Education in faith formation is intended to form lay people and others for parish ministry. Students take classes online as well as locations in South Jersey and Philadelphia from institutions that include Villanova University, the College of St. Elizabeth, the University of Dayton and others. Tuition costs are paid a third through local parishes, a third by the diocese, and the remainder by the participating student. Three students in the faith formation process sponsored by the Diocese of Camden describe the impact of their studies:
Without a doubt every class has provided material that has helped me in my day-to-day function at St. Andrew’s. I value greatly the give and take with my counterparts across the country. Our struggles are not new. We all walk together.
St. Andrew the Apostle Parish is working to become a total Stewardship Parish (a parish where stewardship is a “Way of Life” and parishioners joyfully give of their time, talent and treasure). We know it will not happen overnight. That message is a strong, compelling one. In our Stewardship course, interacting with non-Catholic church leaders, I suddenly saw similarities. All of us find ourselves repeating our common message. Yet the response is limited both among Catholics and non-Catholics.
Our fellow Christian brothers and sisters attest to the same 80-20 percent ratio. There are 20 percent in any parish who contribute, who volunteer, who get the message. And there is the other 80 percent who do not.
That 80 percent majority take what they need, but seldom make a return. They are not present, and they do not support. Time, talent and treasure are measured the same in each of our parishes. A small measureable minority (the 20 percent) consistently show up, share talent, and support with treasure. It is not a Catholic phenomenon. My perception, before our studies, was that our Christian brothers and sisters had virtually complete stewardship participation because their registration was deemed more of a membership. We Catholics do not operate that way.
What is clear to me now is how similar we all are. We truly walk together. Everyone thinks their parish is unique in terms of struggles and limitations. But the struggles we each face are the same. We are different, and yet we are the same.
I used to hear people say that education is wasted on the young. Thinking that the statement seemed to be a little short-sighted, I never really gave it much credence, at least until I had the opportunity to join the Master’s in Church Management Program offered at Villanova University.
From the minute I logged onto the first online class I was filled with excitement about the possibilities. I knew I was going to be a different person when I finished the program.
One theology class in particular taught by Dr. Bernie Prusak did not disappoint. He challenged me in ways that I did not know was possible.
“Was Jesus a failure?” I asked in one class.
“Do you think Jesus failed?” Dr. Prusak responded, answering my question with a question.
The exchange made me think about people who doubt.
“According to what standards was he a failure?” I wondered. Jesus never said no to what God the Father asked him. It made me wonder: does God put obstacles in our way? We needed more of this. The class made me want to know more. My curiosity was piqued.
When I finished this class I realized what I knew at the start of the class could fit into a thimble. And I realized that was no longer enough. I want to know more. In fact, I need to know more.
Father Cosme de la Pena, parochial vicar, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Absecon:
My experience at Villanova has inspired me to deepen my personal relationship with Jesus.
My course in stewardship and development has challenged me to a conversion in my priestly ministry. When Dr. Chuck Zech (at Villanova) stressed that a priest must practice a total stewardship commitment himself, I realized that I had not done that myself in the parish where I am assigned. It reminded me, that as a priest and leader, I have to become a model of a Way of Life that is stewardship. Now I am making a new commitment that as a priest, since God has gifted me with special talents and resources, which I will make maximum use of all the gifts that He has endowed upon me.
I will put them all at the service of the parish or faith community for the glory of God. I realize that all the gifts of God are meant to be shared. I am only a channel through which God spreads His gifts. My whole existence must be a giving of what I have and sharing of what I am to God. This is awesome!
And how do I do this? Part of the answer came in a recently completed course in Information Technology, and it has had a profound impact on me. In seminary, I was never really exposed to computer technology, so I really had no idea as to how I might use it in ministry. I always realized that as a priest, I had to be an expert in communication, but never understood how I might use technology to become that expert. All of a sudden, I began to see the possible connections; how to create a better homily, how to better communicate with the teenagers in our parish, even how we might use our parish website to better minister to the “shut-ins” in our parish.
I have begun a new journey and am excited about all of the different ways that I can use the talents that God has given me in this journey.
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