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November 2023 saw the inaugural Pastoral Visit with Bishop Neary. Over the coming months, Bishop Neary will visit each of the 29 Area Catholic Communities (ACCs) in the Diocese of St. Cloud. This month, three ACCs joined Bishop Neary and other pastoral leaders: Harvest of Hope (Albany, Avon, St. Anthony, St. Martin), Northern Cross (Butler, Dent, Perham Rush Lake and One in Faith (Freeport, Greenwald, Meire Grove, Melrose, New Munich, Spring Hill, St. Rosa). 

The Pastoral Visit Goals:

To build bridges for a thriving mission across parishes in an ACC. 

To develop ACCs as learning communities through listening and dialogue. 

To offer radical hospitality to nurture relationships between Bishop Neary, the diocesan staff and ACC pastoral leadership. 


photo of Bishop Neary

Bishop Neary's Six Priorities

We began our morning at the Cathedral of Saint Mary with Bishop Neary’s opening remarks and six priorities, a video presentation on Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission and the Celebration of the Eucharist. Bishop Neary’s six priorities (in no particular order) are:


  1. The well-being, support and enrichment of the diocesan pastoral team.

  2. Care for the priests of the diocese

  3. Seeing synodality as a model for the Church and the Diocese of Saint Cloud

  4. Eucharistic Revival in the Diocese of Saint Cloud

  5. The Latino presence in the Diocese of Saint Cloud

  6. Strategic planning for the next phase of our ACCs


In the afternoon, each ACC presented their story in 20–30-minute segments. To view the ACC PowerPoints, visit:


Each ACC One Activity that Communites Have Shared. For example . . .

Harvest of Hope: BINGO post-pandemic.  The parishes rotated hosting BINGO and it has generated a sense of community. They also introduced trivia questions about each parish to strengthen a sense of community history.

Northern Cross: Deacon Mark Stenger’s fundraiser, and Chubby Sunday which is a soup and chili cooking contest.

One in Faith: Nurturing a Eucharistic Spirituality such as Divine Mercy Sunday, outdoor Assumption Mass with Bishop Neary, Corpus Christi procession.


What are people saying about our day together?

"The best part was the personal interaction and discussions with Bishop Neary . . ."

Honestly, the entire day was wonderful! The best part for me was the personal interaction and discussions with Bishop Neary, the diocesan staff, and the people from the other ACCs present.

"Interesting that some issues were common to all . . ."
"It really opened our eyes . . ."
"It gave us a chance to recall the value of our work together . . ."
"Bishop Neary is very personable . . ."

Summary of Strengths and Challenges



People:  Sense of community, volunteerism, strong faith

Lack of faith involvement and Mass attendance

People seem to bounce around the parishes comfortably

Communication, communication, communication

An example of early wins at Harvest of Hope:

  • Early success - Rural Life Celebration

  • Separate but unified faith formation programs: this year share a common theme.

  • Common Confirmation standards

  • Sacramental Preparation (Baptism, Weddings)

  • Shared funeral resources

Fear of losing parish identity… dissolving parish councils a concern for people.


Catholic Schools

Finding new volunteers… the same people always seem to step up.

Beginning to see the value of shared events

Rotating clergy every weekend can create a sense of inconsistency.

Strengthening ACC identity

Energy devoted to pastoral care with multiple parishes.

Synodal Listening

We ended the day with a synodal listening process with mixed groups from the different ACCs. We asked two questions: What is the Holy Spirit calling the Church in Central Minnesota to? How can we strengthen co-responsibility for the mission? (Spoiler alert: it seems some people did not understand this question, and we will adjust the question for our next Pastoral Visit). Below is a summary:


  • Bring more joy to our ACCs.  Get out of our comfort zone and be disciples.

  • Welcome and invite those who are ‘hanging around’ or lost at the margins.

  • Frustration with the diocese and understanding the vision of ACCs.

  • A strong call for more formation in the teachings and rules of the faith, a desire to hold on to tradition.

  • A call for clarity and boldness in leadership — leadership that offers clear answers and guidance to people.

