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Posted November 14, 2005

The Ministry and Experience of Parish Life Coordinators

Taken from the CARA Report Vol. 11 No. 2
[An excellent magazine to which to subscribe for the latest in statistics!

The number of Catholic parishes in the U.S. entrusted to deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and other lay persons (under Canon 517.2), has grown from 268 in 1993 to 566 in 2004, an increase from 1.4 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. parishes . . . . .

Although referred to as Parish Life Coordinator (PLC), CARA’s survey of all 176 Latin-rite dioceses identified 36 job titles for these ministers, including Pastoral Administrator, Administrator, Parish Life Coordinator, and Pastoral Coordinator. These PLC’s are most often women religious (which raises a serious question of how long we will have them, given the fallen number of women religious), although the share of parishes entrusted to religious sisters has declined from 65 percent in 1993 to 43 percent in 2004. The largest number of PLC parishes are in the Midwest and the fewest in the Northeast.

PLC Parishes Compared to Other U.S. Parishes

Despite not having a resident priest, PLC parishes celebrate several Masses each week. Many assume that these parishes are more likely to use Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, but these are not widely used. PLC parishes celebrate fewer weekend Masses than the average U.S. parish — about two Masses per weekend compared to about four in the average parish — with 98 percent reporting they celebrate at least one Sunday/Saturday Vigil Mass per week.

PLC parishes are typically smaller than the average U.S. parish, with nearly half having 200 or fewer registered households and only 7 percent with more than 1,200. PLC parishes also have smaller paid staffs.

Who Are The Parish Life Coordinators?

In 2004, the last year reported, there were 148 deacons, 28 brothers, 241 sisters, and 149 laypersons serving as PLCs, with averages ages of 64 and 63 respectively. The average age of deacon PLCs is 60. Lay PLCs are the youngest, with an average age of 57 for laywomen and 53 for laymen. PLCs are much more likely than lay ecclesial ministers overall to have a graduate or professional degree.

Fifty-eight percent of PLCs have or are earning Master’s degrees related to ministry, religion, or theology, while 12 percent have or are in the process of obtaining doctoral degrees. Deacon PLCs are less likely to have a Master’s degree but are more likely to have completed a ministry formation program.

Before being appointed as PLCs, most were involved in general pastoral ministry (47 percent), religious education (22 percent), or they were a PLC in another parish (14 percent). Only 30 percent were in ministry at the parish they are now entrusted with before their appointment. Thus, most PLCs are not promoted from within a parish.

What Does a PLC Do?

PLCs vary widely in their liturgical roles during Mass. The most common action performed is speaking at the end of the liturgy (77 percent) and the least common is wearing vestments (34 percent). Nearly half preach during Mass, and among those who do preach, on average, this occurs about four times per month. Three in four or more PLCs indicate they spend “very much” of their time meeting with their parish pastoral council, dealing with parish budget and finances, and on sacramental preparation.

Security, Compensation, and Benefits

Nearly all PLCs agree at least “somewhat” that they empower parishioners, that their ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and that they feel free to conduct their ministry in the way they want.

Just over half agree “very much” that they have sufficient job security. Only 47 percent agree “very much” that they receive adequate financial compensation for their ministry. Nearly a third say they have considered leaving their ministry in the past year. The typical PLC salary is between $25,000 and $40,000. PLCs in the largest parishes and lay male PLCs earn the highest incomes. Fifty-two percent of PLCs live in the parish rectory — and most of these are religious brothers and sisters. Twelve percent of those not living in the rectory are provided some other form of housing and 22 percent are giving a housing stipend.

Trends: Past, Present, and Looking to the Future

CARA’s analysis of trends in PLC appointments during 1993-2004 indicates that dioceses with fewer priests than parishes, and those that also have relatively longer distances between parishes, are among the most likely to assign some parishes to PLCs. This is especially the case where large numbers of Catholics in the diocese make it infeasible to close parishes.

However, these demographic and distance factors are not sufficient to explain the existence of PLC parishes. What is most important, as mentioned in Canon 517.2, is the phrase “if the diocesan bishop should decide.” A number of bishops have appointed PLCs before their diocesan situation is so dire as to meet some statistical definition of a “dearth of priests”. But other bishops are exploring other solutions, such as clustering parishes, closing parishes, and bringing in priests from other countries.

Since 1993, the total number of PLC parishes in the U.S. has more than doubled, so that in 2004 no less than 100 dioceses had at least one parish entrusted to a PLC. Since 1965, the U.S. Catholic population has increased by 41 percent, the number of U.S. parishes has grown by 8 percent, while the number of Catholic diocesan priests has decreased by 19% and the average age of priests in active ministry is well over 60. Given these trends, it seems likely that the number of PLC parishes will continue to grow.