‘Into the Deep’ plan aims to shape future of Diocese of Madison

MADISON, Wis. — As the number of people filling the pews at Catholic churches in the Madison area falls, the Diocese of Madison is in the midst of a consolidation plan that church leaders hope will put them on a sustainable long-term path forward.

The effort, dubbed “Into the Deep,” is evaluating how the diocese can best invest its resources to serve parishioners now and into the future, Bishop Donald Hying said. The plan envisions consolidating 102 parishes across the diocese into 29 pastorates, or clusters of parishes, with multiple churches between each pastorate.

“It’s not shuttering one hundred churches,” Hying said. “It’s reorganizing our parishes and then looking strategically at how we can better utilize our human resources, namely our priests, our lay leaders, and also our physical resources.”

The push comes as greater numbers of younger Catholics leave the church and as the remaining churchgoing population ages. According to the diocese, the number of registered Catholics across the region fell 17.3% to roughly 138,000 from 2013 to 2021 despite the region’s overall population increasing.

The number of parishioners between the ages of 0 and 17 fell nearly 30% during that period, while other age groups saw double-digit declines. The only age group to see an increase was the 65+ group.

“There’s fewer people filling our pews. More young people are non-affiliated in terms of organized religion, and so our statistics are going in the wrong direction in some ways when it comes to baptisms, children in religious ed, all the measurables that we can look at,” Hying said.

Parishioners are able to weigh in on the proposal, which Hying said is not necessarily the final model.

“This is not a predetermined decision,” he said, “and really, your feedback will be instrumental in fine-tuning or tweaking the model. We know that we have to do something, but we want your feedback to make sure that we’ve taken into account all the possible variables and factors.”

Finalized plans will go before Hying early next year; full implementation will take several years.

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