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Holy Family Cathedral » Rector » The State of the Parish Address 2015

The State of the Parish Address 2015

by Very Reverend Jovita C. Okonkwo, Rector of the Cathedral


[Editor’s note: On November 18, Father Jovita called the parish together for the first State of the Parish address, followed by an Open House where parishioners explored every room in the Cathedral and Rectory. Father Jovita began by introducing the Cathedral clergy, the Parish Council, the Finance Council, and the Staff.]

State of the Parish

God’s Faithful of Holy Family Parish
I have the honor to welcome you to our first town hall and state of the parish meeting. Standing in this hall dedicated to one of my illustrious predecessors, Msgr. Heiring, I feel extremely humbled to be in the line of the Rectors of Holy Family Cathedral. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to address you in person at this gathering. These last several months have passed by so very quickly for me and I continue to pray that the Holy Spirit guides me always as I minister to you. As the Rector of this beautiful Cathedral, I have been blessed to offer you the Sacraments of the Holy Church for these past several months. It is wonderfully affirming to have been able to meet you in all these times of great importance: weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, anointing, Eucharistic celebrations and more. Being a part of these foundational moments in your lives gives me great hope for the future of this Parish Church and this Diocese.

In our over 100 years of existence, this Church has been blessed by many wonderful bishops, priests, sisters, and lay people. It is the foundation of which they laid that we build upon today. And build, we must. For every day we hear of more seemingly ‘bad news:’ terrorist attacks, cultural setbacks, people leaving Churches and a toxic political culture dominate the news. Christian morality, previously held by the majority, now seems ‘out of touch’ to the world at large. But, this ‘bad news’, while certainly causing human suffering and pain, is not cause for despair, but should give us a sense of purpose because we know that we win the ultimate victory in Christ. This purpose for which we should strive should be more aligned with this Parish Church, this Diocese and indeed the whole of Catholic Christendom.

With this background and this purpose in mind, I come to you today to give you this State of the Parish Address. This opportunity will allow you to see this parish in its strengths and its weaknesses and I will entertain questions at the conclusion of these prepared remarks. This address will be divided into three parts. First, we will discuss pastoral Issues, followed by financial and administration issues, and then plans for the future.

Call to Arms
Now, while this address is to give you much information about the parish itself, it is also a call to arms. We need your help! It should be no secret that this parish is getting older. Our older parishioners have built this Church up over the years and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. But, we also have to add new members to the parish so that all the hard work of past parishioners will not go to waste. We need each and every parishioner to ‘buy in’ and indeed ‘go all in’ while we strive to make our Cathedral more welcoming, more dynamic and more loving. This opportunity to grow the parish and make it vibrant for generations to come is the reason for making certain changes in the habits and routines of the parish. I beg you, however, to know that every change made so far, those to be made, and every discussion about this parish is done with the good of the parish and the good of your souls in mind. So, we humbly ask for your support, your attendance and especially your prayers.

Pastoral Oversight
Let us begin then with pastoral issues. At the Cathedral we have several clergy that are tasked to lead and serve you in this Parish Church. As you know, I am Father Jovita Okonkwo.

I was born and raised in Uli, Nigeria. My father was a school teacher, a headmaster or principal. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I come from a family of 8 children. I joined the seminary when I was 11, but by the time I was four, I was already being called Fr. Jo. I was ordained a priest in 1997, and served in three parishes as associate pastor and became the pastor of St. Andrew’s Church for six years. I came to the United States upon the invitation of Bishop Slattery in 2004. I have served as associate at Sts. Peter and Paul, Holy Family, and St. Pius X. In 2007, I became the Chaplain of the Newman Center in TU as well as parish priest of Sacred Heart Sapulpa. Last August, the Bishop shocked me by asking that I replace Msgr. Gier as the Rector of the Cathedral. I will be completing my first year as the Rector of the Cathedral in 12 days’ time.

As Rector of this Cathedral, I am responsible for the spiritual well-being of the parishioners of Holy Family as well as administering this parish on behalf of its pastor, who is the bishop. Fr. John Grant is my associate.

