Felicia Navarro’s multi-parish ministry

Felicia Navarro’s multi-parish ministry

Felicia Navarro is the Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Vineland’s three parishes, Christ the Good Shepherd, Divine Mercy and Saint Padre Pio.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Felicia Navarro’s church is, in a sense, more than 68 square miles in area, the entire length and breadth of Vineland, which is one of New Jersey’s largest cities geographically.

Navarro is the Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Vineland’s three parishes, Christ the Good Shepherd, Divine Mercy and Saint Padre Pio. While the geographical boundaries are large but limited, she speaks for DLFFs everywhere when she says, “In ministry, if you count your hours you are in trouble.”

While DLFFs often work at multiple parishes in other parts of the country, that has not been the case in the Diocese of Camden, which has not suffered from the priest shortage and other issues to the same degree.

For the model to work, the pastors involved have to have a good working relationship with each other. And the DLFF has to be a rare find: someone with professional qualifications and the energy, creativity and patience to continually work with people across parish lines, as well as with ethnic, age, economic and political differences.

“There are a lot of layers here,” Navarro said. “I like to say that Vineland is a very diverse little farming city.”

In is, indeed, diverse, with a population of more than 60,000, an unemployment rate higher than 13 percent, a growing Hispanic presence, and some unusual history.

Originally from Rockville Centre, New York, Navarro understands the importance of a town’s history, and Vineland’s recent past includes parish mergers. Divine Mercy was established from the merger of Saint Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Christ the Good Shepherd was formed from the merger of Sacred Heart and Saint Isidore the Farmer, and Saint Padre Pio was created from the merger of Saint Mary and Our Lady of Pompeii. And, along with a common creed and allegiance to the pope, every parish everywhere is unique.

One of the things Navarro did during her first year on the job was host dinners so she could learn about the city from both parishioners and non-Catholics.

Navarro’s outgoing personality and her ability to speak Spanish were among the qualities that made her an ideal fit for the job, said Sister of Saint Joseph Kathy Burton, co-director of Faith and Family Life Formation for the Diocese of Camden.

Clearly, one DLFF for three parishes is a cost-saving measure at a time when parishes have to watch their budgets. But it is not simply a financial issue, Sister Kathy said, emphasizing the need for evangelization. The church needs parish representatives in the community — not just in the church buildings — willing to meet with couples in irregular marriages, adults who have never received the sacraments, single mothers and others.

“On the one hand it is completely practical. On the other hand, it is building a broader version of church,” Sister Kathy said. “We need to have people build relationships with families returning to the church and with those threatening to leave.”

Too often the perception is that “religious education” consists solely of Catholic instruction for public school children, but “the family needs to be evangelized,” she said. (Navarro said “we were knee-deep in Jesus and bug bites” during the children’s summer program.)

Citing Pope Francis, Sister Kathy said, “If you try to catechize before you evangelize, it is like throwing seeds on concrete.”

Navarro has an office at Sacred Heart Center, and she spends a lot of time in her car. She has three bosses, the three pastors, and she reports to one regularly. Each parish has a Coordinator of Religious Education. And Navarro has to build several teams — RCIA, Marriage Preparation, Sacrament Preparation and others — and oversee an army of volunteers

“It is challenging, but I love evangelizing. I love talking about God. I love creating new experiences for getting people to have an encounter with God,” Navarro said.

“My office is meant to serve, to share, to help grow and bring to life the Gospel.”

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Vineland pastors talk about parish collaboration

The pastors of Vineland’s three parishes give their views on parish collaboration and sharing a Director of Lifelong Faith Formation.

I am grateful for Felicia’s willingness to make this journey with us into parish collaboration. She brings not only experience, but an abundance of energy to this work. She faces a huge challenge, to say the least. Felicia oversees not one but three separate programs of formation, reporting to three different pastors. She coordinates the programs and the catechetical leaders of each parish so that every family in each of the parishes has a full range of programs and times, and thus able to participate more fully in the vital work of formation of our children and our youth. What’s more, Felicia’s work includes not only religious education, and sacramental preparation for children, and RCIA. She will also develop more engaging baptismal preparation and marriage preparation programs to more deeply engage parents and those preparing for marriage in the life of their church. In the future, when we eventually hire a youth minister for the collaborative, Felicia will also work with that person so that the younger members of our parishes will be effectively engaged and served. Needless to say, because of Felicia coming on board, I am excited and very hopeful for our future.

Msgr. John H. Burton

Pastor, Christ the Good Shepherd

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During the past year we have been able to initiate one common Religious Education Program that serves all three parishes of Vineland. Currently we are undertaking the challenge to implement this city-wide project for 2017-18. Gradually Felicia has been dedicating her energy and talents to various other areas of Religious Formation, exploring ways to integrate them harmoniously and put them into action across the three parishes as necessary. The goal is to strengthen the religious formation that we are offering to the Catholic Community of Vineland.

I think that this is a great challenge for Felicia, but I also believe that along with her experience in faith formation ministry, her intelligence and joyful enthusiasm, with God’s help she will be able to accomplish it.

Father Joel Arciga-Camarillo

Pastor, Divine Mercy

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I am extremely happy with the work that Felicia has done in terms of linking all three of our religious education programs. It is not an easy task to get three unique communities with already three established ways of running to become a seamless entity which any family can interact. Thankfully, it is our mission to proclaim the same Gospel to all three of our parishes. It’s just that we do it in different ways. Another great gift that goes along with our open access, is that we’re not pigeon-holed into one set form for catechesis and religious instruction. All families in Vineland are able to be part of our traditional school-year based model of religious education, our intensive summertime program, and our intergenerational catechesis, or even home instruction if need be. So whatever model best fits a family’s life, we have an option to meet them where they are and to help their faith grow. I really like the aggressive timetable that Christ the Good Shepherd, Divine Mercy and Saint Padre Pio have set for ourselves in order to share our talents, our programs, our resources and most importantly our faith with one another.

Father Robert L. Sinatra

Pastor, Saint Padre Pio

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