Ministering to Ministers

Dec. 16, 2004
Ministering to Ministers
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Father Joseph Scardella Shares His Knowledge and Love of Faith with Formation Candidates

People have often told Father Joseph Scardella that he is a good teacher. A little over a year ago, he was able to put his gift of educating Catholics into practice when Bishop James Moynihan appointed him director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy for the Syracuse Diocese. “I am pleased that the bishop has put his confidence in me to do this job,” said Father Scardella. “This is my dream job. Educating people is the most exciting part of it –– getting those in the formation programs the educational background they need for their ministries.”

The Formation for Ministry program is a two-year program of education, ministerial training, field experience and spiritual preparation of adult Catholics leading to commissioning by the bishop and diocesan certification in a specialized area of ministry. The program was implemented in 1980 by Bishop Frank Harrison as a continuation of his commitment to foster Christian growth. Bishop Harrison authored a pastoral letter in 1978 entitled, “We are the Church” to highlight the church’s mission, to announce the Good News, to be community, to pray, to serve those in need, to teach the truth and to provide leadership. To bring about that mission, the bishop reached out to the people of the diocese. “The mission of the church is on all of us working toward the same goal,” said Father Scardella. “The formation program is an exciting program. It’s one of the best things the diocese can do.”

Father Scardella said that the formation program has evolved since Bishop Harrison first created it. Areas of ministries have been reconfigured and new programs are being considered. One recently implemented program is the parish life coordinator position. A parish life coordinator is a professional person who coordinates the overall care of the parish and works under the direction of a canonical pastor. He or she would lead the parish staff as it relates to all aspects of parish life. Designated responsibilities include areas of liturgy, faith formation and development, sacramental preparation, administration, pastoral care and social outreach. Father Scardella said that a new program being considered for the future is a parish nursing ministry. The goal of parish nursing is to empower people and to increase their positive self-care practices. Change is an integral part of the process. “As parish nurses and as people who are affected by change, we need to understand the dynamics of change,” explained Father Scardella.

Regardless of the type of ministry one chooses to commit to, Father Scardella said it’s important to note that becoming a formation minister is not just about learning the intellectual aspect, but to learn to be the presence of Christ for others. “It’s not enough for them to know about God. I want them to get to know God,” said Father Scardella. “Liturgical ministers should be teaching about God. They should not only be speaking the liturgy, but should be giving an experience of Christ in that liturgy. We, as ministers, should be fading into the background so that people can see the presence of Christ,” he said. Father Scardella strives to overcome the challenges of his latest position. “One of the things I express to lay people is the importance of the role of their supervisor,” said Father Scardella. “The supervisors and the formation candidates should work together to have a written job description in place at the end of the first year.”

He has also implemented an examination to be given at the end of each course. This replaces the evaluation that was previously in place. “The examination gives us the opportunity to rate the ministers’ understanding of the content and ensures that they have completed the necessary readings and assignments.” It is Father Scardella’s hope that more pastors will utilize the formation program. “We need to get the program out there. There are many parishes who have a need for lay people to minister,” said Father Scarella. “It has to be opened up so that people have a greater understanding of the church’s mission.”

With a master of divinity degree from Christ the King Seminary and a master’s degree in theology and liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Father Scardella also heads the Liturgy and Music Office for the diocese. He acts as the bishop’s resource person for all liturgical matters, helps plan the Rite of Election for RCIA, coordinates the Chrism Mass and assists the bishop in creating the executive summary of the new liturgical norms sent out to priests. This part of his job also required re-instituting the diocesan liturgical commission –– a group of lay people who help form the policies of the liturgical office. In his spare time, Father Scardella writes for Celebration, a national monthly publication for parish ministers and for Today’s Parish, a national publication for children in the RCIA Program. For the past four years, Father Scardella has authored the liturgy guide for National Catholic School’s Week and in the spring of 2004 was published in the National Seminary Journal. He also taught for the North American forum on the Catechumenate and the Formation for Ministry Program.

As a strong advocate for education, Father Scardella invites commissioned lay ministers to take refresher courses. He has also opened the courses to all adults in the diocese –– not just those interested in joining the program. “After people come to a class, they realize it’s not so daunting and they express an interest in being a part of the formation program,” said Father Scardella. “We need ministers not only with big hearts, but those who have a real sense of the responsibility and commitment to the ministry,” he said. “It’s more than giving of your time or filling a slot. It’s understanding the needs of the people.”

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