Delegates to the Diocesan Synod had the opportunity to address the topic of evangelization Oct. 13 at Immaculate Conception Church in Burlington during the first of three synod sessions.

They commented on proposed recommendations put forth by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne, who convened the synod. They are: to establish a diocesan evangelization committee under the direction of the executive director for evangelization and catechesis; to develop a pastoral approach that helps every parish become an intentionally evangelizing community; to establish an evangelization committee in every deanery, revising the deanery structure if necessary to make this effective; to develop a diocesan-wide curriculum for religious education in kindergarten through grade six; to develop a post-confirmation program for middle and high school-aged students; and to develop and implement a program of adult catechetical and faith formation for the Diocese.

In the spring of 2017, Bishop Coyne announced plans to convene the first Diocesan Synod in Vermont since 1962. Its purpose is to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont and to establish particular laws and policies to do so.

Following the Solemn Opening Mass, synod delegates and other interested persons gathered in the church where Bishop Coyne, seated in the presidential chair, listened as delegates addressed the gathering with two-minute comments.

Their comments varied from asking that the curriculum for religious education be for kindergarten through grade 12 and that “prayer warriors” be engaged to pray about the success of the synod and its decrees to reaching out to the marginalized and addressing changes made to parish programs as priests are transferred.

Both clergy and laypersons addressed the synod.

A sampling of their comments follows:

Gary McKenney of St. Anthony Church in White River Junction said, “The ground is fertile with people who are searching. We must be ambassadors of Christ in all we do.”

Judy Contompasis of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington called for resources to be allotted for evangelization ministry. “We have to have the right volunteers and the right training for volunteers for religious education to move forward in a good way,” she said.

Father Maurice Roy, pastor of Holy Angels and Immaculate Conception churches in St. Albans, lamented that he sees many people at Mass who have family members that no longer go to church. He suggested not telling those family members they should go to church but rather to tell them at the appropriate time “why you’re in church.”

Jackie Labrecque of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington, said, “Our mission is to go out and evangelize and evangelize joyfully.” But she cautioned approaches that may work in the city might not work in the country. She also suggested parishes put energy into making Masses places people want to be.

“If we are to become an intentionally evangelizing community, we have to be intentionally evangelized,” said Kevin McDonnell of St. Dominic Church in Proctor. He suggested a special focus on persons 38 and younger and for prayers for “the fire of the Holy Spirit to enter each and every one of us.”

Other suggestions included online evangelization programs, dedicating a diocesan day of praying the rosary for evangelization, not using the word “evangelization” which can be off-putting for some people but rather having a catch phrase like POC (“Pack Our Churches”) and encouraging others to invest in their faith.

Joseph Gainza of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier suggested an emphasis on Catholic social teaching for those non-Catholics or non-practicing Catholics who are already working on shared social justice issues like climate change and immigration.

“Shame on us if we don’t use that part of our teaching to reach them,” Deacon Peter Gummere of Corpus Christi Parish in the St. Johnsbury area added.

“We heard the Church will grow my attraction … [and] to create this attraction we need larger cohorts of people who are energized to move from maintenance to mission,” said Mary Nemeth of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in West Rutland. “This may mean bringing small parishes together, for real, to break down those traditional walls and begin the real work, remembering it’s not about the facilities but instead focus on the real reason we exist.”

She acknowledged the “tough road ahead,” but added, “We are Vermonters, and we are tough, and reorganization is not always bad.”

At the end of the synod meeting, Bishop Coyne said he was enthusiastic about what had happened there, noting the wisdom and words offered “are incredibly helpful.”

Loretta Schneider, a synod committee member and delegate from St. Augustine Church in Montpelier, said she felt honored to be part of the synod. “We are blessed to have such a wonderful bishop who has involved the entire state in this process,”
she said. “The bishop has truly listened to the people of Vermont.”

She pointed to the “talent and enthusiasm” in the Vermont Catholic community, which she thinks will be better utilized as a result of the synod. “I look forward to seeing the fruits of this synod.”

The next synod meeting will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at St. Anthony Church in White River Junction. The topic will be building vibrant parishes.

The third session, the topic of which is improving communication, will take place Nov. 10 at Immaculate Conception Church, Burlington, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To learn more about the synod, visit