Lay ministers toil daily — often late into the evenings and over the weekends — to be the hands and feet of Christ to his Church body. They best reflect the diversity of our local Catholic parishes, often coming from the very communities they serve and putting their unique talents and gifts to use. And they bear much of the burden of helping our parishes live out their missions and carry out their ministries, truly taking co-responsibility for the Church alongside clergy.
Yet when these folks answer God’s call and take on ministry as a vocation, opportunities for professional development and career advancement are often underfunded — or don’t exist at all.
Since their establishment in 1992, the Family of Faith funds at the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF) have supported the needs and ministries of our archdiocese. For many years, funds intended for the development of lay ministers were distributed to organizations providing educational programs and events designed for laypeople.
A 2019 survey of professional lay ministers revealed a strong interest in developing specific skills and earning degrees that would make them more effective in their ministries — and disappointment that many such programs were outside their financial reach.
“We decided to begin helping individual lay ministers attend the programs and classes of their choice,” says CCF Vice President of Impact Meg Payne Nelson. “The first of those grants were awarded in the spring of 2020.”
Since then, CCF has granted nearly $37,000 for professional development opportunities to 44 individuals. “I’m excited about the geographic diversity of the parishes where the funded lay ministers work,” says Meg, “and the range of institutions providing online and in-person learning opportunities.”
Here are a few examples of how CCF’s professional development grants are helping lay ministers grow their knowledge, credentials, expertise, and faith.
Enriching a Parish
Mara Mangan has a strong conviction about her vocation. “Lay ministry is important because everyone is called to mission and holiness,” she says. “God has breathed life into us for a purpose. We have a responsibility to serve others. It’s our loving response to God.”
As director of faith formation at St. Dominic Church in Northfield since 2004, she has gained years of experience in religious education and helped many students grow in the Catholic faith.
But Mara wanted to deepen her own knowledge of Catholicism. With assistance from a CCF grant, she is now pursuing a graduate degree in pastoral leadership at Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity. “It’s an amazing learning experience of living the faith, encountering God, and sharing the gift of being a ‘worker in the vineyard,’” says Mara. “I can better serve our parish.”
The Value of Shared Experience and Faith
Justin Kelly first heard about CCF’s support for professional development through the Youth Minister’s Network. He used his first grant to attend the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry in Washington, D.C.
Justin believes the opportunity to network with other youth ministers provides both practical and spiritual benefits.
“People in parishes can feel isolated. A parish may employ a business administrator, liturgist, and youth minister, but we can’t necessarily give each other pointers on doing each other’s jobs,” says Justin. “Having the opportunity to network and bounce ideas off people who are doing the same work not only nourishes your confidence but keeps you growing in your faith.”
Answering a Call
Kory LaCroix was a 13-year-old boy when he became overwhelmed by the love of God and began inviting friends to church and handing out Bibles at school. His desire to serve God and the Church solidified at Saint John’s University. He realized he’d been called to serve the Church and graduated in 2010 with a degree in theology.
Today, Kory’s career reflects his commitment to inspiring and equipping people to live for Jesus. And he views educational opportunities as a way to refill himself spiritually. To further his career, Kory pursued his Master of Arts in Theology from the Augustine Institute in Colorado. He completed the program in 2020 with help from a CCF grant.
“Finances can be an obstacle to pursuing graduate education,” says Kory. “Yet when employees invest in improving their relationship with the Lord and strengthening their skills and tool sets, the Church becomes stronger.”