On Monday night I had the annual privilege of commissioning this year’s graduates of the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute who have concluded four years of discernment and study. This effort was begun early in my time here as bishop because of the realization that the Church would need more employees and volunteers for work previously done by priests and deacons. For the first decade we required any male thinking about the permanent diaconate to complete the LPMI program and then add an additional four years of more formal preparation prior to ordination as a deacon. We have dropped that requirement because just the thought of eight years seemed to dissuade some very good candidates. i was ambivalent about the change at the time and remain somewhat so because I feel so strongly that the LPMI is a very good program for preparation for service within the Church itself as well as in specialized ministry and the deacon candidates should and could grow from the LPMI experience.
This past week there were thirteen graduates. When we first began there were more than 1oo applications per year and the number of those commissioned in the early days was around 50-60. But service in the Church is never about the numbers game but about the quality and dedication of those who commit to prepare properly. Those in the program bond with each other and their very fine and mostly uncompensated faculty (there is a small stipend given, no where near the amount due in justice for the time required of already busy people for preparation, time and teaching). The foundational document for those engaged in the LPMI is the USCCB statement “Co-Workers in the Vineyard” which outlines both the boundaries and blessings of lay ecclesial ministry in the Church today.
Congratulations to the women and men who this year completed their course of study and continued blessings on their ministry in the Church. Most of the graduates are already involved with their parishes or other institutions and just took the four year program to deepen their knowledge and understandings of the Church into which they were baptized and are serving.
With this year’s commissioning, Sister Marlene Weidenborner, OSF completed her tenure as the head of this fine diocesan initiative and all who have been engaged in the program throughout her leadership have shown their appreciation and affection for her. She remains on the diocesan staff as Vicar for Religious. Sister Marlene, thank you so much for your gifts of time and talent in directing this very important initiative and with you I thank your staff and the volunteer faculty who have assisted you.