Members of the 2013 class of the diocesan Formation for Ministry program were commissioned as lay ecclesial ministers by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham during a ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse Sept. 22. The class was composed of 14 men and women commissioned for the first time and two women who were recommissioned after completing additional formation following three years of service in ministry.
Formation for Ministry is a two-year program of education, training and field experience that prepares people — specifically laypeople — to serve the Church in a specialized area of ministry. Areas include catechetical, liturgical, pastoral care and youth ministries, among others. A candidate for the program must be recommended by his or her pastor or the director of a diocesan institution; once commissioned, the lay ecclesial minister is asked to give three years of service to his or her parish or sponsoring institution.
“It’s critical that we empower laypeople to live out their baptismal vocation, and [the Formation for Ministry program] gives them some background, formation and education to be able to do that,” said Father Charles Vavonese, director of the program. Noting that such a movement has been growing in the church since the Second Vatican Council, Father Vavonese added “it’s taken on even greater significance in recent years, [as] there are fewer people [priests and religious] to do ministry. These lay ministers will be working as part of a team in a given parish or pastoral care area,” to help provide important ministries.
Mary Ahern, a parishioner of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Liverpool, was among those commissioned. She joined the program two and a half years ago after “12 years or so of experiencing a gentle calling to do something in my life,” she wrote in an email to the Sun a few days before the commissioning ceremony. “I knew in my heart it was from God, but I kept putting those thoughts on the back burner for another time. That soft, gentle nudging became increasingly louder and louder. God was desperately trying to get my attention. I just wasn’t understanding what it was that he wanted me to do.” After spotting an announcement about the Formation for Ministry program in her church’s bulletin, “I immediately became overcome with joy, and I said ‘that’s it!’” she said.
A medical assistant at Van Duyn Home and Hospital in Syracuse, Ahern has long worked with people who are ill, disabled or dying. Her choice to pursue ministry in pastoral care, therefore, came naturally. “I had already had a lot of field experience but I still needed to learn so much more to be an effective representative for the Church. The classes helped me tremendously in my life — I have become a better Catholic, wife, mother, friend and co-worker since starting the program,” she said.
Following the ceremony, Ahern said she was excited to have been commissioned and looking forward to continuing her ministry in her parish. Along with Deacon Stephen Manzene, Ahern has already made visits to the ill and dying of the parish in their homes and local hospitals. “My heart goes out to these people — it’s like a magnet,” she said. “I see how other people just walk right by them and ignore them. I can’t do that.”
To learn more about the Formation for Ministry program, visit the diocese’s website at www.syrdio.org or contact program director Father Charles Vavonese at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 470-1491.