Sisters helping to form lay leaders

Friday, December 21, 2018 - Updated: 10:14 am

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Religious sisters have long formed the hearts and minds of students in Catholic schools. Today their influence continues to be felt as mentors for adults serving in lay ministry throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Eighteen religious sisters and six other laypeople will play a key role in On Mission for The Church Alive! by providing spiritual formation for 108 lay ecclesial ministers who serve in parishes and schools. The lay leaders are in their second year of training, with many being certified in their area of ministry.

“We want to support their spiritual development so their faith lives are integrated into their ministry,” said St. Joseph Sister Anna Marie Gaglia, who served 26 years as a teacher and principal in elementary and high schools.

“We try to nourish that part of the person so their faith comes alive in all they do,” she said.

“I’m excited about the program, helping to mentor lay leaders in their spiritual life,” said Sister Bernadette of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. “It’s important to be well formed in the faith.”

Lay ecclesial ministers serve in religious education and faith formation, evangelization, music ministry, worship, youth and campus ministry, adult, marriage and family ministry, and spiritual formation, as well as working as pastoral associates and parish business managers.

“Our leaders need time to develop both personally and professionally,” said Dr. Michel Therrien, president of the diocesan Institute for Pastoral Leadership. “Religious communities have a wealth of wisdom and experience.”

“The purpose of the religious life is driven by love with which the Holy Spirit floods the hearts of the members of each community,” said Father Joseph Mele, diocesan vicar for leadership development and evangelization. “Now our lay ecclesial ministers will be even more fervently joined to Christ by this same lifelong gift of themselves.”

Chrystal Shelvey is grateful for the opportunity to grow as director of liturgical music at Good Samaritan in Ambridge and Our Lady of Peace in Conway.

“In any profession it’s important to keep learning and growing,” she said. “They’re giving us tools to help in ministry.”

Ministers learn the principles and practices of evangelization, then are trained in ministry-specific courses and human and spiritual formation. They’ll also be working with a mentor on an initiative or project that will benefit their parish grouping.

Spiritual formation advisers will meet individually with lay ecclesial ministers, asking about their prayer and sacramental life, and how they see their ministry in relationship to Jesus.

They’ll also receive guidance on pastoral formation — how to work effectively in ministry — in helping faith communities move from maintenance to mission.

“This is a big commitment on the part of our lay ecclesial ministers, and I’m grateful for that,” Therrien said. “They’re learning from others who are laboring alongside them in the Lord’s vineyard.”

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