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Father Patrick Baikauskas, OP, gave a blessing during a kickoff event for the Aquinas Institute of Theology’s Center for Community Engagement and Evangelization on April 27 in St. Louis. The center will serve both ministry leaders and a broader range of Catholics to bolster them in the work of evangelization.
Father Patrick Baikauskas, OP, gave a blessing during a kickoff event for the Aquinas Institute of Theology’s Center for Community Engagement and Evangelization on April 27 in St. Louis. The center will serve both ministry leaders and a broader range of Catholics to bolster them in the work of evangelization.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Aquinas Institute of Theology launches new center dedicated to evangelization

Aquinas Institute launches new center dedicated to evangelization

While the term “new evangelization” has now been used for decades, the mission of helping more people encounter the love of Christ is indeed one that must constantly be renewed, Troy Woytek said.

Troy Woytek, director of ministry at the Catholic Student Center at Washington University, and Sherry Weddell, author of “Forming Intentional Disciples,” laughed during a panel discussion April 27 at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
“How are we ever anew finding ways to bring Christ through relationship to the current generation of people?” he said.

Woytek, director of ministry at Washington University’s Catholic Student Center, was one of four panelists who discussed the new evangelization at a kickoff event for Aquinas Institute of Theology’s new Center for Community Engagement and Evangelization on April 19.

Aquinas Institute is a Dominican school of theology and ministry, offering graduate degree programs and continuing education for both religious and lay people in St. Louis and beyond. The Center for Community Engagement and Evangelization hopes to engage not just leaders working in full-time ministry but also a broader range of Catholics to bolster them in the work of evangelization, said Father Patrick Baikauskas, OP, vice president of institutional advancement and director of the new center.

“What our Church needs is people at all kinds of levels to be able to engage their families, first of all, and their neighbors, and their coworkers, and their fellow students, and their community at large, to be the face of Jesus Christ and to share the Good News,” he said.

The center was established with a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment and will offer its first five programs, each just 1-3 days long, this summer. Father Baikauskas and center coordinator Ezra Doyle surveyed more than a thousand people while planning the initial program offerings, asking what topics most need to be addressed. The center also plans to regularly host free, open-to-the-public presentations and conversations on theological topics.

“For the average person in the pews, someone who works in a medical center, or in a retail store, or in a Starbucks — they’ve all got theological questions or questions about their faith, and we want to be able to answer those questions for them,” Father Baikauskas said.

Four panelists shared their experiences and thoughts on evangelization at the kickoff event. Here are a few highlights:

Peter Andrastek, senior consultant at The Evangelical Catholic

The vocation of the lay faithful is to bring Jesus with them everywhere they go out in the world, Andrastek said.

“Jesus wants to go to work with you,” he said. “…Many people have tried to imitate Jesus in His public life. But we forget that He was just as divine when He was a carpenter and a businessman. And that’s how the majority of Catholics are called to contemplate and live these mysteries.”

“We have to form people into being a walking Kerygma, always looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with their friends.”

Troy Woytek, director of ministry at Washington University’s Catholic Student Center

In his experience with college students and young adults on the college campus, evangelization happens through relational ministry, Woytek said.

“We ask the question, what is their lived relationship with Christ? What’s their experience of Christ? And the answer to that in evangelization is to know, love and care for them first,” he said.

“The most powerful tool of evangelization is an attractive life — someone who is approachable, warm, thoughtful, affirming, sympathetic and interesting, so that you can build connections, or as Pope Francis says, encounters. And out of connections, complexity can build in your life, challenging yourself, widening your perspectives. Again, Pope Francis might call this accompaniment, which forces you to grow, develop and become more conscious of who you are and what you can become in the service of Christ in this world.”

Sherry Weddell, founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute and author of “Forming Intentional Disciples”

Weddell said we must recognize our individual gifts, or charisms, to most effectively work together in our common mission of evangelization.

“We call each other forth in our uniqueness,” she said. “This is a relationship of people. We have different fundamental characters or calls, but we are very much one in the common mission as we bring different things to the table. That relationship and collaboration between lay apostles, religious apostles, and priestly apostles is crucial to the world we’re moving into.”

Renewal should happen in individuals and in parishes or organizations at the same time, she said. But forming disciples doesn’t necessarily mean creating a new parish program. “It could be a couple of friends getting together and saying, ‘We feel called by God to address this thing in our neighborhood, and so we’re going to do it.’ We don’t need anybody’s permission — we’re apostles in our own right.”

Marie Putbrese, FOCUS team director at Lindenwood University

An authentic encounter with Jesus is the catalyst for change in anyone’s life, Putbrese said. Her faith journey was ignited as a teenager during eucharistic adoration. “I had this encounter with the Lord where I believed that Jesus was real and that He cared about me and cared about my life. And so everything changed for me after that.”

As a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), it’s important for her team always to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as they reach out to students, she said.

Her team has started praying to be able to “follow the favor” of God, she said. “Where is the favor of God? And how can we partner with what the Holy Spirit is doing? We can make plans and strategize, but are we willing to change our plans based on what’s happening?”


The Center for Community Engagement and Evangelization

To learn more about the center or register for upcoming programs, ai.edu/ continuing-education/ccee.

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