Diocese announces Missionary Leadership Institute

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 10, 2022

Editor’s note

This fall, the Diocese of Green Bay will launch a Missionary Leadership Institute. This new initiative, part of Bishop David Ricken’s desire to form missionary disciples, features the Missionary Leadership Intensive Year, which can serve as a stand-alone year for parish leaders (catechists, council members, care ministers and others) and aspirants in the diaconate formation program. Those who need deeper ministerial formation can continue in the Institute in a two-year process for lay ecclesial ministers.

The Missionary Leadership Intensive Year (a process of prayer, basic coursework, discernment of the call to holiness and of God-given charisms, service to neighbor and discipleship formation) will begin this September. It will feature the “Entrust: Disciples on Mission Retreat,” a three-day experience designed to form and inspire those in parishes to become missionary disciples. It will be offered several times throughout the year.

The Compass asked Jamie Whalen, director of lay leader formation for the Diocese of Green Bay, and Sr. Martha Escobar, director of Hispanic ministry, who will both direct the Institute, to explain how the new initiative will work, who it will serve and why it was created.

Q: The new Missionary Leadership Institute is part of Bishop Ricken’s plan to form missionary disciples, correct? How will this Institute help to reach his goals? 

A: Bishop Ricken wants to ensure that all our lay leaders (as well as clergy) are first and foremost missionary disciples. A missionary disciple is a friend and follower of Jesus who is sent on mission to disciple at least two others, meaning to form others to discover, follow, worship and share Jesus. The workshops, courses and training involved in the Institute are all designed to form participants as missionary disciples and help them discern their vocation, their particular call to holiness.

Q: How long has this new direction been in the works?

A: In February 2020, Bishop Ricken asked that both the Emmaus and Discipulos de Cristo programs be put on pause for a period of time to let our diocesan discipleship efforts take root. In summer 2021, he asked that a new process be designed to form lay leaders for the work of evangelization and missionary discipleship, and specified that it be one program offered in English and Spanish rather than two separate programs, as in the past.

Jamie Whalen, director of lay leader formation for the Diocese of Green Bay, is pictured speaking at an “Entrust: Disciples on Mission Retreat.” Whalen, along with Sr. Martha Escobar, director of Hispanic ministry, directs the Missionary Leadership Institute. (Submitted Photo | Special To The Compass)

Q: Does this Institute replace both the Emmaus Program and the Discipulos de Cristo program?

A: Yes. The Institute serves the purposes of the previous programs and builds upon them by serving as a single “house of formation.” It differs in that, beginning with the first year, the Institute provides explicit formation and accompaniment to those called to missionary discipleship. It will serve a wide swath of parish leaders, both volunteers and staff, particularly those ready to explore discipleship as emerging parish leaders.

Q: Is the Institute open to more people than the Emmaus and Discipulos programs?

A: The first year of the Institute, the Missionary Leadership Intensive Year, will likely serve more people than the Emmaus and Discipulos programs because it is designed for a wide variety of lay leaders in parishes, rather than primarily for lay parish staff members. Council members, RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) leaders, those involved in liturgical roles, catechists and other emerging lay leaders are invited to apply.

Q: Is there a strong interest in the Hispanic/Latino community for this program?

A: Yes. Our Hispanic community is longing for formation and growth in knowledge of our Catholic faith, as well as in our tradition and heritage.

Q: How will the Spanish-speaking program differ from the English-speaking program? Will there be separate tracks for English and Spanish speakers?

A: Yes, there will be separate tracks. The Spanish program is intended to be culturally appropriate for our Hispanic community, with tracks in Spanish designed for Hispanics.

Q: Is the call for missionary disciples in the Hispanic/Latino community any different than in the English-speaking community?

A: I do believe that the Hispanic community is a step ahead on the call to be missionary disciples. Many of us have already participated in spiritual opportunities such as Jornadas, Cursillos and Retiros de Evangelización and have also experienced las Comunidades de Base (base communities), where we have already practiced how to be missionary disciples. The Institute will rekindle this zeal and form missionary disciples that will bring the good news to the places where the Hispanic community has not been served yet in our diocese.

For more information on the Missionary Leadership Institute, please visit www.gbdioc.org/institute.

Q: Where will the classes be held?

A: During the first year of the Institute, the Missionary Leadership Intensive Year, workshops will be held on the diocesan campus and at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in De Pere. Participants will also take online formation through the “Franciscan at Home,” sponsored by the Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University of Stubenville, Ohio. The four major workshops will take place on Saturdays with locations to be announced soon.

Q: Who will be the program instructors?

A: Like the Emmaus and Discipulos courses in the past, instructors will be Curia staff, parish lay ministers, clergy and other instructors with the academic credentials and pastoral experience to teach, mentor and accompany our participants. The Franciscan at Home Catechetical Institute coursework is provided by faculty of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

Q: How will the classes be structured? Weekends/weeknights? Through the school year?

A: Coursework will take place throughout the academic year, with the major workshops taking place on Saturdays. Other coursework can be done on the student’s own time or at a mutually convenient time with others in their cohort.

Q: Can you share highlights of the course material for year one?

A: The first year of the Institute is geared toward forming missionary disciples. Orientation will take place in August, with daylong Saturday workshops on topics such as “Encounter Jesus” and “Discerning the Call to Holiness” in September, October, December, February and April. Students who successfully complete the formation will be commissioned as missionary disciples by Bishop Ricken at the end of the academic year. 

Online Franciscan at Home coursework can be completed at the student’s own pace, with opportunities to gather in small discussion cohorts. The new “Entrust: Disciples on Mission Retreat,” which was piloted last October and is also being offered in spring of this year, will anchor the Intensive Year. Participants will also go through a process of charism discernment and will take part in a practicum to integrate their learning.

Q: What is your goal for registration numbers?

A: Our goal would be approximately 75 participants, including those who participate in courses in English and those who participate in Spanish. 

Q: Is the program supported by the Bishop’s Appeal?

A: We are most grateful to the generous people of the Diocese of Green Bay, who give to the Bishop’s Appeal and to the Advancing the Mission Leadership Endowment. The Institute would not be possible without it.

Q: What is the fee for tuition/registration?

A: Tuition for the first year of the Institute, the Missionary Leadership Intensive Year, will be $250. Scholarships will be available in case of financial difficulty.

Q: How do people find out more information or register for the Missionary Leadership Institute?

A: They can visit our website, gbdioc.org/institute, or they can contact either Jamie Whalen at [email protected] or (920) 272-8268 or Sr. Martha Escobar at [email protected] or (920) 272-8331.

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