Volume 1, Issue 1
The Center for Catholic Lay Leadership Formation
has created a new formation and education process for the development
of the personal vocation of lay leaders. For 17 years, the Center
offered courses which were taught successfully in parishes as
adult religious education courses.
In clarifying who laity are in a time which is calling
for trained collaborative ministers, we have developed a formation
process for preparing collaborative ministers. We have developed
a formation process for preparing collaborative ministry in parishes.
This model sees the parish, the local church, as the place where
the training of lay leaders will occur. The Center will assist
the pastor and the pastoral staff to prepare a needs assessment
for what will be needed to bring a parish on-line with its mission.
The fact that the task is formational and transformational means
that spiritual and moral leadership involves men and women who
are ready to take on the roles of spirituality/community ministry.
These are not just jobs or volunteer tasks; rather a comprehensive
and substantive response to needs, not just remedies or fixes.
The Center has a mission to the Church as the encounter
with Christ in all phases of human life. It invites commitment
on a level which is sensitive to the call of an unknown future,
yet holding a level of awareness charged with some real sense
of the difficulties of present reality. It will take some time
for a shift in the popular mindset of many of those who are called
forth. The word 'vocation' in the minds of most churchgoers is
usually reserved for deacons, nuns, brothers, and priests. It
will require time for laity to become a familiar vocational concept.
Outside of marriage vows, there really is little precedence in
this country for ministry as a personal option for laity although
it has been changing rapidly.
The Center looks to persons who know the language
of commitment, generosity, and dedication which is inspired by
faith in Christ and a love of His Church. There will be those
who have an APOSTOLIC DESIRE, almost a hunger to keep faith alive
in their neighbors without the need to control or meddle. The
present moment calls mainly for working together to bring a new
sense of community to the "as-is" complexity of parish
reality. A new kind of authority is the authority of service of
Love. Servant Leadership is the name that many give to this kind
of ministry. At the Center we call it being "Called forth
to be sent forth."
There are problems in how laity may "hear"
the call to be sent forth. We see some: a lack of identity on
the part of the laity with regards to their vocation and mission
as Church in society: a fear or ignorance of the meaning and possibility
of collaborative ministry as a way of being Church. We are also
facing situations in parishes where insufficient education about
the shift of model underlies Vatican II has left many people confused
in what they should be loyal to, and too often they view changes
as threats or annoyances rather than opportunities and possibilities.
The invitation of the Fathers of Vatican II to the
laity is an invitation to a new vision of how to be church in
a multicultural and interactive global world. Vatican II sees
the laity as having "come of age" and as welcome partners
in ministry by virtue of their baptism. The call to the laity
is to know their dignity as persons, called forth to be church
in a world that challenges and nullifies Christian values. The
call is the call to be holy in a world of frequent changes and
The stress now is on the dignity of each person and
the inviolability of freedom of conscience. These changes actually
have had much to do with reconstructing the context for responsible
lay involvement in the ethical and moral teaching heart of the
church as well as full-fledged participation in parish life.
Expectations of Parish Services.
The personal benefits that people generally have
come to expect in terms of social and health services are putting
greater pressure on parishes. They need to match the type of services
the greater community takes for granted. The shifting and developing
horizons of parish life, including or excluding schools, loss
of religious personnel, the addition of more paid lay staff, has
shifted the needs f the parishes to a new level professionally
and financially. Parishes are naturally more community-based with
many small communities coexisting within on e parish. What we
are experiencing now is the recognition of the complex infra-structure
of the parish community: each individual Mass has its own consistent
constituency, which in a smaller place would constitute a parish
by itself. This is one of the realities that needs to be brought
forward as we look to prepare leaders for the future.
Which model of the Church best depicts the real situation
today? A reality-based assessment of each parish will bring into
clearer light the specific leadership needs. The formation process
is an educational process involving the whole parish community,
leading to an in-depth corporate and personal discernment. The
process is not just a new way of gathering volunteers for tasks,
but a whole reorientation of a particular parish. Tip O'Neill
said, "All politics is local." We can say, "All
parishes are local." It is within that frame of the local
parish that the Center offers formation process for lay leadership.
