By RENEE WEBB
Priests of the Diocese of Sioux City got some pointers for their homilies at a convocation held Oct. 16 to 18 at Okoboji.
“All active priests were in attendance and some retired priest joined us, too,” noted Father Shane Deman, director of the Committee for the Continuing Education of Clergy, who explained the committee organizes a convocation every three years.
The theme of the gathering was “Renewing Sunday Preaching.” The focus topic was selected by the Continuing Education Committee and Bishop Walker Nickless two years ago, with much planning made by the outgoing committee chair, Father Tim Friedrichsen of Storm Lake.
“Ministry 2025 has called for quality liturgies in which priests are given proper time to develop effective homilies,” Father Deman said. “Good preaching should draw believers closer to God within the life of the church; thus, the ways in which we can improve our preaching will hopefully lead to an increase in faith for the entire diocese.”
Preaching, Father Friedrichsen added, is the part of priestly ministry that puts them in front of the most people at any one time. Because there can be such a small window of opportunity to reach out to parishioners, developing strong preaching skills is all the more important.
Bishop Nickless echoed those sentiments, noting the topic tied in well with the goal of developing better, more vibrant liturgies.
“We were hoping that this topic could be relevant and valuable to the priests in learning how to fine-tune their preaching skills,” he said. “I think they learned a lot of different things – some more than others.”
Two speakers – Father Donald Heet and Father Norbert Maduzia – from the National Organization for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERCC) gave various talks related to the theme. Father Heet is an Oblate of St. Francic de Sales who currently serves at a parish in Reston, Virg. Father Maduzia serves in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
“The talks focused on the goal of preaching, the purpose of the homily within the context of the entire Mass, homily preparation tools with printed and online resources, and how to receive proper feedback from one’s preaching,” said Father Deman.
Father Friedrichsen appreciated the information presented about the skills of good homilists and the spirituality of good homilists. Many of the presentations, he added, provided good reminders and affirmation as to what makes for good homilies.
As a side note, Father Friedrichsen said Father Heet was a former colleague of his at The Catholic University, so this gathering gave them a chance to reconnect.
Bishop Nickless said the presenters allowed time for small group discussion and provided information that “hopefully can improve our homilies and make them relevant to the people we speak to.”
In addition to the presentations, the convocation included panel discussions and group discussions. One roundtable discussion centered on Ministry 2025 and its effect on parishioners, staff and parish structures.
“This discussion was designed to support brother priests in how they are personally handling the transitions of parish mergers and closures,” Father Deman said. “Several priests indicated that they have experienced personal struggles in these transitions, yet many are hopeful in the fruit that our long-range planning will provide for the diocese.”
Father Friedrichsen pointed out this was the first large gathering of priests since Ministry 2025 took effect. Conversation and sharing was facilitated by someone from the Diocese of Winona, which has gone through similar pastoral planning.
Along with the continued education component, one of the values of this convocation is the opportunity for fellowship.
Time for fellowship, stressed Friedrichsen, becomes more valuable every year as the distances between the priests increases. Now that priests are physically more spread out, he said it is more difficult to get together on a regular basis.
“Priestly fraternity is vital, not only to ministerial collaboration with Bishop Nickless and with each other, but also for prayerful and social support,” he said. “Many priests have several hats to wear with various duties. Our convocation time allows us to feel rejuvenated through mutual support and encouragement.”
Bishop Nickless pointed out they not only hold a convocation every three years, but also a retreat every three years. He said the gatherings were opportunities to leave the work of the parish and chancery behind in order to focus on each other through socialization, communication and the celebration of the Eucharist.
“Our group is growing smaller and smaller, so we need to give each other the support and strength we need. We are working together to advance the kingdom of God in Northwest Iowa,” the bishop said. “It was also wonderful to be with some of the retired priests who attended – to be with them and learn from their experiences as well.”