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More than one hundred people were commissioned in 2016 as missionary disciples after completing a three-year lay formation program in the archdiocese for Catholic adults active in their parishes. Walker and Ana McClellan from St. Alban Roe Parish went through the program together. Their 1-year-old son Peter enjoyed the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
More than one hundred people were commissioned in 2016 as missionary disciples after completing a three-year lay formation program in the archdiocese for Catholic adults active in their parishes. Walker and Ana McClellan from St. Alban Roe Parish went through the program together. Their 1-year-old son Peter enjoyed the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Lay Formation Program is ‘fruit’ of Archbishop’s vision

Initiative for lay leaders brings ‘great joy and new energy’ to the Church

A program started under the leadership of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson helps Catholics gain confidence and understanding of what it means to be a missionary disciple for the Church.

The Lay Formation Program offers lay leaders the tools and confidence for their task.

Gillian (Cookie) Killingsworth, right, who completed the Lay Formation Program, helped Sharon Johnson at St. Augustine Parish in St. Louis in 2019.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The first cohort of the program began in September 2013, and 109 people were commissioned in May 2016. In the second cohort, 124 people were commissioned in April 2019. There are 87 archdiocesan parishes that were represented at one or both cohorts. The three-year program is designed to offer lay men and women an opportunity to deepen their union with Christ and develop a greater understanding of their baptismal vocation and an ability to participate in the Church’s mission of evangelization as missionary disciples.

The program, offered through the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Formation, includes intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation. Participants are given instruction in basic Catholic doctrine, the sacraments and moral theology, and prayer. They participate in eucharistic adoration, praying with Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours and daily Examen. Participants engage in faith-sharing and in dialogue with one another about the topic of the day.

“The development of the Lay Formation Program is the fruit of Archbishop Carlson’s vision, hope and love for the laity and for the Church,” said Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, RSM, Lay Formation Program director. “From the beginning, Archbishop (Carlson) decided the program would be offered without charge to all. He wanted no obstacle to anyone’s participation.”

Experience with past cohorts and the present group for lay formation, Sister Mary Kathleen said, “revealed to me the amount of benefit that comes to the person, the parish and ultimately to the whole Church and the world from this initiative. Great joy and new energy is being released for the Church through God’s work in these individuals who have responded with generosity to the invitation to dedicate a substantial amount of time and energy to their own formation with a view to service in the Church.”

Archbishop Carlson gave generously of his time to address each group yearly, sharing with them in a very personal manner his dream for their future participation in the mission of the Church, Sister Mary Kathleen said. “I have received comments and emails from participants expressing that they were deeply touched by the visit of Archbishop. Many times, long afterward, something said by Archbishop has been repeated to me as a treasured thought.”

Sr. Kathleen Ronan
The program fosters a deepened awareness of and openness to the action of God’s grace and promotes greater consciousness of the intimate relationship between the love of God and love of neighbor.

Participants are invited by their pastors, and upon their commissioning, make a promise to serve their parishes, working in partnership with their pastor, for at least three years.

Sister Mary Kathleen said that many lay formation participants already are active in their parishes in some way. But, in the course of three years, they experience new depths of integrating faith in their lives, which has a profound impact upon how they serve the Church. So in a sense, this brings their service to a new level.

“Each person has separate and individually unique gifts,” she said. “But everyone, please God, through their union with Christ, will come to a greater awareness of their true identity as beloved children of the Father,” she said. It’s reminiscent of the words of St. Paul about being configured to Christ. In his letter to the Galatians, he said: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Sister Mary Kathleen added: “To grow in understanding of the effects of our baptism is life changing. Once we get it, we are never the same. We are actually given a share in the very life of the divinity,” the Triune God.

Ed Hogan, former director of the Pontifical Paul VI Institute who helped develop the Lay Formation Program, shared his enthusiasm for the evident fruits of the first cohort. Some participants have chosen to go on to serve the Church in new ways, such as one woman who went on to become a pastoral associate at her parish and then became certified to offer spiritual direction.

“I’m always excited to meet new people and find out where they are and take them to the next step,” said Hogan, who now serves as academic dean and associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. “The Holy Spirit has been doing these things throughout history. We find these people in a new place and are seeing what the Holy Spirit has been preparing for them and will unleash through them. It’s exciting to see the constellation of gifts the Holy Spirit has prepared this time.”

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