschwander said. “If vocations are important to us, we need to invest in them.”

Fr. Neuschwander is also involved with many diocesan youth events. These events offer experiences that are bearing fruit in vocations to the priesthood and married life, in young adults choosing careers in ministry and young couples and families desiring to stay in or return to the Diocese of Superior to live, work and raise their children – a full-circle process where Catholics formed in and by diocesan efforts are in turn sharing their own gifts and talents to serve other Catholics in northwest Wisconsin.

“All of those are made possible through the diocese in a way that my parish would not be able to provide or put an event of that magnitude or quality,” the priest stated. “All of that is made possible by the CSA.”

Administratively, Fr. Neuschwander noted the important role the diocesan finance office plays in helping parishes keep up with guidelines and ever-changing laws and regulations. He expressed gratitude for their role when last year’s Paycheck Protection Program made loans available through the first months of the pandemic; he called the finance office a “central hub providing guidance to navigate confusing situations.”

Another result directly related to the CSA for which the priest is grateful is Diocese of Superior Director of Development Steve Tarnowski’s help in obtaining a grant for a new director of discipleship position at the parish.

“This is a position that I think is extremely important for our church,” Fr. Neuschwander said. He explained his desire for the job was based on the importance of working in a “Jesus model,” as he worked with a select few disciples and then sent those out to preach and minister to others.
“I believe that we’re ready to take strong steps forward in discipleship and that people are ready to grow deeper in their faith,” he said, calling attention to the effects of “the maintenance track that the church is on.”

Those include the rapid declines in church attendance, parish engagement and Catholics’ involvement in the daily living of the faith over the last few decades.

Fr. Neuschwander continued, “The stats show that what we’re doing is very clearly not working. So the question is, has there ever been a time when the church was growing drastically in the midst of a society that was not favorable to Christianity and Catholicism?

“And the answer is yes – the early church… Christianity has been the most effective when we’re following Jesus’ model. When disciples are formed and equipped to confidently live out and share their faith and walk with others personally in relationship to do that.”

The concept of missionary discipleship has been a key phrase in recent years in diocesan catechetical and leadership circles. Fr. Neuschwander both acknowledged the importance of this shift and the separate demands and duties of his priesthood. His belief that “the work is crucial” propelled him to seek out Tarnowski and grant monies that might be available.

Tarnowski was able to help secure a three-year grant for $20,000 per year to kick-start the position. This gave St. Joseph’s Parish Council the support they needed to take the “leap of faith” to give their pastor the go-ahead to seek candidates and hire for the position. The goal is that after the grant runs out, the fruits of the position will be successful in engaging enough support for self-funding.

Working with Chris Hurtubise, director of the diocese’s new Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, a job description was drawn up and the job posted with various regional Catholic publications and diocesan job opportunity boards.

The position’s primary objective was described as: “Plan programs that move adults in the parish from unchurched to resilient discipleship through a variety of programs ranging from evangelization to rich catechesis.”

Responsibilities include working with diocesan Catholic formation personnel and parish leaders to compose a five-year strategy; setting ambitious goals and measurement tools; building intentional relationships with a specific number of adults in the parish each year; recruiting and training leaders to run various planned programs; and implementing programming from pre-evangelization through evangelization and discipleship.

In addition, the director of discipleship will work with parish catechetical leaders as well as those involved with existing adult ministries and organizations and sacramental preparation programs. Specifically, the director will coordinate the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, baptism and marriage preparation “as natural outcomes of parish evangelization and discipleship efforts.”

The role also includes assembling an intercessory prayer team and regularly sharing with them the ministry’s intentions.

Aware that, in Fr. Neuschwander’s words, “A lot of the success of the position is getting someone who is already formed to carry out the job’s responsibilities,” the priest also wanted to be sure to hire the right person with the ability to offer a living wage.

Kevin Sullivan was working in a similar position in the Diocese of Madison when he saw the posting. Parents of two children with another one on the way, the Sullivans were hoping to find an opportunity to raise their family in a smaller community. He already had connections to the Hayward area through vacationing and skiing the Birkebeiner every year since high school.

Sullivan started working at St. Joseph’s in early August.

“We invest in what’s actually important to us,” Fr. Neuschwander said. “If it’s really important to us, we will put the necessary time, energy and resources into fulfilling that.”