Fr. Andrew Ricci gave a daylong presentation on demographics in the Diocese of Superior at the annual clergy workshop held in October in Ashland. (Submitted photo)

As 2019 nears its conclusion, the Diocese of Superior’s A New Springtime Revisited strategic planning process is a work in progress.

The goal of the initiative, which has been in the planning stages for more than two years, is to ensure vibrancy in the local Catholic Church for decades to come.

NSR in review

According to Diocesan Administrative Services Director Dan Blank, the NSR initiative has accomplished much in the past year or so, including hosting five deanery meetings from September 2018 through May, with hundreds of attendees and comments for consideration; summary reports of the deanery meeting comments circulated to the deans for consideration of future meetings; and the creation of Bishop James P. Powers’ planning team, which has now met three times.

Fr. Andrew Ricci, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and pastor of its cluster parishes, gave a full-day presentation at the annual clergy workshop in October in Ashland, which laid out the demographic statistics that will be used in the planning process, Blank said.

Overall, the response to, and engagement in, the planning process from both clergy members and parishioners has been generally positive, Blank reported. Officials have also completed an initial review of the planning processes in the past decade from the Dioceses of Green Bay and Duluth, Minnesota.

Some details of interest:

  • The Diocese of Superior consists of 103 parishes and two missions;
  • There are seven stand-alone parishes, with the remaining 96 parishes in 32 clusters ranging from two to six parishes;
  • Bishop Powers plus 41 priests are assigned to serve the parishes (not counting one priest, Fr. Adam Laski, who is attending Canon Law School). Two priests are from a religious order, 22 are diocesan, including two incardinated priests from India, and 17 temporary priests from India are serving here;
  • The diocese has an aging priesthood – many are serving beyond the retirement age of 65, and several are serving beyond age 70 or even 75;
  • In the past year, the diocese has “lost” several priests to health, retirement, religious order withdrawal, suspension or resignation;
  • “We are grateful for the many retired priests that continue to offer assistance, especially in weekend Mass coverage for illness and vacation,” said Blank;
  • The diocese has one anticipated ordination this coming summer, and four others in seminary;
  • There is major population and income growth in the southwest counties of the diocese;
  • Several other counties have declining population and low average incomes;
  • There are several clusters of four to six parishes, where the assigned priest may be celebrating four to six Masses per weekend, not including the occasional wedding or funeral; and
  • “We have strong, dedicated parishioners that love their parish and appreciate the opportunity to add their voice to the process,” Blank added.

Moving forward

The bishop has outlined four elements to focus on for the future of the local church: Catholic, Eucharistic, evangelization and leadership. Moving forward, the planning team will shape their vision around those priorities.

The team, which consists of Bishop Powers, Fr. Jerry Harris, Fr. John Gerritts, Fr. Andrew Ricci, Sr. Marla Lang and diocesan staff members Blank and Christine Newkirk, have met three times so far – in July, September and November. Their next meeting is set for early January.


Members of the planning team offered the following comments on their efforts.

Bishop Powers: “While this planning process is a bit overwhelming while managing our priest availability and workload, I have been very pleased with the interest in our diocese’s future all across the diocese. The focus must be on our Catholic faith and the power of the Eucharist – that will sustain us and help us to thrive despite all of the challenging circumstances. With leadership and an evangelistic spirit, I am full of Advent hope and anticipation that our engaged parishioners will move us toward an excellent plan. As I have said before, I am committed to keeping everyone informed of the progress along the way. And, as always, I ask your prayers.”

Fr. Andrew Ricci: “This is the situation we have to deal with, so let’s be proactive and positive – no whining or complaining. We can find a way to build the Catholic faith and faithful in our diocese. It will be tough to determine the final proposal, but I am motivated to give my time and energy to a data-driven project. There is an obvious engaged feeling in the audience members – let’s get moving to support vibrant liturgies in vibrant parishes!”

Sr. Marla Lang: “I am happy to be at the table to discuss the challenges that vary significantly within the deaneries of the Diocese of Superior. We pray and trust that our church will find ways to strengthen itself during this process, led by Bishop Powers’ priorities of Eucharist, evangelization and leadership.”

Christine Newkirk: “Although in these times we are called to look at the church in Northern Wisconsin through a renewed pioneering lens, as the New Springtime Revisited process continues and wisdom and insights from all levels of parish leadership from around the diocese is gathered, there is much to celebrate and great hope for the future of the diocese. The faithful remain strong and committed to their Catholic identity, to the Eucharist as central to their sacramental lives, as well as to witness and evangelize through their own quest toward authentic discipleship and in developing hearts and daily practices of servant leadership.”

Fr. Jerry Harris: “I have positive memories of the 2001 New Springtime process and the active involvement of the lay members of the church. I am feeling strong engagement by the lay people again as we begin this current process.”

Fr. John Gerritts: “With careful research and consultation, we can take some bold steps forward. We have done it before and achieved successes. We must trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we proceed.”