Randall Smith to be installed Sunday St. Mary/St. Benedict parish.

CANTON Randall Smith will be formally installed Sunday in a relatively new ministry designed to support Catholic priests and parishes.

Smith is a parish leader for the St. Mary/St. Benedict parish. The installation will be at 10:30 a.m. St. Benedict, 2207 Third St. SE.

Bishop George V. Murry, head of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, will preside.

As one of only two parish leaders in Stark County, Smith is responsible for the parish’s day-to-day operations, as well as providing support to the priest, and spiritual guidance and other forms of assistance to parishioners.

“It’s helping parishioners understand their gifts from God and guiding them on how to use them in the best way possible,” he said.

Smith became a deacon in 2013 as a longtime member of St. Joseph parish in Massillon.

“Deacons assist with Mass and visit the sick and help in any way they can,” he said.

Smith said he felt spiritually compelled to do more by way of a parish leader ministry.

“It was as if God was challenging me to increase myself more,” he said.

Lay people who wish to become parish leaders undergo a yearlong training process, said Pete Schafer, director of evangelization, pastoral planning and lay ministry formation for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

A good fit

Schafer said about 15 men and women have completed the training since the ministry was introduced in the diocese about four years ago.

A second training class is underway.

Schafer said that although deacons like Smith have a slight advantage over others, all laypeople are welcome to apply to the ministry.

Pattie Condello is parish leader at Holy Family parish, which serves Navarre and Brewster.

Schafer said parish leaders are matched with parishes based on their training and a series of interviews.

“We discern which parish will accept a leader,” he said. “And we ask them (trainees) why they think they’d be a good fit.”

Schafer said the idea is to assign parish leaders to churches that are strong and active. St. Mary/Benedict was merged into a single parish in 2010 under the diocese’s Parish Reconfiguration plan, which was implemented to address a decline in diocesan membership and the shrinking number of available priests.

“The Catholic model has been that every parish has a resident priest,” Schafer said. “There’s been concern over parishes closing, so we want the parish leader to be a sign of hope.”

However, the diocese has seen a recent upsurge of men entering the priesthood. Currently, there are 20 seminarians in the system, Smith and Schafer said.

In addition to being a parish leader and deacon, Smith also serves as associate vocation director for the diocese.

“Our seminary population is growing as men as discovering what they really want in life,” he said. “It’s all about taking what God gave you, and giving it back to God.”

Learn to listen

Parish leaders are limited in what they can do. Catholic church law requires that all parishes to have a canonical pastor and a sacramental priest.

The Rev. Thomas Kraszewski , pastor at St. Anthony All Saint parish, serves as St. Mary/St. Benedict’s canonical priest. The Revs. Patrick Manning of Walsh University and Zachary Coulter, parochial vicar at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Plain Township, take turns celebrating Masses.

Smith has begun reviving the parish’s youth ministry and educational programming at St. Mary/St. Benedict. He also is looking at options for using the former St. Benedict School building, which would help alleviate some of the overhead cost in maintaining two buildings.

“It’s also about building up young families to help the future life of the parish,” he said.

Schafer was asked what advice he offers to new parish leaders.

“It’s a ministry of presence, it’s a ministry of listening,” he said. “Listen to the staff and their stories; don’t just come in, changing things. And be available before and after Masses.”

“It’s always about being there for the people,” Smith said. “I think the parishioners were surprised to see my cellphone number in the bulletin.”

Every parish has its own personality, Smith noted, adding that St. Mary/St. Benedict and St. Joseph share some characteristics.

“They’re located in similar areas, and they serve a lot of needy people in both places,” he said, noting that his parish has about 450 families.

St. Mary’s is located at 1602 Market Ave. S.

Though being parish leader is a “24/7” ministry, it’s rewarding, Smith said.

“Being able to accompany people who are sick or troubled, who are looking for peace,” he said. “It’s a feeling of family, which is needed in society today.”