By Katherine Long | Editor

Two years of study and prayer concluded with contagious joy Nov. 4 as the diocese’s newest lay ecclesial ministers were commissioned by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.

The commissioning ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception served as a graduation of sorts for the 22 individuals who made up the 2017 class of the diocese’s Formation for Ministry program.

The two-year program is composed of 10 five-week courses, training and experience in ministry, and time spent on retreat 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. Of the 2017 class, 19 members were commissioned for parish service ministry (one in absentia), two were commissioned for liturgical/RCIA ministry, and one was recommissioned for parish service minstry.

Formation for Ministry is designed for those serving in their parishes who perhaps feel a call to do more, said Eileen Ziobrowski, associate director of the program.

“It gives people the tools to go and serve the Lord in knowledge and faith, and helps them also to become aware of the need to continue to develop their own faith and formation and to walk with God in a special way,” she said.

In his homily, Bishop Cunningham noted that as the years unfold, hundreds will benefit from the ministers’ gifts and skills.

He spoke of the call to be missionary disciples and of the laity’s indispensable role in the life and mission of the Church. “You are the Church — co-responsible with the bishops, priests, and members of consecrated life for the Church’s mission ‘to go forth’ and proclaim the Gospel,” he said.

“It gives me great pleasure, following the example of Christ, to appoint you and send you out into the towns and villages of our beloved diocese so that others will come to know the Lord’s everlasting love and mercy through your example,” he said in closing.

Bishop Cunningham and retired Formation for Ministry Director Father Charles Vavonese conferred certificates to each of the commissioned.

Stephen M. Grausgruber, commissioned for parish service ministry, currently serves as a LifeTeen core member, Eucharistic minister, lector, and usher at his parish, Divine Mercy in Central Square. He said military experience — he currently serves as an Asset Management Supervisor for the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing; his wife retired from the Air Force in 1998 — contributed to his decision to study in the Formation for Ministry program.

Having lived many places, “wherever we went we always missed our family,” he said, “but we always found our family in our faith…. We’ve been so blessed wherever we went, I felt the need to give back.”

Susan Spina, of the Church of the Sacred Heart & St. Mary, Our Lady of Czestochowa in New York Mills, was recommissioned. She currently serves on the pastoral care committee and as a catechist, teaching fourth grade.

“I think it’s important to always give back to the Church, because when you give back to the Church you give back to God — and that’s what we’re put on earth for,” she said. “The continued coursework prepares you, and if I have that ability to be able to give back to others and make a difference, then I feel that I’ve done what God wants me to do.”

Louis A. Alfonsetti, Jr., of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Endicott, was commissioned for liturgical/RCIA ministries. A lector at the parish, he also serves in music and RCIA ministries. Alfonsetti said the program gave him a greater understanding of his religion and brought him closer to scripture, but the most important thing he gained: “Growth in my spirituality,” he said.

Mary McNeil was commissioned for parish service ministry. She currently serves her parish, St. Margaret in Homer, as chair of the pastoral council, chair of the adult spiritual enrichment committee, and as a lector.

She pursued Formation for Ministry, “first and foremost, to become closer to God, to grow in my spiritual life, my prayer life, in order to be able to share,” she said.

The chief operations officer of McNeil & Co. in Cortland, she cited Spirituality of Leadership and Collaborative Ministry as two standout courses for her.

“The program was very enriching,” she said. “It was an incredible spiritual journey.”

To learn more about the Formation for Ministry Program, visit or contact Associate Director Eileen Ziobrowski at or (315) 470-1491.


2017 Commissioning of Lay Ecclesial Ministers


Parish Service Ministry

Alfred F. Allen

Annunciation, Clark Mills

Donald F. Barry                        

St. Stephen/St. Patrick, Whitney Point

Peter J. Burghardt

St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus, New Berlin

Bridget Buttner

Holy Family, Fairmount

Robert Buttner

Holy Family, Fairmount

Gail A. Capozzi

Immaculate Conception, Fayetteville

Michael P. Casey

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Syracuse

Charles E. Craig

Holy Cross, DeWitt

Stephen M. Grausgruber

Divine Mercy, Central Square

Gregory T. Hrostowski            

St. Vincent de Paul/Blessed Sacrament, Vestal

Mark E. Kay

Holy Family, Fairmount

Fauna M. Lang

St. Augustine, Baldwinsville

Mary E. McNeil

St. Margaret, Homer

John D. Mihalko

St. Stephen/St. Patrick, Whitney Point

Lorraine Murray

St. Patrick, Chittenango

Bonnie S. Norton

Immaculate Conception, Greene

Craig Rheaume

Immaculate Conception, Fayetteville, 

Kathryn C. Rowlands

St. Joan of Arc, Morrisville

Michael Thayne

St. Stephen/St. Patrick, Whitney Point


Liturgical/RCIA Ministries

Louis A. Alfonsetti, Jr.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Endicott

Paul Heiland

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Endicott



Susan Spina

Sacred Heart-St. Mary, Our Lady of Czestochowa, New York Mills

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