In 2019, Bishop Noel Treanor started a process of discernment and renewal in the Diocese of Down and Connor called Pathways to the Future.   This programme continues with the blessing, support and guidance of Bishop Donal McKeown, Apostolic Administrator.  A steering Committee of Clergy, Parishioners and Diocesan Staff support the Pathways to the Future programme. The Steering Committee is chaired by Mr Stephen McAnee. The steering committee is supported in their work by a dedicated project manager, Mrs Jackie Kerr.

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Donal McKeown 

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Donal McKeown

Discussion is the beginning of every work, and counsel precedes every undertaking.

Sirach 37: 16

The Steering Committee is as follows;

  • Bishop Donal McKeown, Apostolic Administrator
  • Fr Tim Bartlett, Parish Priest (PP), St Mary’s Parish, Belfast
  • Rev Joe Baxter, Deacon, Sacred Heart Parish, Belfast
  • Mrs Siobhan Cox, St Anne’s Parish, Diocesan Pastoral Council
  • Mr Gareth Hughes, Chief Operating Officer, Down and Connor Diocese
  • Mrs Jackie Kerr, Pastoral Council, Ballymena
  • Mr Stephen McAnee (Chair), Chair of Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), Synodal Rep
  • Ms Anne McDermott Butler, Loughshore Parishes, DPC
  • Fr Eddie McGee, Diocesan Press Officer, St Mary’s University College
  • Mr Joseph McGowan, Pastoral Council Glenavy & Killead
  • Fr Kevin McGuckien, PP of Coleraine, PP of Portrush and Bushmills, PP of Portstewart
  • Mrs Paula McKeown, Living Church, Parish of Ardkeen
  • Fr Eugene O’Hagan, Chancellor and Diocesan Trustee
  • Mr Philip O’Hara, Diocesan Safeguarding Office, St Agnes’ Parish
  • Ms Emer O’Keeffe, Portstewart Parish Pastoral Council
  • Mr John Steen, Derriaghy Pastoral Council, & Derriaghy & Colin Pastoral Forum


    Our 3 key areas of focus

    The Steering Committee has established three subgroups to progress three initial priorities for the programme. They are:

    Pastoral Care of

    Lay Leadership and Ministry

    Strategic Planning and Communication

    Stay Informed

    At present the Steering Committee have undertaken an initial consultation with Clergy and Parishioners to gain their insights into initial planning. 

    In spring/summer we are informing the wider diocesan family of our work, collecting information and working towards a launch in Autumn 2023. 

    To be kept informed of launch details in Autumn 2023 please register your interest below:



    The Steering Committee will be developing a FAQ’s section to ensure that we can provide with you as much detail as possible when available. 

    We look forward to this section of the website being available in early 2023. 

    I’ve just heard about Pathways to the Future in my parish – what is this process?

    In 2019, Bishop Noel Treanor started a process of discernment and renewal in the Diocese of Down and Connor called Pathways to the Future.  In this process, a team of clergy and lay people were tasked to proactively respond to the particular challenges and opportunities of our time.

    We seek to create together a diocese and parishes where:

    • the Gospel of Jesus is shared and lived
    • people feel welcome and at home
    • people feel listened to
    • people feel cared for as companions on the journey of life
      people are invited to serve each other, especially the needy and most vulnerable and
    • the Eucharist is the centre of our shared life

    To achieve this there are challenges to be faced. It will be necessary to adapt how our priests are supported, how parishes are structured, how liturgical services are celebrated, and how all the lay faithful can work together in the service of God and each other. Change will be inevitable to meet the ever changing sacramental and pastoral needs of parishioners.

    Our parish has always had its own Priest – is this going to change?

    We are all aware of the decline in vocations to Diocesan Priesthood – we are having on average just one ordination a year but several Priests retiring each year.  Sometimes when we have our own Priest we perhaps don’t see the wider picture across the Diocese and its helpful to know the wider picture: 

    • Down and Connor currently has 86 parishes and 146 churches ministered to by around 84 priests in active ministry.
    • Only 7 priests in the Diocese are aged under 40 years.
    • Within 10 years the number of priests in active ministry will be almost half what it is today.
    • Within 15 years and for the first time in the history of the Diocese, we will have more retired priests than priests in active ministry. 
    • 20 years from now, even with the assumption that there will be a priest ordained every two years, we forecast there will only be 24 priests available for our current 86 parishes.

    Our priests are already having to manage workloads and demands that are unreasonable and not sustainable, with the consequent impact on their welfare and well-being.

    As we move forward we will have a smaller number of priests serving a family of parishes and ensuring that their ministry is supported by encouraging all the lay faithful to play their part in the life and mission of the church.

    Is this process connected to the synod?

    Yes!  Synodality is about how all the people of God journey together in the Church.  In this process all of us are called to come together to look at what’s happening in our Diocese and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us in our actions into the future.

    Together, we are called by God to respond.

    Together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will renew and rebuild the Church.

    I’m active in my parish but we find it hard to get new volunteers – it’s always the same people. How will we manage into the future?

    In times when we had lots of priests there were few roles that people needed to do.  But now we are in a critical time and need to consider the role that each one of us can play in the life of the Church.  The recent diocesan synod showed how much value people placed on the Church being there at a time of need – especially at a time of bereavement.   The synod also highlighted that many people wanted to learn more about their faith but didn’t know how to go about this.

    When there is a need we know that people will respond with generosity.  The Diocese will increase the range of lay ministries such as funeral ministry and catechesis that can be undertaken by commissioned parishioners by providing training and formation.  We hope that when volunteers find meaningful roles in which they are supported and valued that we will see a renewed spirit of volunteerism.