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SYNOD DELEGATES VOTE Guided by the Holy Spirit, Diocese of Gary looks to the future

synod session 1

Deacon Michael Prendergast, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Valparaiso, leads a discussion as Deacon John Bacon of Holy Name in Cedar Lake (left), and Poor Handmaid Sister Melanie Rauh listen during a synod session on June 3 held at Bishop Noll Insittute in Hammond. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


      HAMMOND – Promising that the results of Synod 2017 will not just be “a nice document, sitting on a shelf,” Bishop Donald J. Hying sent more than 300 voting delegates on a mission to select “a road map for us to implement. . .leading our diocese on a new path of what to do,” as they gathered June 3 at Bishop Noll Institute for a full day of inspiration, discussion and the selection of top initiatives in eight ecclesial areas.

      “I am super pumped, and I think you are super filled with the Holy Spirit,” the bishop told the delegates, 80 percent of whom arrived within five minutes of the doors opening. “I thank you for your leadership, love, faith and prayers for the diocese.”

      Gleaned from 12,239 “data points” gathered from the more than 3,000 faithful who attended one of the discussion sessions hosted by every parish in the diocese last October, said synod coordinator Deacon Bob Marben, the seven to 10 initiatives proposed in the areas of evangelization, sacraments/prayer/worship, discipleship/formation, social teaching, marriage and family, young Catholics, stewardship, and vocations and leadership formation were honed at four February deanery discussion sessions, where 433 parish delegates met in small groups to prioritize and rank initiatives and strategies in one specific ecclesial area.

      “The whole process, from the start at the parishes, has been a great experience,” said Dorie Little, of Hobart, a delegate from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she prepared for the first electronic voting period. “The synod is doing a great job of identifying the needs of the diocese, and I hope it is all implemented.”

      Little said she believes evangelization is the most important area, and if she could make just one thing happen, the Assumption parish director of religious education would “get parents more involved.”

      During the eight discernment sessions, groups of 8-9 delegates - most including at least one priest, deacon and religious sister – gathered with a facilitator to advocate for their choice of initiatives/strategies, listen to others do the same, and discuss the options. In some groups, a consensus was reached, while in others, delegates made separate decisions. Engaging youth and growing the Church were themes woven throughout the


      Elida Ochoa, a delegate from St. Patrick in East Chicago, said the lively, and sometimes impassioned discussion led her to change her vote in the area of sacraments/prayer/worship. “That’s what this day is all about, working as a group to see different points of view to make a better decision,” Ochoa said during the lunch break. “Experience guides us as we try to get the best (choices) for our diocese.”

      Delegates seemed surprised and pleased at the ease of the electronic voting process, which allowed them to push just one button on a handheld “voting device” to record their vote, and then were able to see the results by percentage instantaneously on a video screen. Synod Commission member Vicky Hathaway guided delegates through the voting process and announced the outcome after each vote, drawing nods and some gasps from the BNI auditorium crowd.

      “I have so many emotions (today). It’s a new beginning, with Bishop Hying following the footsteps of Pope Francis, and now we are following in his footsteps as we look forward to a bigger and better diocese, a new richness that we can give to the next generation,” Ochoa said. “I can say I was part of it.”

      Father Greg Bim-Merle, ordained to the priesthood May 20 and assigned as associate pastor at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, called the synod “Amazing. it genuinely feels like it is Spirit-led - the conversation, prayer and decision-making.

      “I feel doubly blessed that I get to begin my priesthood with this synod,” Father Bim-Merle added. “It makes me realize that we need to seriously find out how to follow through and find the courage and strength to live it out, and that will be a big part of my success as a priest.”

      Asked to share her experiences serving on the Synod Commission for the past year, Hathaway told the delegates: “I liken (the synod) to our own confirmation, where we studied, completed our homework, and allowed the Holy Spirit to move us out in service to others. The synod is not over (this weekend), but continues in the parishes, when we make our plans and move out into the community.”

      Father Chris Stanish, pastor at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center in Valparaiso, spoke about the apostles’ lives being “uncorked” on Pentecost, much like a bottle of fine wine has no value until it is “uncorked and poured out for people to share. The synod is about asking God to uncork us so we can pour ourselves out” to serve God’s will.

      “Give thanks for all that has been, and call the Holy Spirit to lead us into the future,” Bishop Hying urged the delegates. “It is not about maintenance, it is about mission, especially to serve the poor, the sick and the suffering.

      “We are sinners, and we need God’s grace, need God’s mercy,” the bishop added. “I never thought God would lead me to Gary, Indiana, but I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and you are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

      To learn more about the eight ecclesial areas discussed and voted upon, read Bishop Hying’s pastoral letter, “Go, therefore, and makes disciples of all nations” at


synod session 4

A diocesan synod delegate makes notes in her guide book during one of the discernment discussions on June 3. Parish delegates voted on top priorities in eight areas of Church life, setting a future course for the Local Church. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


synod session 12

Synod delegates view simultaneous voting tallies in the Bishop Noll auditorium at the diocesan synod session held at the Hammond school on June 3. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


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