You are also blessed with a number of Deacons. Deacon Tom Gorman, Jerry Mattox, Greg Stice, Kevin Satorius, and Dr. Kevin Tulipana. Deacon Gorman is the only permanently assigned Deacon to the Cathedral. Deacon Mattox is retired but still serves us well. The other deacons have diocesan functions: Deacon Sartorius is assigned to Catholic Charities; Dr. Tulipana is the director of the Diocesan Medical Ethics Commission; and Deacon Stice is assigned to Diocesan Liturgy.

Our Vision for the Parish
My and our vision for the parish is that all members of Holy Family parish might become intentional Catholics. I have in different ways stated in the newsletters and weekly messages in the bulletin my definition of intentional Catholicism and how to become an intentional Catholic. In a nutshell, an intentional Catholic is a Catholic who practices discipleship. Such a person puts Christ first in his or her daily or family life. That is: Christ before my job, my social life, my political affiliation. For the intentional Catholic, love of Christ comes before love of self, love of country, love of friends, and all other pursuits. For example, an intentional Catholic going on a vacation will center the vacation around Christ by checking first where to attend Mass if the trip rolls into Sunday, whether vacation time opens him or her up to moral problems. An intentional Catholic is a saint in the making. Too much to ask?

With these clergy and with the consultation and affirmation of the Parish Council, we have begun our biggest new program to facilitate this vision, Wednesdays at the Cathedral. With a mind to engaging and orthodox presentations, we offer this program to the adults of the parish. With it we hope to begin to teach anew the faith we share. Our goal will be to arm you as intentional Catholics, vibrant in your love of God and man. This program will kick-off on December 2nd and run throughout the year. We are bringing in a special guest for December 2nd, Dr. Edward Sri. He will be speaking on intentional Catholicism, describing concrete ways to practice discipleship.

Along with the adult program, we will be moving the RE and Youth Group activities to Wednesday nights. Your representatives at the parish council weighed a lot of options before coming up with Wednesday. They knew it won’t work for everyone. No day will work for everybody. For those with legitimate concerns, we are scheduling meetings to listen and accommodate everyone. Though a period of sacrificial transition will have to occur when rearranging schedules to accommodate the new day, our only goal in this switch is to allow the whole family to attend faith formation on one night and at one time. What a blessing it will be for our children to see their parents learning the faith at the same time as they do! Also with this switch, the clergy will be able to be a bigger part of RE, which until now was not able to happen on Sunday mornings as they were needed at Mass. And with dinners being offered before the programming, it will allow more parishioners to meet and join in fellowship with each other. Even those with small children will be able to attend as we will be having babysitting available.

Community Outreach
As we begin to gain steam with our Wednesdays at the Cathedral, we will be unveiling new opportunities for faith and community. Currently, Deacon Sartorius is working on Dinner Groups, which will meet in parishioners’ homes and have dinner and fellowship with fellow parishioners and clergy. Prayer groups, new member dinners, a welcoming committee are all programs that are in the works to help this parish grow from the ground up, all the while continuing our support of the wonderful current groups and programs.

For indeed, we have current groups that have been stalwarts in leading us thus far in faith and I know will continue to do so. We have an especially strong women’s group. This group strengthens the faith of these ladies and has always served this parish. The Knights of Columbus also deserve a special place in this community as they do whatever is needed for this parish and this priest by serving in countless ways. A talented choir leads us in praise during Mass and is the envy of other churches. Faithful catechists for RE, Youth and RCIA continue to educate our parish.  A parish staff has served us for many years behind the scenes keeping us running. And not least, Msgr. Gier and the generations of faithful pastors that have served and continue to serve us. Msgr. Gier, it must be stated, stepped in to save our Cathedral from what would have been a catastrophic collapse and succeeded in turning our worship space into one of the most glorious Cathedrals my eyes have ever seen. These changes described most certainly do not discount or discard what has been done in the past, but only seek to strengthen the future. All these groups and persons have a strong voice and vote on what can happen next, for this is your Church. The thought of these gives me a sense of hope and excitement for what we will most certainly accomplish.

