Glenmary Leads Pilot Lay Ministry Program in Mississippi

Posted: 5/6/2014

Spanish-language lay ministry pilot program in MississippiDuring its 75 years of existence, Glenmary has been a leader in preparing Catholic laypeople in home mission areas for parish leadership and ministry. Lorraine Vancamp, longtime director of the Department of Pastoral Ministers and Pastoral Services, says “it’s all part of Glenmary’s mission to build up the Church locally and beyond—and not just for our mission communities. We work with dioceses and mission parishes to help develop lay leaders at all levels.

“When Glenmary returns a mission to its diocese or leaves a mission area, these individuals can help carry on God’s work.”
A recent example is Glenmary’s involvement in launching a Spanish-language pilot program in theology and ministry, which began in Fall 2010 in the Diocese of Jackson (Miss.) and concludes in June 2014. This diocese is one of just two sites for the program (along with the Raleigh, N.C., diocese). The program makes six graduate-level courses accessible to Spanish-speaking Catholics to help them prepare for parish leadership.

Glenmary became involved because Dr. Tom Ryan, director of the Loyola (New Orleans) Institute for Ministry (LIM), asked Lorraine in 2009 whether Glenmary could sponsor such a LIMEX (LIM EXtension) pilot program and recommend a site. “I think he approached us because we’re experienced in lay leadership formation and have sponsored English-language LIMEX programs for many years,” she says.  

LIM undertook this project in response to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ call for “leadership formation adapted to the Hispanic culture in the United States….”

Lorraine suggested the Tupelo, Miss., deanery as the site because “a Glenmary-sponsored, English-language, graduate-level LIMEX program in pastoral studies has been offered there since 2004, and several area Catholics seemed ready for such a program in Spanish.” She also consulted with deanery pastors and Loyola liaison Susan Sweet (then a Glenmary parish minister in Mississippi).

Next, she found two willing persons, Lorenzo Ajú and Jacqueline Perez, to serve as program cofacilitators. Both were highly bilingual and both were involved in graduate-level work in pastoral studies through the region’s second English-language LIMEX program at Glenmary’s Bruce, Miss., mission. Lorenzo was working on a master’s (pastoral administration focus), and Jackie on a certificate (spirituality focus).

After information sessions about the pilot program were held in deanery parishes, the pair headed to Raleigh, N.C., for a week of training in January 2010. “It all came together by the grace of God,” says Lorraine. Classes started that summer.

Lorenzo accepted the cofacilitator role while also serving as a full-time Glenmary parish minister, being a husband and father, and doing his graduate work.    

(A background note: A key reason Lorenzo was able to complete his master’s in 2011 and later become a Glenmary pastoral coordinator was that the educational opportunity was available. In 2008, two veteran Glenmary pastoral coordinators trained as LIMEX facilitators—with Glenmary’s support—so they could lead the Bruce program for students like Lorenzo, Jackie and now-Glenmary pastoral coordinator Deborah Holmes.)

 “This whole situation is one more example of Glenmary’s impact,” says Lorenzo. “I wanted to help give other people the same kind of opportunity I had, and to prepare more lay leaders for Catholic churches. I’m busy, but to me the pilot program is very important.”

The students who will complete the Spanish-language pilot program in June include three paying to take the program for continuing education credit, and four participating for free (not for credit). “One advantage of this program,” Lorraine says, “is that it was open to people who wanted to participate but couldn’t afford tuition.”

Students travel up to 45 minutes one way to attend classes—usually every other Saturday—in addition to their workplace, family and homework responsibilities.
As a cofacilitator, Lorenzo has helped guide students through critical reflections about readings on theology and ministry. “They’re hungry to learn and I’m learning too. We’ve shared our experiences of faith and points of view, and we’ve grown as individuals and as a community.” 

An essential part of the pilot process has been course evaluations. Near the end of each course, the cofacilitators and students have been asked to assess the course and program. (Diocesan liaisons were involved in evaluation of the first course.) As a result of their feedback, textbook material has been revised to make the content and examples—in Lorenzo’s words—”much more pertinent to the students’ Hispanic culture.” And program DVDs have been redone to feature Hispanic theologians speaking in Spanish.

The pilot program has been well worth the effort, Lorraine says, because it has resulted in the best program possible—one that LIM will make available, through its extension program and possibly online, to Spanish speakers in this country and around the world.

Also, the students themselves say it has deepened their knowledge and understanding of their faith as well as helping them develop new skills for parish leadership.

Helping pilot this program has been another chapter in Glenmary’s legacy of building up the Church through the formation of new lay leaders.

This article appears in the May 2014 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.