By Joanna Thurmann
Thirty-eight pastoral ministers celebrated their graduation from the Institute for Leadership in Ministry on May 2, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph. The graduation liturgy took place during evening prayer presided by Bishop Patrick J. McGrath. Present with him were, Monsignor Francis Cilia, Vicar General, Father John Hurley, Vicar for Evangelization, and Deacon Ray Gans, as well as many priests from the graduates’ parishes.
During the homily, Bishop McGrath likened the spiritual formation process to that of gardening and pruning, as was proclaimed during the Gospel reading on the vine and the branches (JN 15:1-8). “Gardening is difficult work without any guarantees,” said Bishop McGrath. “If the vine is separated from the branches, they will weather and die. The vine needs to be tended with loving care, with time, and with more than a little God’s grace. The results are not immediate. Sometimes it takes years. It’s like the project of a parent or a teacher.”
The ILM has certainly borne fruit in the 20 years since it was founded, and the benefits are far-reaching. There have been 1,023 graduates, including 6 priests. But Bishop McGrath stressed that service in the church is not rooted in holy orders. “We are all evangelizers of the witness of the faith we have received; this is really a gift of Vatican II. Pastoral ministers are people at the service of the people of God.” He emphasized that forming pastoral ministers has changed the face of our church.
Student reflections by Annette Moreira and Cesar Mendez expressed gratitude to ILM faculty and staff for recognizing student potential and for showing tenderness in formation. “You taught us God’s unforgettable love and this requires charity, patience, and acceptance,” said Moreira. We have heard the universal call to holiness; above all to be compassionate and not to judge. We will serve this diocese together in Christ.” Mendez added thanks to his parish community. “We have become well-formed; personally, spiritually, intellectually, and pastorally. We thank those who have planted the seeds.”
The 3-year ILM program consists of classes in Christology, Ecclesiology, Scripture, Liturgy, Sacraments, Catholic Social Teaching, and others. At the reception following the graduation, students recalled the long nights and weekends of readings and writing essays. But above all, they spoke of becoming a family and sharing their joys and sorrows.
Father Hurley thanked retiring director, Linda Cunha-Ricchio for her guidance and pastoral care during 8 years of service to the Institute. In 2010, Linda took over from Anne Grycz, who had served for 12 years and laid its foundations. Together, they prepared the laity for their rightful share in ministry. Hurley was especially grateful for Cunha-Ricchio’s willingness to stay on an extra year, since he had three directors in transition to other ministries or to retirement when he became the Vicar for Evangelization one year ago. Since then, she also started the ILM Advisory Board. Graduating students presented her with flowers and with a generous donation to be used for the Institute’s scholarship fund.
Bishop McGrath had earlier thanked Cunha-Ricchio for “the gentle pruning of the branches” and for introducing a deeper spiritual formation process into the program. In his farewell to the graduates he said, “You stretched your mind and you opened yourself to the teachings of the Lord. But no matter how relieved you are to be done here, there’s more work left to do in the vineyard.”