New Peace, Justice Unit at St. Francis

THE CHURCH so often takes a beating in the media that it is good to remind ourselves occasionally not only that the mystery of the Church is inextricably tied to the mystery of Christ but also of some of the marvelous movements and projects that are going on in the Church at this moment. One program in the Diocese of Brooklyn is especially attractive to me and seems especially important at this moment in time.

When I was a young priest in a parish there was a great deal of talk about Catholic Action and the role of the laity.  I read a great deal about it, became very enthusiastic about lay ministry and wanted to help all the people in my parish to become involved in various types of ministry. Not only did I try to do this with parishioners but also with friends whom I knew before I became a priest.  I viewed the laity as a kind of sleeping giant which could revitalize the Church and through the Church change the world.

I was so excited about the role of the laity that in my first year as a priest for a winter vacation I visited Grailville, the University of Notre Dame and various national offices of the lay apostolate in Chicago. One evening I had dinner at the home of Pat and Patty Crowley whose names will be familiar to anyone who was ever involved in the Christian Family Movement.  I am not exaggerating when I say that winter vacation dramatically changed my life

When I returned to the parish, I became chaplain to Young Christian Students, to Young Christian Workers, to the Christian Family Movement and started, with another priest, parish discussion groups centered on theology and spirituality.  The discussion groups met in parishioners’ homes. At one point, we had 21 groups. I recall one very encouraging experience I had with a group of teenagers who met to discuss the Mystical Body during the summer months. At a general meeting near the end of the summer one teenager stood up and said, “When we started meeting I had no idea what the Mystical Body was and now it means everything to me!”

In trying to help people become more involved I often gave them material to read. Two books that I promoted were Father Leo Trese’s “The Many Are One”  and Father Martin Healy’s “The Whole Story.”

My activities in promoting lay ministers 50 years ago are on my mind because of the Lay Ministry Program that now exists in the Diocese of Brooklyn. If such a program had existed when I was a young priest, much of what I was trying to do in the parish could have been done and done better through such a program.  Among the many attempts by the Church to reach out to influence people through the new evangelization the Lay Ministry Program seems special to me.

The Lay Ministry Program is a three-year program of formation that prepares pastoral leaders to assist pastors/administrators and parish staffs to serve in parishes as unpaid volunteer coordinators or team members for a particular ministry. The following is from the mission statement of the program:

“Through an integrated process of spiritual formation, theological education, pastoral skills development, a mentoring process, and supervised ministry practicum, each participant is provided with the foundations that are needed to develop a holistic approach to ministry in this uniquely urban and immigrant diocese. Striving for deeper union with God and with all others, each participant is challenged to become a more faithful disciple of Jesus and an effective leader for the New Evangelization”.

The Program tries to foster education in contemporary theology but it also tries to help people develop spiritually and even emotionally.  One of its goals is to foster a healthy and well-balanced personality. What the program is striving for is the integration of spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral development.

Part of the program includes a mentoring process. The more I think about the program the more impressed I am with it. I cannot offer any adverse criticism nor can I think of anything that I would add or subtract from it. I regret that I have not promoted the program more. I hope not to be so negligent in the future.

So far more than 600 men and women have gone through the program since 2001. And right now more than 200 are attending.  Alleluia!