By Katherine Long | Editor

One of the greatest lessons Michael Thayne learned during his time in the diocesan Formation for Ministry program was that “we are all 100 percent called and gifted by God,” he said. “It’s not just me being called — it’s all of us.”

Thayne was commissioned in November by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham to serve as a lay ecclesial minister in parish service, the culmination of two years of study in the Formation for Ministry program.

The goal of the program is to develop in students “a foundation of knowledge of Church teachings as well as skills for ministry… so people are prepared to go out and serve the Church and share the Gospel,” said the program’s Associate Director Eileen Ziobrowski.

The program is composed of 10 courses; training and experience in ministry; and time spent on retreat, in workshops, and in prayer. Through the program, students earn certification in one of several specific areas of ministry: Faith Formation, Liturgy/RCIA, Youth Ministry, Parish Business Administration, and Parish Service Ministry. Candidates in the program are sponsored by their parishes and are asked to give three years of service there following their commissioning. Any adult Catholic can also enroll in a course for personal enrichment.

A member of the Catholic Community of St. Stephen-St. Patrick in Marathon and Whitney Point, Thayne joined the Formation for Ministry program when he found himself “looking for more,” he recalled. The “guiding lights” in his faith life had moved on several years before — Sister Laura Bufano, CSJ, then liturgical ministry specialist with the Cortland County Pastoral Care Area, left to serve on her Congregational Leadership Team in 2008, and his pastor, Father Jerome Katz, retired in 2010. Thayne then lost Deacon Joseph Caminiti when he passed away later that year.

Along with a few others in his parish, Thayne made retreats and listened to Catholic speakers. Fired up, “we decided we needed to have a better knowledge of our Church, our faith,” he said. “I decided to go into Formation for Ministry.”

What he found was a program that was “all-encompassing,” covering topics from scripture to evangelization to collaborative ministry — where he picked up that key lesson from teacher Theresa White. The program “did nothing but deepen my faith and open my eyes to a lot of spiritual direction I had missed prior to that,” Thayne said.

Now commissioned, Thayne is enrolled in a 24-week pastoral care education course, working on his application to the diaconate program, and refining his role in parish ministry. He urges anyone thinking about Formation for Ministry to enroll. “If you’re considering it, then it is for you,” he said. “If you’re thinking about it, then you should be doing it.”

Gloria Hunt didn’t have to think long about the program before deciding to jump in. A current candidate in the program and a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, Hunt “enrolled in the Formation for Ministry program literally four hours before the first class began in the fall of 2016!” she told the Sun in an email.

“While I had heard of it through a friend, an announcement in my parish bulletin describing the FFM program told me it was just what I had been looking for. God had planted a deep (if somewhat vague) desire in my heart to serve my parish and diocese in a more intentional way than I had before. For several months I had been discerning, with some difficulty, as to how I was to accomplish this while being a stay-at-home mother of my (then five) young children. After a phone conversation with Father [Charles] Vavonese (then director of the FFM program) to explain my desires and the realities of my commitments at home, he encouraged me to sign up for the program and see where the opportunity might lead me. A few hours later I was sitting in my first class.”

Since enrolling, Hunt has taken classes in Church history, pastoral care, and the sacraments, and plans to take classes in scripture and Catholicism in the spring. (She’s currently taking some time off from classes, having just welcomed child number six to the family!)

“Through participating in this program, I am hoping to gain practical knowledge about our faith — its theology, history, and traditions —and also how our parishes and our diocese live out Christ’s imperative to spread the Gospel to ‘all nations,’” she said. “Although I have not yet chosen a specific path for ministry, I feel confident that the experiences gained through this program will help me develop my spiritual strengths (charisms) and discover opportunities to apply them in service to our Church.”

Like Thayne, Hunt encourages anyone thinking about the program to give it a try: “Whether you are a young adult, working parent, homemaker, or retiree, the Church has a real need for the ‘sleeping giant’ of the laity to awaken, to become formed in the teachings and traditions of the Church in order to help accomplish her mission in the world. This is just what the Formation for Ministry program is helping to bring about.”

Registration is now open for the upcoming semester, which begins in January. Courses will run for five weeks and will be offered in Syracuse, Utica, and Binghamton. Online courses are also available through the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation. For details on course offerings, fees, and application to the program, contact the Formation for Ministry Office at (315) 470-1491 or Associate Director Eileen Ziobrowski at

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