When we allow the big picture to become visible,
the little picture gains intelligibility from the shift of perspective
to possibility and re-creation. The institutional Church lives
in a new social reality of corporate responsibility, one that
senses it is a privilege to serve others, particularly as Church.
Coming from that future allows the process to move into development
of new forms of lay involvement. The shift is to see Church as
one's way of life into which the rest of one's life fits. And
so we distinguish between active lay person and lay leader.
Lay leadership in the Catholic Church is no longer an option, nor is it simply to be tolerated. The time has come for dioceses and parishes to recognize the moment and foster an earnest commitment and effort to train laity for their new roles in parish and diocesan and universal church ministries. The re-visioning that has gone on in the Center in the past few years is not a solitary effort, lay leadership training programs are springing up in almost every diocese. Not all are demanding the same amount of depth of training, but the process has begun, the clock is running and cannot be turned back. It is an exciting and joyful time.
Ed Zogby, SJ. Faculty/staff member.
Creativity seems to emerge when challenges are embraced.
It was no exception for the parish pastoral team at Our Lady of
Victory in the south Bronx during the early 1970's to face and
embrace the awesome mission to inculcate Hope in their parishioners,
as the neighborhood was crumbling - the consequences of arson
and neglect. Instead of succumbing to the plight of urban decay
and the depression of the human conditions, they created a pastoral
strategy of focusing their energy on small groups of people -
one group at a time. The pastoral team members included Fathers
Robert Stern, Neil Graham Peter Gavigan; and Religious Sisters
of Charity , Muriel Long and Nora Cunningham. The team designed
religious formation and leadership skills programs for parishioners
already involved or about to become involved in roles of ministry
or services in their local communities. The programs offered to
strengthen what the people held precious - their faith and spirituality;
and the skills to engage others in issues pertaining to their
"The rippling effect and sustaining effort."
Enthusiam for the programs enrolled more and more
parishioners each year. Members of meighboring parishes got wind
of the excitement and began to register themselves for the programs.
As these programs seemed relevant to the surrounding parishes
of the South Bronx, the need to establish a centralized effort
of the religious education of their members became evident. By
1978, a plan was drawn, agreed upon and approved to institute
the South Bronx Pastoral Center. In addition it was incorporated
as a not-for-profit tax exempt corporation in the State of New
York. In order for the pastoral team to devote their time and
energy full time, it was determined that the Center had to separate
its immediate ties with the parish and become an enterprise of
its own. Therefore, the staff who were involved with the Center
had been assigned to the parish could be reassigned to the Center.
At the end of 1979, Frs. Stern and Graham were appointed as Executive
Director and Associate Executive Director, respectively.
As the Center became formalized as an institute,
it had to develop along the prescriptions of an educational institution.
In other words, requirements for enrollment, course wok, standard
of work and participation had to be setup in a more rigorous manner.
This formalizing procedure helped to ensure a quality religious
education to those who might not have much formal education in
religion or schooling. The Clergy Report, at this time, noted
that the Center offered 8 programs - 3 in English and 5 in Spanish.
Participants came for 18 different parishes. Consequently, encouraged
by the tremendous response by the participants, the Center began
to collaborate with other educational establishments such as Fordham
University in 1985. Students completing the Christian Leadership
Formation Program with at least a "B" average received
up to 18 undergraduate credits through Fordham's School of General
"Reaching out beyond South Bronx."
With the advent of Fr. Jim Bolger as the second Executive
Director in 1986, the Center extended its pastoral response to
the other three vicariates of the Bronx by setting up several
regional class locations. A new one-year/three course program
entitled Growing in the Faith, was introduced to cater for those
participants who could not commit to a 4 year leadership program.
An invitation from Manhattan - Lower East Side Conference (of
Parishes) took the Center's programs to the parishes there in
1988. The extension of the Center reached out to affiliate itself
with the Archdiocesan Center for Spirituality and the Catechetical
Office of the Archdiocese of New York. The latter affiliation
offered the students of the Center the opportunity to receive
credits toward the Level I and Level II Catechist Formation Programs
of the Archdiocese.
