| By Bishop Robert D. Gruss

One Heart & Mind

Journeying together as a family on mission

What is God’s vision for the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw? This was one of the first questions asked when I came to the diocese almost five years ago. If we want to do the will of God, it is only the Lord who can answer this question, and the answer only comes through discerning prayer. It is a question where, following the example of Moses who appointed others to help bear his load, a year and a half ago I invited a team to accompany me in prayer and discernment in order to discover God’s response. It is a question that, when answered, will set us on the path of carrying out the Father’s plan for the Diocese of Saginaw.

I will share more on the prayerful work done to date in a moment, but first, as we set out on this journey together, let us look at some of our current challenges.

Where are we now?

In the words of Monsignor James Shea in From Christendom to Apostolic Mission:

“We are dealing with the first culture in history that was once deeply Christian but that by a slow and thorough process has been consciously ridding itself of its Christian basis. Our society is full of many– including those baptized and raised with some exposure to faith– who believe they have seen enough of Christianity to see that it has little to offer them.” [i]

This is the reality of the Catholic Church in the modern world and in our Diocese. Our own data clearly reveals this phenomenon. The October 2023 Mass counts show a diocesan-wide decline in Mass attendance of 38 percent since 2015. Over the past year, we realized a 5 percent decline in Mass attendance.

The Diocese of Saginaw has ordained seven priests since 2015. The next priesthood ordination is potentially in 2025. There are currently four men in the seminary. Of our 83 priests, 48 are of retirement age or older. These include religious order priests and extern priests living and serving in the Diocese. I am deeply grateful that 29 of them are still ministering in some capacity. The 35 priests under retirement age includes the extern priests serving in the Diocese as well. The Diocese has ordained 12 permanent deacons since 2015. These types of numbers may seem alarming and clearly indicate challenges for the near future.

Where do we go from here?

How do we begin to curb this disturbing reality? First, we must live with a hopeful expectation that the Lord has not abandoned us. In other words, we must have unshakeable confidence in the Lordship of Jesus. He has a plan– a great plan– for us.

Second, we must become a Church on mission! We cannot continue to do what we have always done. We must become a Church with the same apostolic zeal, and of “one heart and mind” as the disciples of the first century! Like the first disciples, we, too, were born for this moment. It is no accident, no coincidence, that each of us was born for this time in the Church and sent on mission with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the path forward?

Allow me to share some great news! Over the past year and a half, the Diocese of Saginaw has enlisted the support of the mission team of ACTS XXIX [ii] to actively engage in a process of creating clarity around our mission.

Early on the ACTS team pointed to Exodus chapter 18, when Moses’ father-in-law sees that Moses is trying to do everything himself, and he encourages him to get some help. So, following that sage, biblical advice, I have formed a team to help me pray and discern God’s plan to bring clarity and vision to the much-needed apostolic work in this 21st-century Church. This Mission Leadership Team (MLT) is made up of priests, chancery staff and laypeople.

Our collective future solely relies upon everyone– priests, deacons, religious, laypeople, parishes, schools, Catholic institutions– uniting around a common mission and vision. In other words, becoming a “family on mission.” To become a “family on mission,” three essential principles must be sought after and embraced.

  1. Re-acquire a biblical worldview – Like the 1st-century Church, the lens of Jesus’ teaching is what gave the disciples great confidence that they were not alone and the Lordship of Jesus strengthened their faith to do the seemingly impossible.
  2. It is not enough to be a staff – It is a clarion call to be on mission together. United, we are called and set apart to carry forward the greatest mission of all time:  the saving mission of Jesus Christ. He wants to heal the world and restore our true identity.
  3. Restore the initiative to God – If the Lord desires to give us life in abundance, it only comes through his initiative and not our own. Therefore, we must carefully discern his plan for our diocese.

Yes, friends, I am deeply convinced that God has a specific plan for the Diocese of Saginaw, a plan that only he can reveal. Since this is the work of the Holy Spirit, we are continuing to clarify and communicate what the Spirit is revealing as God’s will for the Diocese unfolds.

Has the Spirit revealed anything to date?

With the support of the Mission Leadership Team, I have been prayerfully and reflectively gaining greater clarity around these six essential questions, which will direct our plan moving forward:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important right now?
  6. Who does what?

  1. Why do we exist? The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw exists to courageously proclaim the living Gospel so that Christ Jesus may lead people to salvation through his healing, love and mercy.
  2. How do we behave? This is expressed through our missional values: Be ambitious for God and His Kingdom; Be authentically human; Be docile to the Holy Spirit. God has set each of us apart for this work and he is doing something far greater than we can imagine. God wants his world back. Because we have an unshakeable confidence in the Lordship of Jesus, we surrender in prayer and humility, trusting that he will accomplish miraculous things in the Diocese of Saginaw if we are docile to the working of the Holy Spirit.
  3. What do we do? The Mission Leadership Team prayerfully discerns God’s plan in order to lead and unite the diocese around Jesus, the living Word. We must be willing to go wherever God leads and leave the familiar behind, restoring the power to God and embracing the absolute primacy of prayer for all we do.
  4. How will we succeed? We believe that the Lord has clarified for us these pillars/priorities as the core of his plan and vision for the Diocese of Saginaw. 1) To love and support a unified presbyterate on mission; 2) Build disciples to be sent on mission; 3) Go after the lost sheep.
  5. What is most important right now? Because we have all been sent on apostolic mission together, unity around the three pillars is crucial. This is a journey towards one mind and one heart, with all of us working together. Specific strategies for creating this unity and communicating them to the People of God in our diocese will be ongoing.
  6. Who does what? The work of these three pillars is a work in progress. As the Mission Leadership Team continues its work clarifying the heart of these pillars, we will continue to share more information and the implementation plan.

I hope that you will prayerfully join me on this exciting mission the Lord Jesus is revealing to us. In the words of ACTS XXIX and inspired by St. Joan of Arc: “You were born for this.”

Mission Leadership Team

Bishop Robert Gruss

Father Bill Rutkowski

Father Stephen Blaxton

Don Buchalski

Erin Carlson

Kellie Deming

Tammie Hunt

Jane Sills

[i] From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, page 2

[ii] ACTS XXIX, An apostolate whose leaders, through the power of the Gospel, equip ordained and lay leaders to mobilize the Church for mission.

The Most Rev. Robert D. Gruss is the seventh bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.