Forming lay leaders goal of new seminary program

Archbishop Gregory Aymond commissioned 10 members of the inaugural Co-Workers Leadership Institute (CLI), a two-year program of formation at Notre Dame Seminary for laypersons involved in church ministry, during a Mass Jan. 11 at St. Louis Cathedral.

“As we teach or give spiritual direction, remember that it’s not just what we do, it’s who we are,” Archbishop Aymond told the 10 graduates during his homily. “We become the presence of Christ, who brings compassion, brings witness and gives people the benefit of the doubt when nobody else thinks they should be given that. We ask God to bless you and send you forth and strengthen you for ministry.”

The first graduates of the program were Michelle Alley, Karen Baker, Mary Bielski, Tammy Dupuy, Grace Lemieux, Erin Maffe, Denise Otillio, Melanie Saunee, Denise Theriot and Susie Veters.

Formation was a great tool
“For me the great thing was really getting the formation I needed to serve the church,” said Bielski, a national speaker and evangelist with Dumb Ox Ministries, which does presentations to youth and young adults in the archdiocese and beyond. “I’ve worked in ministry for 15 years, and here was a chance to do that within a community of people who loved me and walked with me.

“I think mostly this will strengthen me and give me confidence, knowing that I’m under the shelter of the church. I’m commissioned, and I feel more confident and equipped to serve the church.”

Archbishop Aymond established CLI in December 2012 as a response to the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on providing proper training to lay leaders.

In opening the institute – dedicated to Saint John XXIII, who convened Vatican II – Archbishop Aymond said “the church has seen (in the last 50 years) a rapid growth, unprecedented in modern times, of lay involvement in ecclesial ministry and spiritual leadership.

“As the Council envisioned, laypeople now serve in capacities that touch every aspect of the church’s life – in parishes, in schools and in diocesan offices, in catechesis, youth ministry, evangelization and character formation,” he said.

The archbishop noted that seminarians studying for the priesthood usually go through eight years of study and formation; candidates to the permanent diaconate have a five-year course of studies; and men and women religious have even longer preparation times.
Inspired by Vatican II

The archbishop said until the establishment of CLI, the surge of lay leaders coming forward to serve the church had not been “supported by any special program of formation that corresponds to the role of laity in ecclesial ministry.”

The two-year program includes prayer, spiritual direction, theological study and pastoral training. The goals are to assist candidates in discerning their vocational call within the church and to form “qualified lay leaders who have discerned his call and are well prepared to carry out the mission of Christ and his church.”

CLI graduates also can pursue additional courses at Notre Dame Seminary to receive a master’s degree in pastoral leadership.

Candidates for the CLI must meet several requirements. They must have a bachelor’s degree from a college or university; must have lived in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for at least a year; if married, must be in a canonically valid marriage; discuss with and get the approval of their pastor or other ministry supervisor; and participate in a discernment and inquiry day.

There are “four pillars” of formation in the CLI program: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. The academic program includes the study of the Old and New Testaments, a review of the liturgy and the sacraments and classes in moral theology.

Participants also engage in 10 Saturday “formation days” as well as a weekend retreat, and are actively involved in spiritual direction. They have assigned reading and papers, and they document their formation experience by keeping a personal journal. Each candidate also has a CLI mentor.

Susie Veters, director of CLI, also went through the two-year program.

“It has been an amazing experience of the Holy Spirit or God’s providence in the way that the candidates were brought together and the faith community that was formed,” Veters said. “Very few of us knew each other, so it was really amazing. It definitely had a feel similar to the way a diaconate class might form and build its own faith community. We hope to stay together for the rest of our lives, and we will have ongoing formation as a group.”

Dr. Neil laid groundwork
The roadmap for the program was laid out by Dr. Thomas Neil, academic dean of Notre Dame Seminary.

“It was really his vision that made it what it is,” Veters said.

Marist Brother Stephen Synan is associate director of CLI, and Father Joseph Krafft serves as formation director and liaison with the Notre Dame Seminary faculty.

One of the graduates, Karen Baker, works in the Office of Catholic Schools as an assistant to Dr. Jan Lancaster, the superintendent, and also works part-time as a communications assistant with Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Mandeville.

“The most important thing was the sense of community we built as we learned more about our faith and grew as a family,” Baker said. “This just strengthens how I work and whatever I do. As the archbishop said, it’s not just what we do but who we are. It’s how I am as a person and as a Christian, and what that brings to anything I do.”

There will be another CLI class starting in August. Veters said the applications process would begin in the spring.Candidates must have the approval of their pastor or ministry leader.

For more information, contact Veters at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 866-7426, ext. 730.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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