Called to Serve
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Formation for Ministry Program Helps Laity Realize their Potential to Serve the Church
In the Syracuse Diocese, hundreds of committed and dedicated Catholics answer God’s call to service and work enthusiastically to inspire and minister to others. The involvement of lay people in the church is stronger than ever as parishioners assume the responsibilities of growing and strengthening their parishes and faith communities. Father Joseph Scardella, director of the Office of Ministerial Formation for the diocese, said in his recent newsletter that lay people are not called because there is a lack of priestly or religious vocations. “Lay people are called because of their baptism. All of us are baptized into the mission of Jesus Christ. All of us are called, by baptism, to carry His mission of the proclamation of the kingdom.”
At the Church of the Holy Apostles in Norwich, the recent combining of St. Bartholomew and St. Paul’s Parishes has resulted in a strong, extended circle of faith-filled ministers. Marianne Kirsch, a registered nurse, was commissioned as an outreach minister in 2003. She entered the Formation For Ministry Program with three friends who are also nurses. “I wanted to bring something new to the parish,” said Kirsch. ”The other nurses and I saw a lot of need for health and human services within the parishes. We wanted to get involved in something we are good at.” Kirsch said because of her medical background she and the other nurses are able to provide information to the congregations on what health care services are available to them. They have also held educational seminars covering the topics of health care proxies and living wills. Jane Casamento, a long-time parishioner at Church of the Holy Apostles, said that since she retired, she found more time to strengthen her spiritual life. “It’s through the Formation For Ministry Program that I learned more in depth about spiritual life and my religion,” she said. Casamento completed the two-year program and is a commissioned pastoral care minister. She now serves as a Eucharistic minister, lector, RCIA teacher, parish council secretary and visits the homebound and nursing home residents. “This ministry has given me more confidence in myself,” said Casamento.
Sister Jaquiline Sellappan and Sister Rose Soosairaj are in their first year of the Formation For Ministry Program. The two women, who are members of the French Order of the Sisters of the Cross, arrived from southern India two years ago. Sister Jaquiline said that her main concerns are social justice and the parish outreach program. She is enrolled in Formation For Ministry classes so that she can learn more about the American point of view and become more active and efficient in her ministries. “I was called by Bishop Moynihan to come here and take up the pastoral works which include conducting communion services and hospital and nursing home care,” said Sister Jaquiline. There are four Sisters of the Cross serving at the Church of the Holy Apostles and enrolled in Formation For Ministry classes. They work in cooperation with six other area parishes to increase awareness of social issues. Cathy Paul and her husband Dave completed the Formation For Ministry Program in 2003 and have been conducting “Evenings for the Engaged” for more than 20 years. They recently organized the parish’s first celebration of World Marriage Day. “Father Cunningham expected about 10 couples to attend the Mass and dinner celebration,” said Cathy. “Instead, we had 45 couples attend.”
Dave Paul is currently studying for the diaconate. He is also a lector, Eucharistic minister and RCIA teacher. “I wanted to make a return to the Lord for all that He has done for me,” said Dave. Although Dave was raised a Methodist, he became a Catholic because of his love for the Eucharist and the traditions of the Catholic Church. Dave Kirsch is president of the Parish Council at the Church of the Holy Apostles. He is also director of both church choirs and an RCIA instructor. He is commissioned as a liturgical minister through the Formation For Ministry program and also teaches music in the Norwich City School District. Kirsch said he runs from one church to the other every Sunday in his duties as music director. The two choirs come together each week to practice the songs for the Sunday Masses. “It was difficult at first –– the joining of two separate parishes with separate traditions. But now we have had a wonderful growth in friendship in the joining of the two choirs for practices, Christmas and Easter Masses and confirmations,” said Kirsch. “We are one faith and one church. We are forging a new tradition. It takes work, it’s challenging, but it’s worth it.”
The Formation For Ministry Program at St. Francis of Assisi in Bridgeport is growing. There are currently eight commissioned lay ministers and another seven going through the program. Melissa Hart and her husband Deacon Guy Hart have been members of St. Francis of Assisi parish for 33 years. They became active participants in parish ministry upon their arrival –– working with teens in the CYO and confirmation programs. They started the outreach program, facilitate Scripture study, and co-direct the evangelization program. Melissa said that she has always had a strong desire to serve God and her participation in church ministry at St. Francis gave her the opportunity to meet members of the community while strengthening her faith. Deacon Hart said he experienced the challenges of the parish both as a parishioner and a leader. “We need to evangelize our people,” he said. “We need to educate them. We have failed to do that. People leave the Catholic Church and go elsewhere because they never really understood what we have to offer.” Nancy Geiger is one of the two original Formation For Ministry members at St. Francis of Assisi. She was commissioned in 1981 and since then has ministered to the sick and elderly. “Formation is more than just for the parish,” she said. “It’s formation for the individual as well.” Geiger, who is a secular Franciscan, said that although formation is a ministry of the church, it is not the main reason she participates. “In my mind, it is the process of formation that is important. I have gained more spirituality in going through the process.” At Holy Family Parish in Fairmount, Father Richard Prior said that lay ministries are a great resource for individuals who want to get involved. “It builds confidences and provides basic catechical understanding of the faith,” he said. “People who have gone through Formation are in key ministerial roles within the parish. It gives them a solid foundation in their particular area of ministry.” That role is especially important in a parish as large as Holy Family. Father Prior reported that there are approximately 3,600 families registered at Holy Family. The parish currently has 10 commissioned lay ministers and three who are enrolled in the program. “I think that if a person is interested in ministry and gets a call, he/she will find they have an important role to play,” said Father Prior.
Father Prior shares Father Scardella’s belief that people need to assume the responsibility for their parish. “The parish belongs to the people,” said Father Scardella. “For a long time, ministering was the role of the sisters or father. That’s not the model we operate under any more,” he said. “It’s much more inclusive.” Father Prior agreed. “Over the course of time, the role of the lay minister will be the norm,” said Father Prior. “There will be greater expectations to be a part of the parish. For Holy Family to be as effective as it is, everyone will need to contribute.” Dave Callihan has been a parishioner at Holy Family for over 40 years and is a commissioned lay minister. He said that Father Paul Angelicio was successful in building up the lay ministry program at Holy Family. “You just need to look at the programs at Holy Family to see how many people are involved,” he said. “The Formation For Ministry Program is important because we are given the tools not only to teach but to answer questions accurately. We are schooled not only in the Gospels, but all aspects of our Catholic religion –– the social programs, jail ministry programs and others,” said Callihan. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The Formation For Ministry Program is funded by the HOPE Appeal.