Retiring director delights in God’s surprises

“Framed in love” at Catherine “Cathy” Cornue’s retirement party are, from left, diocesan Faith Formation Office staffers Theresa White, associate director; Andrea Schaffer, associate director; Cornue, director; Marge Babcock, catechetical and digital media assistant; and Andrea Slaven, associate director and instructional technologist for catechesis. - PHOTO COURTESY ANDREA SLAVEN

Catherine Cornue served diocese in faith formation

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

A joyful extrovert admired by friends and colleagues for her eloquence, Catherine “Cathy” Cornue talks to God too. He has often surprised her with his answers.

   In the past she would consider going back to teaching, her original occupation, but then another son came along.

   “And I’d say, ‘OK, God, I guess I’m not supposed to do that yet,” she said. Along came son No. 6.

   “So God and I had a serious talk and I said, ‘OK, I get the message: I’m supposed to stay in ministry.’”

   She stayed for almost four decades, starting with 20 years of parish work and followed by 10 years as the Eastern Region director of faith formation and seven years as diocesan director of the Faith Formation Office. This month, she heads into retirement, during which she will still help out her church, St. Helena in Sherrill.

Grace with a capital ‘G’

   “It’s been [a] pure gift,” she said of her vocation, “for our family, for my husband [Don] and I. He’s been my silent partner in ministry all these years.” Another partner has been the Holy Spirit, whom she views not as a dove or a tongue of fire but as Grace itself, with a capital “G.”

   Interviewed shortly before her last day in the chancery, Cornue described herself: “I kid about being chatty Cathy. I’m a talker, I’m comfortable with people, I’m genuinely interested in people, I want to get to know them and to meet them where they are, and then to work with them from there.”

   She crystallized her ministry: “I’m there to support all of the parishes in the diocese as they implement their faith-formation programs. And we’re responsible for training, forming, and educating the catechetical leaders, and the catechists. Mostly, we’re there to serve parishes. … We work with the catechetical leaders and the catechists, and of course the pastors, when, and if, they want to talk to us.”

   A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, she started as a first-grade teacher in Sherrill. Her family started to grow, so she stepped back from fulltime teaching and took courses in Scripture, the sacraments, and theology.

   “I wanted to use my brain … and I was hungry,” she said. “Just hungry. So I went through a lot of courses that the diocese was offering at that time.” She eventually earned a graduate certificate and an advanced continuing education certificate from a Loyola University extension program, the Institute for Ministry.

‘Sisters of the heart’

    Cornue started a preschool program at her parish, and one day in 1981 the departing catechetical leader at St. Helena invited her for a cup of coffee and asked if she would like to be the director of religious education. “Beware of cups of coffee,” Cornue said. “They can be life-changing.”

   In an effort to move people to change, she helped write a document called The Catechetical Leader in the Third Millennium, published during her service with the New York State Council of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education. Cornue and other members of the council worked on the document with two bishops.

   As for long-term mentors, Cornue cited Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ; Sister Germaine Hilston, CSJ; Sister Lois Barton, CSJ; Bishop Thomas J. Costello; and Father John Roock. Father Roock was her pastor for 11 years at St. Helena.

   Cornue cherishes her diocesan staff too, her “sisters of the heart”: Theresa White, associate director of faith formation; Andrea Schaffer, also an associate director; Andrea Slaven, associate director and instructional technologist for catechesis; and Marge Babcock, catechetical and digital media assistant.

Personable, recognizable

  Those four staffers issued a collective statement about Cornue’s service:

    “As Diocesan Director of Faith Formation Cathy Cornue has been able to relate to children, parents, catechists, and catechetical leaders with ease and eloquence. She is personable and charming, and recognizable in her hometown of Sherrill, at national conferences, and in our parishes. She is known for her hospitality and generosity of time and talent. Cathy is passionate about passing on her faith as a living witness. She loves her God, family, community, and church.  From head to heart to hands Cathy has embraced lifelong and ongoing faith formation. We are grateful for her love, her companionship, and the grace with which she ministered.”

    Cornue acknowledged Slaven for her spirituality and her gift for technology; White for her beautiful, insightful, and gentle prayer services; Schaffer for knowing how to get to the meat of a topic; and Babcock for her expertise in digital media and her work as a spiritual director.

   Faith-formation directors in individual parishes also praised Cornue.

  Jackie Adams, director of faith formation at Our Lady of Sorrows in Vestal, said in an email:

   “Cathy Cornue has always been helpful and kind. Her words of encouragement have been genuine and heartfelt. She helped a great deal as we entered into the pilot program recently and was a great resource to help keep the channels of communication open. Her dedication to the diocese and her office of faith formation could never be doubted. Her conversations always start with ‘How’s the family?’ and always end with ‘Thank you for all you are doing.’ She will be greatly missed, but I have learned a lot by watching her interactions with parents, students, and catechists, so I will think of her often.”

   Lisa Matto, faith-formation director at St. James Church in Cazenovia, wrote:

   “As a faith-formation director and youth minister, I have had the pleasure to be part of Cathy’s team for the last 11 years.  She was always willing to help make our programs better and to be there to help both professionally and spirituality. She will be greatly missed in the diocese. All of us at St. James in Cazenovia wish her the best.”

Inspirational statuette

   In retirement, Cornue said with a laugh, “I’m not going to be content to sit in a rocking chair and do coloring books or whatever. It’s not my thing.”

    She is helping her parish with its 100th anniversary celebration, and she will help celebrate Father William A. Mesmer’s 50th jubilee next May. Also, she will teach a Scripture course next fall, and she will still be doing safe-environment training.

   “It’s very hard to walk away from something that’s been such an integral part of my life,” she said.

   Cathy and Don are expecting their fourth grandchild this fall. They will be visiting the kids, in order from oldest to youngest: Jonathan, David, Brian, Benjamin, Nathaniel, and Joshua. Don, a graphic artist, worked on crosses for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception restoration project in Syracuse, and Brian made the cross for the back roof of the cathedral.

   Wherever she traveled in the diocese, Cornue always brought a statuette with her: a barefoot, striding, post-Resurrection Jesus in a weather-beaten cloak. “I named him Traveling Jesus because he looks like he’s on the road,” she said.

   Ready for travel herself now, she said: “We’ll see where God leads me.”