Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White answer questions following their Nov. 13 talk at Montreal's Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.


Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White answer questions following their Nov. 13 talk at Montreal's Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

December 1, 2014

MONTREAL – Do you want to rebuild your parish? Then get ready to "step out of your comfort zone" and focus your energy on disciple-making, the pastoral team from a Maryland parish said Nov. 13.

Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran laid out a simple but challenging three-fold strategy for making disciples and renewing the parish: redirect parish energy toward "non-church people," priorize the weekend experience (the Mass) and galvanize parishioners into action.

The co-authors of trailblazing book Rebuilt, published in 2013, shared defining moments in their 17-year ministry in north Baltimore, during which they and their sleepy, suburban parish were transformed into a dynamic evangelizing community.

White and Corcoran delivered the keynote address in the Parish Vitality Conference for the English sector of the Montreal Archdiocese to 600 faithful at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

A consumer mentality underpins most parishes, they told the assembly. That mentality obscures the Great Commission imparted by Jesus to all the baptized; namely, "Go, therefore, and make disciples."

"Disciples are students who are learning to follow Jesus. They love God, love others and (in turn) make other disciples," the duo explained.


Putting the emphasis and energy on making disciples, rather than on maintaining the status quo or fundraising, will make a world of a difference, they attested.

White was named pastor of the Church of the Nativity in 1997, at which time he hired 23-year-old Corcoran as youth minister.

The pair embarked on an ambitious program to breathe life into a parish on the decline; only to realize, some years later, that "it was a waste of time," White told his Montreal audience.

They decided to visit churches "that are getting it right" – mainly evangelical – to discern what would work in a Catholic context. With prayer and some experimentation, they developed the rebuilt process described in their book.

After a decade of rebuilding, average Sunday attendance has more than doubled, from 1,600 to 3,500. With a system of tithing, finances are no longer an overriding issue. Their full-time staff now numbers 14, and 700 parishioners, all committed to disciple-making, are active in the parish.


In his opening remarks, White noted that "in Baltimore, we are regarded as experts." But here, "you are the experts for the Church in Montreal," he said, emphasizing that their experience must be adapted to local circumstances.

The 300-plus people who registered for the workshops, held Nov. 14-15 at Le Nouvel Hotel, grappled with that challenge. The 17 how-to presentations were grouped under four tracks: stewardship, communications, pastoral leadership, and reclaiming the Sabbath and prayer.

The stewardship track was the most popular by far, generally attracting the largest number of registrants for each of the five workshops.

"During my parish visits, people wanted a follow-up to the 2009 Stewardship Conference that was held in Montreal," Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd said. "This was an excellent opportunity to do so."