I remember sitting in an airport in June 2012, waiting to fly home from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and finishing up my application to the Co-Workers Leadership Institute (CLI) through the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I did not know much about CLI at the time, except that my pastor, Father Ronald Calkins from Mary, Queen of Peace, had nominated me to be part of the program.
I also knew that God must have a plan for me. After all, I had graduated from the Loyola Institute for Ministry in May, was severed from The Times-Picayune a month later, and now had this CLI application in my lap. It seemed that I just needed to trust in divine providence, answer the questions, and see what happened next.
What happened next was an unexpected and beautiful surprise: I became part of a formation program for lay ecclesial ministers, a program that not only teaches the mind and touches the heart, but also brings people of various gifts together to become like a family.
Four pillars of formation
Archbishop Gregory Aymond created the Co-Workers Leadership Institute to raise the bar for formation of lay ecclesial ministers in the Archdiocese, and he will commission the first class (affectionately known as the “guinea pigs”) in January 2015. The program is designed to address the same four formation pillars that are addressed in diaconate and priestly formation programs. Those four pillars – human, spiritual, academic and pastoral – are the heart of the program.
“CLI is designed so that each candidate has an opportunity to grow and mature in each of these areas,” said Susie Veters, program director. “It is also designed to promote a strong community within each class of candidates.
“It has been a joy and a blessing to be involved in this program,” Veters said. “I continue to be inspired by the deep love of the Lord and willingness to serve in each of the candidates. I believe the CLI program will be an enormous blessing to the parishes, schools and organizations that our candidates serve. I also believe that we will see Lay Ecclesical Ministers in positions of leadership throughout the Archdiocese in the years to come.”
Veters is joined on the leadership team by Marist Brother Stephen Synan and Dr. Tom Neal, who will step aside at the end of June due to his commitments as Dean of Academics at Notre Dame Seminary. Father Joseph Krafft will replace Dr. Neal on the leadership team in July.
Able evangelization leaders
“Working as part of the CLI leadership team has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life,” Dr. Neal said. “What’s most rewarding is seeing the candidates surprised by joy as they discover the beauty of our Catholic faith.
“CLI has deepened my conviction that offering lay leaders in the church solid, holistic formation is the only way the new evangelization will take off,” he added. “Clergy need lay collaborators who are competent, but more importantly, they need collaborators who are faithful disciples of Jesus. CLI is all about this. Notre Dame Seminary offers a treasure house of formation resources, and it’s brilliant to link lay ecclesial ministry formation with priestly formation.”
‘Thirsting’ for enrichment
For our class of “guinea pigs,” the journey through this formation program has been transformative.
“CLI, for me, was the answer to a thirst I had been having for a long time,” said Michelle Alley, middle school religion instructor at St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie. “I knew I wanted continuing education in ministry but a Master’s in Theology just didn’t seem to be the right answer. As soon as I saw the setup of the CLI program with the four pillars, there was no doubt in my mind this was what I had been longing for.
“I feel the students I serve at St. Catherine have definitely received the benefits from my CLI experience,” Alley added. “ I feel better prepared spiritually and academically to do the ministry work in which I am called at this time. CLI turned out to be another area of my life where I am continually reminded that I am not in charge! And I’m OK with that!”
Erin Maffe, youth minister and director of religious education at St. Rita in Harahan, echoes those sentiments.
“The CLI program has been such a blessing to me – an incredible opportunity to grow in knowledge of my faith and to delve deeper into my own spirituality,” Maffe said. “As a result of being in this program, I now have a job doing what I love (ministry) and getting to know so many wonderful people.”
The people are the key to CLI for me and for all of us, it seems.
“The CLI program brings together people with a variety of leadership qualities and experiences,” said Denise Theriot, religion chair at Cabrini High School. “Through learning and sharing along our journey, we have grown.”
We have grown together as a family, with hearts and minds open to God’s will, prepared to serve as needed in this vineyard of the Lord. We are thankful for Archbishop Aymond’s vision; we are grateful for our leaders’ dedication; and I, for one, am forever mindful that this journey has only just begun.
Karen Baker works in ministry at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville.The Co-Workers Leadership Institute is seeking nominations by June 6 for a new class of candidates.
For information, contact Susie Veters at email@example.com.