The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service has had a long-standing fruitful engagement with the Archdiocese of Chicago and its work to prepare lay women and men as ecclesial ministers. In its fall meeting, the Subcommittee approved updated ministry formation and certification standards and competencies for the archdiocese, as administered in collaboration with the Institute for Pastoral Leadership (IPL) at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. The effort marked the end of year’s work of consultation in which I collaborated with the Executive Director of IPL and oversaw the subcommittee’s review process in my role as Assistant Director of Certification in the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the USCCB.
The Archdiocese’s program is one that has historically built strongly on the vision and practice outlined in the USCCB’s 2005 statement on resourcing lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. The Archdiocese and those charged with formation have also worked hard to adapt their program in light of changing realities while maintaining a high-quality set of standards to demonstrate ministry competence.
“The Subcommittee’s approval of the Archdiocese’s updated standards highlights the importance of support for lay ecclesial ministers who serve in leadership and coordinator roles,” said Most Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop Emeritus of Tucson and Chairman of the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee’s review praised the IPL team for adapting to new needs in the preparation of lay ecclesial ministers for roles such as pastoral associates, directors and coordinators of religious education, and similar positions in adult faith formation and youth ministry. “The Archdiocese’s ongoing efforts, through IPL, to foster lay ministerial leadership is commendable and essential,” Kicanas added, “as are their efforts to address significant shifts in lay minister formation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.”
Most Reverend Blaise Cupich, Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, further affirmed the milestone: “I’m delighted that the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service has granted its approval for the Institute of Pastoral Life’s updated standards for ministry and certification. I am deeply grateful for the work IPL staff did to renew those standards in light of the realities of the church today, especially the experiences of often-marginalized ethnic and cultural groups. These efforts will help ensure ministers who are trained at IPL are well-prepared to serve the People of God for many years to come.”
The subcommittee recognized that resourcing for lay ministry formation varies widely across dioceses and is challenging in today’s budgetary climate. At the same time, subcommittee members indicated they see in programs such as that implemented by Chicago a good model for advancing lay ecclesial ministry formation. It is also a process which could be adjusted to meet needs in individual dioceses, or in regional or state Catholic Conference collaborations to help train and prepare professional and volunteer lay ministers. It was noted that the movement to online ministry formation classes and trainings, accelerated by the pandemic’s impacts, highlight ways in which a hybrid ministry formation collaborative across multiple dioceses could be effective.