Synod training sessions conclude; project now goes to parishes

By Jim Wogan

Pope Francis’ call to catalogue the thoughts of Catholics around the world, through the Synod on Synodality, enters its next important phase in the Diocese of Knoxville as parishes and other organizations begin the process of gathering feedback from parishioners and anyone else inside and outside of the faith.

Every Catholic church and organization around the world is taking part in the two-year synod process.

“This process touches everyone in the Church, so if you are a parishioner or a member of the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Knoxville and have a thought, you are going to have an opportunity to share it,” said Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville

Deacon Smith has been tasked by Bishop Richard F. Stika with leading the East Tennessee synod effort along with co-chair Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.

“We are also reaching out to non-Catholics and those who are living on the margins of society,” Mrs. Healy said.

Training sessions for group leaders in the diocese concluded on Dec.13 with a two-hour class at St. Mary School in Johnson City.

Parishioners from the Five Rivers Deanery gather at St. Mary School in Johnson City on Dec. 13 to learn about the Diocese of Knoxville synod effort and the role it will play in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ nationwide synod program, which eventually will become part of the global Synod on Synodality called for by Pope Francis.

Deacon Smith and Mrs. Healy led four training sessions in November and December at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, the Chancery in Knoxville, and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Lenoir City in addition to the one at St. Mary School in the Five Rivers Deanery.

Since then, the group leaders have been working with pastors and organization leaders to guide and encourage them in the use of a special anonymous online springboard survey that asks important and relevant questions about the Catholic Church.

Survey results can be used to jumpstart in-person discussion if parishes and organizations decide to conduct townhall-style meetings to gather further input.

“What I envision, let’s say you are a coordinator for a parish, and you are going to gather feedback, you can decide how that works. It might be an online survey; it could be a parish townhall meeting; it’s really up to you and your pastor or organization leader,” Deacon Smith said.

“Once your parish or community has an opportunity to offer input, the coordinator is required to send the diocese a one-page report or synthesis that can be in the form of bullet points, a list in numerical order, or verbiage in text form. It can be that simple. We will then take the input from all our parishes, schools, and any other ministry or community that participates, and craft a 10-page report from the Diocese of Knoxville that will be forwarded to the USCCB,” he added.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will assemble feedback from all U.S. dioceses and forward those findings to the Vatican.

East Tennessee parishes and organizations have until March 1 to submit their report to the Diocese of Knoxville. For more information on the synod and how it works, visit

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