Penn Hills/Monroeville parish adjusting to priests' new roles

After more than four decades of serving God’s people in one parish at a time, led by one priest, Father Thomas Miller is learning a different kind of priestly ministry.

So are Fathers Al Zapf and Larry Adams. Together they are meeting challenges that come with creating a new parish.

The three former pastors are part of a team ministry model at Christ the Divine Shepherd Parish in Penn Hills and Monroeville. Together for just seven months, they merged five parishes that have a dozen weekend Masses at six churches — St. Bartholomew, St. Bernadette, St. Gerard Majella, St. Michael, North American Martyrs and St. Susanna.

They say the key is collaboration.

“Each of us has different strengths,” said Father Miller, team ministry member. “We respect each other’s gifts, our love of the people, and are open to the Holy Spirit.”

Father Zapf serves as team ministry moderator, ensuring each clergy member fulfills his particular role.

“We discuss issues as a team and work to be of one heart and one mind,” Father Zapf said. “We also support each other spiritually and emotionally.”

The pastoral, sacramental and financial challenges are significant in a parish of 12,000 members, most of whom don’t know one another and grew up in a more traditional church structure.

“As Catholics we’re not used to this,” said Father Adams, team ministry member. “We’re used to pointing to one guy and saying, ‘he’s the pastor.’

“I’ve asked folks to be open-minded and willing to try out this model,” he said. “We have different approaches, but we play off each other well.”

While Christ the Divine Shepherd Parish still has multiple offices, staffing is being realigned and sacramental preparation and social events are coming together, according to Father Zapf.

“Combining five parishes into one is a very big task,” said Jack Myler, longtime finance council member at the former St. Susanna Parish. “It’s good to have a clergy team that can share responsibilities in leading our ministries and business activities.”

Myler said it is also vital to communicate with parishioners and be good stewards of their limited resources.

Another former pastor, Father Richard Thompson, serves as parish chaplain. Deacons Michael Kelly and Richard Tucek are also on the team.

“The people I talk with are very strong in their faith,” said catechist M.J. Gula, who has served in many ministries at St. Gerard Majella with her husband, George. “It’s important that parishioners feel connected outside of Mass.”

Father Zapf and the team are currently choosing a new finance council, and in the future will recommend to Bishop David Zubik which church buildings should serve the new parish for regular worship.

“These priests have come together with a wealth of experience,” said Father Phil Farrell, regional vicar of vicariate 4. “They have skill sets that when combined can provide a strong leadership model.

“There are a lot of challenges that are evident, but the team is dedicated to working with each other and the new parish to move forward.”

“Our eyes are focused on Christ. We don’t hold onto anything but the Lord,” Father Miller said. “He is asking each of us to change. That’s part of the cross, and I don’t want to run from the cross.”