Newly established in 2016, the Office of Rural Outreach will work with priests, deacons, and the people of God in the 51 rural parishes in the Diocese of Tulsa. The mission of the office is to help efforts of discipleship and evangelization at the parish and community level, foster deeper communication and engagement between the Chancery and these parishes, and to help the Catholic community in these rural locations to grow in their understanding of what it means to live their Catholic faith every day. It will also be working with larger urban and suburban parishes as resources for the needs in rural eastern Oklahoma.
In April 2016, two Rural Parish Summits were conducted to facilitate discussion among the leaders of rural parishes regarding the joys and challenges of ministry in their particular settings. The concept was approved by Bishop Edward J. Slattery and initiated by Father Elkin Gonzalez, vicar general, and Harrison Garlick, chancellor, so they could listen and learn from rural leaders in preparation for the forthcoming changes in the diocese with the upcoming retirement of Bishop Slattery.
These summits, held in McAlester and Bartlesville, would also give leaders in rural parishes ownership over the evangelization resources received from the Rooted in Faith, Forward in Hope capital campaign. These discussions prompted the creation of the Office of Rural Outreach and, along with the foundational information gathered at the summits, have been a catalyst for more intentional and consistent communication between and among the Chancery and rural parish leaders. These ongoing discussions will lay the foundation for a strategic plan tailored to rural communities as articulated by their own leadership. Bishop David Konderla is actively participating in shaping the vision and direction for this new ministry.
Fr. John O'Neill has been named the Diocesan Coordinator for Rural Outreach and will work closely with Bishop David Konderla, the Chancery staff, priests, deacons and lay faithful from across the Diocese to explore and understand the unique needs of each parish, work with the pastors and lay faithful to develop plans to address these needs, identify resources needed and available, and assist in implementation of the plans. As this will be a team effort, Fr. John will be relying on the expertise and input from all involved and will be working closely with the local faithful to support and bolster their efforts.
Fr. John grew up in Okeene, Oklahoma, a rural parish in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. St. Anthony of Padua in Okeene has two mission parishes in Fairview and Seiling. Fr. John most recently spent eight years as Coordinator of Volunteer Resources for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa. He worked to establish two rural outreach centers in McAlester and Poteau, as well as coordinated volunteer efforts in Sallisaw, and Muskogee.
Fr. John will also be the Associate Pastor of the Church of St. Benedict in Broken Arrow, OK. Balancing the duties between a larger suburban parish and working with the rural parishes should give Fr. John a unique perspective that can benefit the entire Diocese.
Fr. John can be contacted at 918.307.4933 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input and assistance is needed and welcomed.