Stewardship of Our Financial Resources
As we reflect on these pastoral issues, next, we need to discuss some financial and administrative issues. We have recently created a parish finance council staffed by fellow parishioners. This body, specifically required by canon law, gives guidance to the pastor and parish in all financial matters. This group along with the Parish Council and parish staff has helped me to create budgets for the operation of the Cathedral for the first time in many years. These budgets allowed us to paint a more clear and concise picture of where our overall finances are and have been.

The parish has traditionally run deficits each year. Over the previous five years and more the annual operating budgetary deficit was approximately $120,000. This shortfall was made up at the end of each year by large one-off donations from individuals, groups or foundations. Their generosity kept us going. However, this arrangement has not allowed us room to grow or room to thrive, merely room to survive. With the help of the Finance Council and the Parish Council we have cut that deficit to approximately $80,000 per year by making some personnel changes and taking other cost cutting measures. One noticeable recent cost-saving measure has been the purchase of permanent missals for the pews. We will no longer have to order and pay for quarterly missalettes that are simply thrown away after three months. Other cost savings measures are being discussed, so we can hopefully begin to balance our budgets. Then, those large donations can be used for more capital related projects that we will discuss later.


Mark Nelson and Bishop Slattery cropped

Bishop Edward Slattery & Mr. Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson: A Great Son and a Great Soul
Also in regards to finance, many of you will fondly remember long-time parishioner Mark Nelson. Mark Nelson willed his entire estate appraised above half a million dollars to Holy Family Cathedral. Through the help of especially the women’s club, we have sold most of the items in the house. Mark entrusted his estate to the Trust Company of Oklahoma who are working with us to recoup the true value of the estate. Please, remember Mark Nelson in your prayers. He is a great son of Holy Family and a great soul! I’ll ask request that we all stand and give Mark Nelson the honor he deserves.
Ultimately we understand that money issues are often the most sensitive. Our goal is to be the best stewards of your money as we can as we begin to fix our financial house. We will be issuing a yearly financial report to the parish at large, to show our progress of being the best steward of your money. This will begin to show you exactly where your money is going and let you rest at ease when you are tithing to the parish, because, as we all know, the parish cannot function without everyone’s monthly tithe.

Future Plans
As we begin to right our financial house we now look to the future of the parish, for a parish not moving forward will inevitably be in decline. What then do we have in our vision for the future? In less than a year or so, we’ll probably have a new bishop. The ordination and installation of a new bishop will be attended by many from out of town and state. We want to start now to prepare for that. These projects need urgent attention. I have arranged them according to the order of priority:

  • Refurbishing the Heiring auditorium and the Halpine room for receptions
  • Installing an elevator around the entrance to the north transept
  • Improving the façade of the cathedral
  • Improving the bathrooms
  • Creating a youth room
  • Creating a valet turn-around from the north of the Cathedral for access to the basement


These projects are urgent but second on our list:

  • Replacing our boilers
  • Redoing the parking lot
  • Refurbishing the brides’ room
  • Stained glass window protection
  • Protecting the school ground with an entrance gate


These will be next to the long range plan:

  • Sanding and tuck-pointing to repair cracks in the building
  • New office space

These belong to the long range:

  • Establish a choir and performance school to serve the Cathedral and the Tulsa area
  • Acquire the properties across 9th street to expand the school or move it entirely
  • Build a new school


These ideas and others that we hope to hear from you will begin to grow this parish from the ground up.

In conclusion, I would love to have a mature Christ-centered discussion with you this evening, after which we will have the opportunity to tour the entire facility. I am not interested in ideological stances or over-your-head political style arguments. I am a pastor, not a politician; and I woefully lack any skill of the politicians. As a pastor, I regard myself as serving Christ in you – no more, no less. As I have stated many times, I am clay in God’s hand and open to be molded anyhow He wishes. You are part of God’s hand in the exercise of molding me. My only prayer to God and to you is: “Do not break me.” Both you and God know too well about my fragility.

I would be happy to entertain any questions.

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