By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Parish Life Coordinators (PLCs) help the Diocese of Davenport as it copes with a growing priest shortage. In Wilton, Deacon Dan Freeman oversees day-to-day operations of St. Mary Parish while Father Bud Grant serves as sacramental minister. The parish has about 175 families and about 75 youths involved in religious education, “which is huge for a parish that small,” Deacon Freeman said. Baptisms are a frequent celebration at the parish.
The PLC format “is not an answer to the priest shortage,” Deacon Freeman emphasized. Ideally, each parish would have a pastor. “In the interim,” the format can work well for smaller parishes with a vibrant congregation, like Wilton. Other parishes in the diocese with a PLC include St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass and St. Joseph Parish in Montrose. Lay or clergy can serve as a PLC if they have applicable experience and the bishop’s approval.
Deacon Freeman was serving as deacon of the Blue Grass parish and had just retired from a management position at Shaw Electric in Davenport when he received a call from Bishop Thomas Zinkula about the PLC position in Wilton. Then-pastor Father David Steinle retired June 30 and the diocese needed a PLC to serve the parish. “(Bishop) saw a need and asked my wife, Judy, and I if we would be willing to accept the assignment.”
The Freemans said yes. Deacon Freeman was familiar with the PLC/sacramental minister setup, as he and Judy had been members of the Blue Grass parish for 30 years.
While the transition to a different parish and a new leadership role may have seemed like a leap of faith, the Freemans felt at home right away. “It’s a welcoming, warm rural parish” with members who are eager to help. “They are an enthusiastic group of people who want to worship God. They do evangelization without even realizing it; they witness to each other, and whenever someone has a need there is a lot of support offered and given.” He noted that the parish has conducted two major capital campaigns in recent years.
As a PLC, Deacon Freeman’s main objective is to ensure that St. Mary Parish “is meeting the needs of the people.” That requires communication between himself and parishioners, the director of religious education, the bookkeeper/secretary, the finance council and Father Grant. For example, if a family is planning a funeral Mass, Deacon Freeman arranges for Father Grant to meet with family members and then ensures preparations for the church and liturgy and that the parish is ready to offer consolation. “It’s not me doing this, but I’m helping to coordinate.”
He feels blessed to be able to serve the parish in an administrative role as PLC and in a pastoral capacity as a deacon. His role as deacon allows him to witness marriages, perform baptisms and preside over funeral and burial services outside of Mass, among other things.
He is emphatic that it is the parish, and not his leadership, that will keep the St. Mary community vibrant for years to come. “They’re doing it for themselves,” Deacon Freeman said. “I’m just there to help.”