During this period, tow new courses in spirituality
were developed with the assistance of the Center for Spiritual
Development. The four-year/twelve course Christian Formation Program
had been updated to accommodate electives in one of several areas
of specialization: Scripture Social Justice, Ecclesiology, Ministry
and General Theology. Since the Center served several locations
in the Archdiocese, the Board of Directors agreed that it was
more appropriate to create a new trade name which the Center would
operate. The State of New York approve the Center to be known
as the Center of Catholic Lay Leadership Formation on January,
1989. This occasioned the impetus to reach out to parishes in
Yonkers, New Rochelle, Port Chester and the Upper Manhattan vicariates.
Two regional offices were established, one in Lower East Side
and the other at St. Catherine's School in Pelham. However, these
two offices were short-lived due to limited financial resources.
Classes continued to be held within a parish convenient to the
When Fr. Jim Bolger was assigned to the Catholic
Youth Organization in the Summer of 1992, Br. Edward Bergeron,
a Christian Brother, was selected as the executive director. During
this period, it became increasingly more and more apparent that
the Center has veered itself towards and academic rather than
a pastoral model of formation of the laity. The contacts and connections
between the pastors and the pastoral staff of the parishes and
the Center were loosely coupled, as compared with the early period
of the Center's history.
As an attempt to balance the academic and pastoral
aspects of the Center's services, the staff began to offer workshops
and retreats to parishes.
In the Fall of 1995, the Center welcomed the first
lay person, Mr. Rudy Vargas IV as executive director. He came
with a different perspective, not only from a lay person but also
from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge in the Diocese of Brooklyn
where he as involved in various pastoral programs.
In assessing the state of the Center up until then,
it was clear that among its mayany contributors, the Center provided
quality religious education for many parishioners. However, the
perennial challenge for the Center was on the effectiveness o
the formation program on student participation in their parish
communities and/or performance of the students when they moved
out to take on leadership roles in the communities. It was assessed
that the linchpin to more positive outcomes of the program hinged
on the involvement of the parish pastoral staff to plan and build
structural support for the lay ministries and lay participation
in the parishes.
The Center seemed to need some realignment of its
"wheels" and to steer its orientation towards something
old and something new. It had to revisit and to recapture the
vision and the missionary spirit of the pioneers who envisaged
the critical leadership role the laity could play in the life
of the parish and their community at large. However, the development
of the Center in its early years and the subsequent direction
it took tended to model on the traditional or established educational
institute. That model had served the Center very well.
In order to create a different model, the Center
had to base its programs and the implementation of the programs
on different assumptions. Should the programs be targeted on parishes
which are ready and willing to provide structural support for
lay leadership? To what extent should the parish pastoral staff
be involved in the formation of their leader candidates? Should
the design of the programs be religious content-centered or should
they be process-centered?
This soul searching lead to the pastoral strategy
of enrolling a parish or a cluster of parishes one at a time to
a more collaborative commitment between the parish staff and the
Center in the formation of the parish's leader candidates. The
first of this new venture was conducted in the Fall of 1966 at
Holy Rosary Parish in Staten Island. It was followed by Holy Family
Parish, East Bronx. In addition, a cluster of parishes in the
East Bronx invited the Center to initiate a youth leadership program
for their parish base youth groups. Concurrently, the Center conducted
courses in Specialized ministries, such as Lectors and Eucharistic
ministers for parishes that requested them.
The refocusing of the Center on the parish pastoral
activities led to a collaboration with the New York Archdiocesan
Office of Evangelization in developing the Parish Evangelization
As the millennium draws to a close, the mantra of
organizations and enterprises seems to be "reinventing, reengineering,
refounding" so that the birthing of a new age may bring forth
new hope. The Center is not immune to the mantra. In its search
for the foundations of the Center, it discovers two pillars -
the vision of the critical role of lay leadership in the Church,
and the missionary spirit that energizes the Center to embrace
the many challenges that lie ahead.
The road ahead presents new possibilities. The new possibilities require new learning. Parishes have to be learning communities in order to be alive and stay alive, and cannot afford to be static. The Center, thus, has to provide pastoral formation that is community centered. The parish as a learning community involves the collaborative learning of parishioners, parish staff and pastors. It is they who will see Visions and dream dreams. It is the Center's contribution to continue to relentlessly tilling and sowing the seed in the 'Vineyard of the Lord'.