  • We still need to tackle evangelization and ministry with our Hispanic people.

  • I am from an ACC with 2 pastors. It is confirmed to me at this meeting, for the ACC model to work well, each ACC needs to have 1 pastor with parochial vicars under them.

  • Encourage the diocese to communicate with the ACC, rather than individual parishes.  This will reflect the ACC structure.



The Pastoral Visits with Bishop Neary were coordinated by Brenda Kresky, Director, Planning Office and Barbara Sutton, Director, Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission. We are genuinely grateful for the efforts and commitments of these Area Catholic Communities. They are designed so that we might all be a learning community, month after month. Learning together equips us to be stewards of the mission and better able to serve one another. This was our first and the evaluations concur with what we felt, that this is a wonderful and hospitable opportunity to expand our ministry. There are still some wrinkles to iron out in our day, and we appreciate the feedback such as timing of sessions, awkward transitions, making theological language accessible, better sound system, and the sun in our eyes! Blessings on this Advent season.

photo of teacher and classroom
Donelle Poling speaks with Sandy Garcia and Rocio Meza-Barajas during a course at the Emmaus Institute. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

The following excerpt was written by Mary L. Parks and published Nov. 29, 2023 in The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud. The BIG IDEA was sponsored with funding from Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission.

New Emmaus course emphasizes accompaniment in formation of youth

When Rocio Meza-Barajas first heard about Emmaus Institute during a Bible study, she thought, “Four years is a long time.” But after making the commitment to attend, she never regretted it.

“It is amazing what you find out,” Meza-Barajas said. “You dig and dig and don’t want it to end. One question would get answered and another would pop up.” The Emmaus Institute is an intellectual and ministerial formation program for lay ministers and potential Latino/Hispanic diaconal candidates from the Diocese of St. Cloud, in partnership with Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. Students attend one Saturday a month, September through May, for four years, and the program provides courses in English and Spanish.

Meza-Barajas, who serves as a greeter and usher at her parish of St. Andrew in Elk River, said her favorite class at the Institute was Christology, the study of Jesus Christ. “You realize you don’t know him like you think. We don’t know him until we spend time with him,” she said.

When her four years at the Emmaus Institute were over, Meza-Barajas just wanted to keep going. According to Kristi Bivens, director of lay leadership formation for the diocese, other graduates of the Institute feel the same way.

“They are always asking ‘What’s next?’” Bivens said.

While Meza-Barajas and her classmates were finishing up at the Emmaus Institute, Mayuli Bales, director of Multicultural Ministries, was noticing a need for more youth programming in the diocese.

According to Bales, this need is particularly strong within the Hispanic community, where youth are bicultural. “They are growing up in two different worlds and their families are changing as a result. It has a social impact,” Bales said.

Learn More about this Project

To learn more about Foundations for Youth Ministry or the Emmaus Institute, contact Kristi Bivens, associate director for Lay Leadership Formation, at 320-258-7642 or at

picture of a lit lightbuld

What’s Your Big Idea?

The Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission Initiative provides up to $2,000 for approved big ideas that support thriving communities.

In Scripture, the Rule of St. Benedict, and in the practice of spiritual direction, we are taught to watch for the fruit of the Spirit. What does that fruit look like in real life? What difference does the practice of seeking the Spirit make for us and for the world? Sr. Josue Behnen OSB, spiritual director and supervisor, shares her perspective on these questions after a lifetime of practice.


  • Discerning the Spirit

  • What do we look for?

  • Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

  • Contemplative Way of Being

  • Paying Attention to the Divine

  • Why is supervision important?

  • Slow, Silent, Uncertain

  • Homesick for the Kingdom of God

  • Becoming More Patient and Kind

Training for Lay Pastoral Caregivers

Community of Hope International Logo

Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission trains lay pastoral caregivers in the art of listening. The training consists of two overnight retreats and four Zoom meetings. If the kind of listening that Sr. Josue describes seems compelling to you, we would welcome an exploratory conversation.

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