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A Call to Mercy

April 18, 2016

“Pope Francis!” he said – enthusiastically and without hesitation – in reply to my question, “What are you most excited about for your parish?” Noting that the arrival of such a pope as Francis has been both long-awaited and unexpected, Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, pastor of St. Monica Catholic Community. spoke animatedly about Francis’ proclamation of the Holy Year. “Mercy! We have to find ways to implement it in all areas of the community. It can be a life-changing and powerful opportunity. It is important to encourage parishioners to acts of mercy. We must make sure that mercy overrides everything we do as a community.”

Recently, I met with Msgr. Torgerson and three of his senior staff: Mike Mottola (Parish Administrator), Christine Gerety (Associate Director for Outreach and Pastoral Care), and Suzette Sornborger (Director of Youth Faith Formation). While each understandably viewed the parish successes through his or her own lens, all were equally enthusiastic about Monsignor’s call for mercy as the underpinning of every parish ministry.

St. Monica has been a significant presence in the Southern California beachfront city of Santa Monica since 1886 – with Torgerson as its pastor for more than 25 years, shepherding a community that has grown to 10,000 registered households and a staff that numbers more than 30 (18 full-time). A huge, well-oiled machine, one would think. However, Monsignor and his three colleagues give the lie to any kind of snap judgment here. It’s not good enough, they believe, just to be efficient. Rather, they want their parish to be effective in proclaiming and living out the message of the Gospels in the best way they can. Efficiency is only a means to this end.

Mottola spoke about the on-going Strategic Planning – setting priorities and goals, including inaugurating St. Monica’s University, an umbrella title for the organized Adult Faith Formation programs already existing or planned for the parish. Initially, but not exclusively, this effort will resemble a sort of “Catholicism 101” series, led by in-house talent. The aim: provide instruction that creates a sense of belonging and interrelationship, leading ultimately to small community faith-sharing groups.

Gerety and Sornborger spoke animatedly about the Young Ministering Adults opportunities that have developed over the years. One key to their success is a leadership structure designed to replicate itself – providing training for new volunteers by veteran members of the core team. Wisely, the aim of this multi-faceted program (faith-sharing, service, social) takes its shape from the central word in the title – “Ministering.”

When reading the above, staff in parishes elsewhere could throw up their hands, daunted by these plans and accomplishments. “How is it possible for us to do any of this with our skeleton staff and tight budget?” they might say. But they would be missing the point. It is unwise and self-defeating to try to duplicate the efforts of one parish in another. However, it is very wise for a staff to diagnose the needs of their own parish and seek effective ways to meet them. That’s the essence of what has happened at St. Monica: mission and ministry are built upon the foundation of self-reflection.

All of this pales, though, if any parish neglects the bottom line articulated by Monsignor Torgerson: Pope Francis’ call for Mercy. Is this message really out of reach for any Catholic community, no matter its population or budget? Clearly not. No one needs an abundance of money or personnel to be merciful, just the commitment to make it happen. St. Monica Catholic Community should be only one parish example of Jesus’ message: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt 5:7)

By: Joan Doyle, Master Catechsit, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

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