Forming Ministers

Sept. 23-29, 2004
Forming Ministers
By Kelly Homan Rodoski/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Moynihan Commissions Newest Group of Laypersons

Growing up in a tight-knit Irish family, Cindy Heath’s life was rooted in the Catholic faith. Even with the strong background she was given, she remembers not becoming well versed in the Bible. During trivia games with her father, who was raised in the Lutheran faith, her dad always got the best of her. Now living her vocation as a youth minister at St. Joseph’s in Camillus, Heath felt that an area she needed to improve upon was her knowledge of theology.

In their quest to gain more knowledge about the church and their faith, Heath and Phillips enrolled in the diocese’s Formation for Ministry Program. Their journey reached a milestone on Sept. 12, as they were among 45 members of the diocese, who, supported by their pastors, family and friends, came to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse to be commissioned in a specialized area of ministry.

In addition to the newly commissioned, two ministers were re-commissioned during the ceremony that was celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello. The teen choir from St. Joseph’s in Camillus provided music that set a jubilant tone. The Formation for Ministry Program began in 1980 under the leadership of Bishop Frank Harrison. Since the first group of ministers was commissioned in 1982, more than 1,200 lay ministers throughout the diocese have been commissioned in the areas of catechetical ministry, evangelization ministry, family ministry, liturgical ministry, parish business administration, parish outreach ministry, pastoral care ministry and youth ministry.

Within the two-year program, lay ministers take courses in areas such as social justice spirituality and moral theology; attend workshops and participate in retreats. After they are commissioned, ministers must make a commitment to serve their parishes or agencies for at least three years. Father Joseph Scardella, diocesan director of ministerial formation, says the program provides a good theological and pastoral foundation for lay ministers to serve their parishes and is especially important at a time when the work of lay ministers is particularly vital to the life of the church. At the start of the ceremony, the candidates for commissioning were presented by Father Scardella as “people gifted and called to share their talents in ministry.”

The homily during the ceremony was delivered by Deacon Joseph Daniszewski, who previously directed the Formation for Ministry program. “How does one put into words what the program has meant?” he asked. “Only when you know Jesus will you be motivated to share with others what He has done. This is what you have been doing for the past two years.” Deacon Daniszewski said that Christ would help the candidates in their service to their parishes and greater church. “He will provide you with opportunities and inner strength to tell His message,” he said. “Christ chose to serve others, and following Jesus Christ means to receive this same power to serve,” he said. “Go out into your parishes and communities and spread the word of Jesus Christ.” Deacon Daniszewski said that angels asked Jesus at his Ascension who would now be the one to serve. “Jesus said, ‘I did it, now I give it to the people on Earth,’” Deacon Daniszewski said. “Now it is your turn to take care of the world — He has chosen you for this special ministry. Enjoy it — it’s fun, it’s tremendous, I guarantee it.” Following the homily, the candidates came forth to be commissioned and receive certificates and charges from Bishop Moynihan. Catechetical ministers must instruct in faith and prayer. Evangelization ministers were instructed to bring the Good News to all people and invite them into God’s family. Family ministers will seek out families who need to know the love and compassion of Jesus. Liturgical ministers are charged to foster the full, conscious and active participation in the life of the church.

Parish business administrators share in the responsibility of stewardship and management of the temporal goods of the church. Parish outreach ministers are called to respond to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised through compassion. Pastoral care ministers reach out with compassion to those who are sick and aged. Youth ministers are called to nurture the seeds of faith of the youth of the diocese. Virginia Phillips, who was commissioned in parish business administration, says the formation experience gave her the tools to do her job more effectively, and was both enlightening and rewarding. Her journey was particularly special as she had a partner in the process. Nancy West, Our Lady of Lourdes director of religious education, was commissioned in catechetical ministry.

Cindy Heath, who has been the youth minister and Confirmation coordinator at St. Joseph’s for eight years, says the formation process and her commissioning in youth ministry have given her a new perspective. “I truly feel that it has provided me a solid theological foundation on which to minister,” she said. “It has made me more well-rounded, and sparked me to continue to want to do more.”

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