Just weeks after his arrival in Portland, Archbishop John Vlazny was working hard to get lay people involved in leadership of the local church.
“The formation of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is an important project for me,” he wrote in June 1998. “I do need a vehicle which keeps me in touch with the people in the pew. Like all pastors, I will serve better if I am in regular dialogue with my people.”
His commitment to lay participation goes back to his days as a young priest during the Second Vatican Council and emerged early in his episcopal ministry.
During the homily at his installation as Bishop of Winona, Minn., in 1987, he talked about the laity’s role in the church. “Your work, my lay brothers and sisters, no matter how tedious or energizing, is a value and an active participation in God’s creative presence among his people today. The involvement of lay people in the ministries of the Church is a marvelously welcome development.” Lay involvement increased under Bishop Vlazny’s governance.
He launched a grassroots pastoral planning process with his vicar general, Msgr. Gerald Mahon. In this model, lay representatives from each parish in each deanery came together regularly to address church issues. Bishop Vlazny and his curia also helped lay teachers and catechists acquire theological and philosophical foundation.
“He appreciated the phrase that this is the ‘age of the baptized’ and reminded us often that baptism is the primary sacrament of the church,” Msgr. Mahon said. “This led him to call forth the gifts of everyone in leading this local church, and he appreciated the service and sacrifice of all the people involved in parishes across southern Minnesota.”
Years later in Oregon, Archbishop Vlazny made a decision likely to have significant long-term effects on the local church. He formed the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a lay-dominated body charged with helping guide Catholic ministry.
“Working together, we can better accept when we say it is not the pastor’s church, it is not our church, it is God’s church,” he told delegates to the first council. “Our challenge is to consider the needs of the whole church, not just our own.”
He urged the new council always to consider the poor in their deliberations.
At a mission-themed gathering in the University of Portland’s sports dome in summer 2004, the archbishop and the council presented a ministry plan, saying the Archdiocese of Portland and its parishes will focus on faith formation, youth ministry and multicultural church life.
Bob Lowry, a local attorney, chaired the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. He says that body, as well as the annual vicariate meetings meant to generate input for the council, were productive and sent a clear message to the people in the pews about how much the archbishop cares and listens.