On the Right Path

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June 10-16, 2004
On the Right Path
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Pathways to Ministry Celebrates Commitment of Religious Educators Across the Diocese

More than 240 people joined together on June 1 at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool to celebrate, acknowledge and give thanks to the commitments made by the catechetics, commissioned lay ministers, religious education associates, Director’ of Religious Education and LIMEX (Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension Program) graduates of the Diocese of Syracuse. The evening was one of prayer and pride as priests, religious, bishops, family members and friends acknowledged the accomplishments of members of the catechetical ministry. Anne Dobreski, who has given 41 years of service to Holy Family Church in Fairmount, was presented with the Bishop Harrison Award.

Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, director of the Religious Education Office for the diocese quoted from the late Bishop Frank Harrison’s 1978 pastoral letter, “We are the Church.” “So that all people in ages to come might be called and offered this opportunity, Jesus gathered around Him disciples whom He taught and sent forth with authority to proclaim His message and to carry out His mission of service, of healing, of teaching, of reconciliation and of love,” read Sister Katie. “We are here to raise up and honor those who have answered the call as part of their discipleship.”

Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello presented awards and certificates to those who have completed varying degrees of study. Nancy Bergeson, Director of Religious Education at Holy Trinity Parish in Syracuse, received her LIMEX degree. LIMEX is a post-graduate certificate in Religious Education or Pastoral Ministry from Loyola University in New Orleans. Bergeson said it had been a long time since she had been in a classroom and she doubted her ability to complete the program. “What helped me succeed in the program was that my husband went through it with me. He helped ease my anxiety. I also grew very attached to the LIMEX group,” she said.

Both Nancy and her husband Bob received their certification at the event. “I’m excited for him because I know how much this means to him. He’s very spiritual,” said Bergeson. “And I’m excited for me because I’ve accomplished this. I made myself aware that I can be something more than a wife and mother.” Bergeson said that it was with the help and support of Jeannie Bryant, the DRE at St. Mary’s in Minoa, as well as her friends and family that she was able to succeed. “Everyone journeyed side by side with me.” Andrea Slaven, DRE at St. Helena’s in Sherrill, completed the 30 credit hours necessary to become a certified Director of Religious Education. She has served the parish of St. Helena’s as a volunteer catechist and religious education teacher for eight years. When the previous DRE left the parish, Slaven said she was catapulted into the position. While Slaven admitted it was difficult to juggle raising four children, her full-time job as DRE and taking course work, she’s very happy to have completed the program. “I feel like I have a lot of energy and love for my faith and parish and I want to pass that along to others,” said Slaven. “My master’s in education can be used in a different way now.”

“Don’t forget about the husbands,” said Slaven’s husband Mark. “It’s rough on the dads too. I had to learn how to cook and do the laundry while she was at school.” That commitment and love for Christ energizes Sister Katie. “We are recognizing those who have completed between five and 20 years of service as catechetical leader in their parish,” she said. “And remember, 99.9 percent of these people are volunteers, specifically those who have completed the various certification processes.” Joanne Lockwood from St. Leo’s Parish in Holland Patent received recognition for advanced catechetical certification. Lockwood completed 30 hours of basic catechetical training and an additional 30 hours of advanced training. “I enjoyed the process of learning and getting into studying the Bible very much,” she said. Lockwood plans to continue teaching religious education because it deepens her own faith and knowledge.

The Northern Region of the diocese was well represented as members of Holy Family-St. Michael’s Parish in Fulton and Our Lady of the Rosary-St. Joseph’s Parish in Hannibal went forward to accept their certificates. Kathleen Emmons received certification as Religious Education Associate (REA). Emmons has served at both parishes for nine years, in catechetical ministry and as Director of Religious Education. She has completed 60 credit hours of courses and the Formation for Ministry Program. In September, Emmons plans to start the LIMEX Program. She said her ministry comes from the heart and has opened her up spiritually. In the midst of many tragedies in her life several years ago, Emmons signed up to take a Formation for Ministry course. “It lifted me up,” she said. “It taught me the background of my Catholic beliefs.” She has been taking courses ever since. While Emmons was pleased to be receiving her certificate for REA, she is more excited about starting the LIMEX Program. “My husband, children and the people from both parishes were strong and supportive,” she said. Before presenting the Bishop Harrison Award to Anne Dobreski, Sister Katie read some of the testimonials sent in by people who nominated her for the honor. “Anne is one of the great pioneers and foundational leaders of the catechetical movement in the Syracuse Diocese,” said one letter. “She has ministered with a sense of wonder and excitement and always with the vision of the potential of accomplishment,” read another. Father Richard Prior, pastor of Holy Family, said that Anne has impacted the lives of two generations of Holy Family parishioners. “She is a true daughter of faith who has passed on the faith to countless people,” said Sister Katie. Dobreski received a standing ovation as she walked forward to receive her award. In her acceptance speech, Dobreski said she was humbled and honored to accept the award. “I have served under four popes, five bishops, six pastors and 32 associate pastors,” she said. “I had to retrain almost every one of the pastors. And I think I have had the ear of one or two bishops as well,” she joked.

“Anne has had great passion for her faith, children, adults and her church,” said long-time friend and St. Ann’s DRE Mary Stanley. Married for 51 years, Dobreski raised four children and enjoys eight grandchildren in addition to her full-time job at Holy Family. Dobreski said that she’s seen a lot of changes in the religious education programs during her 41 years of service at Holy Family. “In 1963, Pope John opened the windows and let the fresh air in with Vatican II,” said Dobreski. “It was an exciting time. We used to gather often to celebrate our faith and life. It was true evangelization –– it was about Jesus and helping each other in the journey of faith.” Dobreski said that societal changes in the 1980s and 90s brought about change in the religious programs. “More kids were playing sports or participated in other school activities. Families were experiencing multiple marriages and everyone’s lives became busy. As a result, the older students stopped coming to religious education classes,” said Dobreski. “After they received the sacraments, they didn’t come back to the parish until it was time to receive the next one.” Anne said she always tells parents and children that religion is not for kids, it’s a way of life.

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