Commissioned Ministry program’s success leads to outreach to Hispanic ministers

By | February 25, 2009

Sr. Jane Riha, a Bay Settlement Franciscan, is director of Discipulos de Cristo.

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Sr. Jane, who is also parish director at St. Lawrence in Navarino, served as coordinator of Hispanic pastoral ministry in the Fox Valley for five years. She is fluent in Spanish and participated in immersion experiences in Mexico. “I also received training through the Mexican-American Training Center in San Antonio and through courses at the Oblate School of Theology,” she said.

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Franciscan Sr. Jane Riha, second from right, meets with participants in the Discipulos de Cristo’ ministry formation program Feb. 22. Pictured from left are Tomas Córdoba, Rosario Fuentes, Adriana Covarrubias and Timoteo López. (Sam Lucero photo)

Sr. Jane said participants in the Discipulos de Cristo are enthusiastic about growing in their faith.

“Overall, the experience of the people is like a great energy,” she said. “Some of the people have said, ‘I never had to learn any of this before.’ So it has given them such a sense of confidence and achievement, along with a sense that they are growing spiritually, which is really the bottom line.”

Sr. Jane works closely with Tony Pichler, director of the Commissioned Ministry program. Pichler said that outreach to Hispanic Catholics has been a desire of the diocese for some time and he is happy with the growth of Discipulos de Cristo.

“For 10 or 12 years the lay ministry formation advisory board looked at starting a branch of the Commissioned Ministry Formation Program for Hispanics,” said Pichler. The first venture was a program called “Fe y Vida,” (Faith and Life), which was a one-year program that lasted two years.

“Then we said, ‘We can continue with this or we can just go ahead and make this a full-fledged ministry formation program like Commissioned Ministry,” he said. With funding through the Bishop’s Appeal, the Discipulos de Cristo was launched and it has grown beyond expectation.

The first group of 17 students is completing their three-year program. They will participate in a commitment and recognition service May 17, 3 p.m., at St. Willebrord Church.

“We take new candidates every year,” said Sr. Jane. “We have 56 people in the program totally. All of the courses we have in this program are taught in Spanish.” Classes are held Sundays at Bosco and Bona halls on the diocesan grounds. Over the three-year program, participants take three six-week courses each year for a total of nine courses.

“They are actually coming for 18 Sundays of the year, plus an evening of reflection in the fall with the Commissioned Ministry program and a retreat in May,” added Sr. Jane. “It’s like about 20 different times they are coming together.”

Those participating in the Discipulos de Cristo program are already involved in parish ministry, said Sr. Jane, either in religious education, liturgical ministry or youth ministry. “Oftentimes it’s their own personal desire to grow in their faith, or it’s the encouragement of parish leadership,” such as a pastor, that brings people to the program.

Sr. Jane said she has witnessed a spiritual transformation in the program’s participants.

“Many people have told me that during the course of this program they’ve experienced personal conversion in their own lives,” she said.

Pichler has also seen the vitality in the faith of program participants.

“I wish every Catholic in our diocese could come here on a Sunday afternoon and experience the number of things that take place. Primarily the hunger the people have for the Lord,” he said. “They don’t have to understand a word to see … the community life. It is a celebration of life and Hispanic culture. There is knowledge and skills being learned, but there is also community.”

The benefits being reaped by the diocese, through the Discipulos de Cristo, would not be possible without the support of the Bishop’s Appeal, said Sr. Jane and Pichler.

“We do receive some funding from other sources, but primarily Sr. Jane’s salary is paid for out of the Bishop’s Appeal,” said Pichler, adding that funding for retreats and stipends for faculty members also come out of the appeal.

“Without the Bishop’s Appeal there would be no Discipulos de Cristo,” said Pichler. “They pay an activity fee for retreats and books, but the bulk of the cost continues to be paid by the Bishop’s Appeal.”

Sr. Jane said that Catholics giving to the Bishop’s Appeal want to know where their money is being used.

“Well, this is a program where practically and concretely people can say, ‘Here in my parish, these people were trained in the Commissioned Ministry program or Discipulos de Cristo and here is what they are able to do now,'” she said. “The money is being put to very good use.”

The Bishop’s Appeal also supports the Commissioned Ministry program, added Pichler.

While Commissioned Ministry participants receive scholarship money from the Lumen Christi Fund and the Deacon’s Fund, “all of the other things – including my salary and all of the extras – get paid out of the Bishop’s Appeal,” said Pichler. “All of the things that are not classroom related – retreats, workshops, seminars – that’s Bishop’s Appeal money.”

The future of both ministry programs is bright, as more people accept their baptismal call to discipleship.

“This was a dream of ours for many years,” Pichler said of Discipulos de Cristo. “It took a lot of hard work and a lot of people coming together to make it happen.” It also took financial and human resources from the Manitowoc Franciscan Sisters, the Bay Settlement Franciscan Sisters and the Norbertine religious community, he added.

“They had a big role. It’s phenomenal to see the response. I never imagined that we would have 56 people in the program at this point.”

“My hope is that we find more people to assist with the ministry, as the Hispanic community continues to grow in our area,” added Sr. Jane.

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