By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
As a campus minister and theology teacher since 2008 at Holy Cross High School – and having served for a few years as an assistant football coach – Adrian Jackson has a keen insight into what makes teenage boys tick.
“They’re looking for guidance, and they’re going to look in all the wrong places if we don’t come in front of them with the right message,” said Jackson, 36, the father of two whose wife Rachael is expecting twin girls later this month.
“With social media and all the noise in front of them, it’s tough,” Jackson added. “But I’ll tell you something – these guys want to learn the faith, and not just accept it for what you say. These kids want to be fed the faith, and they want the whole faith.”
Jackson felt a tug to go deeper into his own faith, especially since he was seeking certification as a religion teacher. He heard about a unique program at Notre Dame Seminary – the Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry (ILEM) – that seemed to fit exactly what he was looking for.
Beginning in the fall of 2016, Jackson and more than a dozen other laypeople from across the Archdiocese of New Orleans embarked on a 2 1/2-year formation program that, with its emphasis on four “pillars” of formation (spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral) runs parallel to the seminary’s formation of future priests and permanent deacons.
Learned next to seminarians
The 23-hour program includes the study of theology, retreats, spiritual direction, formation days and supervised practicums in which the students – who form a “cohort” or a community of faith and fellowship – delve deeply into their Catholic faith. They take some of their classes with seminarians and permanent deacon candidates and their wives.
At a recent Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, Archbishop Gregory Aymond commissioned the ILEM graduates as “lay ecclesial ministers,” with the understanding that their deeper theological background will help them assist the church in growing where they are – as teachers, parish ministers or volunteers.
“Really, at the end of the day, regardless if we are ordained or not, by our baptismal call we are all called to evangelize,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a priest or a deacon or in the consecrated life. We all have a job in this mystical body of Christ. Being trained at the seminary, and being in classes with seminarians and deacons and priests, we realized that we’re all, ultimately, on the same journey.”
Nervous about ‘schoolwork’
Neuetta “Lodie” Javery, president of the pastoral council and a volunteer in several ministries at St. Genevieve Church in Slidell, was eager to learn more about her Catholic faith, but she was wary of returning to an academic environment after so many years away from school.
“Oh, it was like 35 years,” Javery said, laughing. “That was like crazy. I had never written a research paper, and then we had to do one that was 15 pages long. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my goodness gracious, am I going to be able to do this?’ But I did what I was asked, and I was totally amazed. We all became friends in the classes, and those friends helped me make it through. We all laughed and we cried and when it got tough, they talked me off the ledge.”
Biblical roots of the Mass
Javery said the connection between sacred Scripture and the Mass – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – had never been so thoroughly explained to her.
“It was like, ‘Wow, nobody ever taught me any of this stuff,’” Javery said. “We learned what they don’t teach you in catechism class. I was totally amazed. When I got into the program, I was looking for a way to have a deeper connection with God and the church. I felt this was an opportunity for me to learn more. I didn’t feel like I knew anything.”
His father is a deacon
Jackson’s father Earl was ordained as a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2006 and then had to relocate to the Atlanta Archdiocese after Katrina. Deacon Jackson currently serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna, Georgia.
Jackson said the ILEM program was something that inspired him to think about the possibility of his own call to the diaconate – but that is down the road. He has twins on the way, after all.
“This entire process taught me to be patient,” Jackson said. “All things are not in our time but in God’s time. Going to the seminary filled my tank up. I think if God gives me the call to the (permanent) diaconate, I would definitely listen to it, but I’ve got all these little kids running around right now.”
Information, applications and scholarship information and forms can be found online at https://nds.edu/laymasterprograms/. For more information, contact Tanya Cenac at 866-7426; ext. 742; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Applications for new ILEM students are due April 15. The new cohort will begin classes this summer with Dr. Tom Neal’s “Principals and Methods of Theology.”
The seminary’s graduate school of theology also offers a master of arts in pastoral leadership that offers theological courses, ministry training and pastoral and spiritual formation. More information can be found at https://nds.edu/masters-in-pastoral-leadership-mapl/
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.