The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 8, 2000 Issue
Local News

Silver Lake College expands lay ministry program

Manitowoc school becomes only the second in the U.S. to offer an undergraduate degree in ministry

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

As the number of lay ministers working in parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay grows, so does the need for professional academic training for these individuals.

Look no further than Silver Lake College in Manitowoc.

This fall, Silver Lake is introducing a new Theology major and minor, and a Spirituality and Ministry minor. The college is now one of only two schools in the country offering an undergraduate degree program directed toward ministry. Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky is the other school.

The Theology major requires 36 credit hours, including seven core courses. The minors require 24 credit hours. Under the Spirituality and Ministry minor, students choose one of three focuses: Catechetical Ministry, Liturgical Ministry or Church Business Ministry.

"There are two different tracks for students," explained Dr. T. Robert Berchmans, assistant professor and chairperson of the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department at Silver Lake College.

"Students with no background in theology will first take Introduction to Theology: Being a Catholic Today. Students will take a course on the Old Testament in the first semester, and study the New Testament in the second semester. There is some flexibility where the background of the student will determine the course direction," Bechmans said.

For example, all courses from the Commissioned Leadership Formation Program (CMLP) are transferable and fulfill requirements in the coursework. In 1986, Silver Lake began the CMLP in collaboration with the Diocese of Green Bay. Participants in the program, which has been accredited by the National Conference of catholic Bishops, take 12 credit hours in core courses in Theology and Scripture and another six credits in specialized courses to prepare for parish ministry.

Students who completed the CMLP will have room for more elective courses, said Dr. Berchmans.

Commissioned ministers are expected to be among the potential students for the new undergraduate program. A survey showed that 25 Commissioned Ministry students expressed interest in the new Theology major and Theology, and Spirituality and Ministry minors.

Dr. Arthur Canales, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department at Silver Lake College, sees people working in all forms of parish ministry as potential candidates for the new program.

"Before I went on to complete my Masters, I was working as a youth minister," Canales explained. "I realized I was pretty good with kids, but I didn't know a whole lot about my faith. Strong academic courses in theology, liturgy and the sacraments are helpful in all areas of ministry. It allows you to stand on your feet without having to run to the priest for answers to questions."

"A degree program in ministry not only provides you with credentials, but also soft skills," he added. "What you previously had to learn on the job, we now have classes for, such as running small groups or classes in youth ministry."

"There also may be people who are not considered professional lay ministers, but are working in their parishes in religious education or another area of ministry," said Sr. Donna Marie Kessler, OSF, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department at Silver Lake College. "The focus of the program is those working toward a degree, but some people may benefit by taking certain courses without pursuing a degree. Many courses in the Spirituality and Ministry minor would be useful in parish work."

The lack of undergraduate programs in ministry in the United States made launching the program even more challenging for Silver Lake College.

"When we went to the drawing board, there was not a model," said Dr. Berchmans. "There were no catalogs to look at. We developed our own models. The courses were constructed and it was presented for approval. Our president (Sr. Maureen Anne Shepard, OSF) is very enthusiastic about the program and the entire faculty has been very positive."

Other challenges in launching the program include flexible scheduling and finances.

A two-way audiovisual system will be used to link evening classes to Southwest High School in Green Bay and Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton.

"We need to reach the students," said Dr. Berchmans. "Our instructors will also go to the other locations at times so there will be contact with those students."

Finances are a concern as many potential students for the program have families to support.

"They are married and have children, and do their jobs for the love of the church," said Dr. Berchmans. "We are working on setting up endowments. The money is a major issue. We need to find a way to subsidize fees."

"We also need more publicity to attract interest in the program," said Sr. Francette Riebe, OSF, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department at Silver Lake College. "We need brochures, advertisements and a TV spot. The more we can get the word out, the better."

There is no immediate goal in terms of number of students, said Dr. Berchmans. The program will be continuously evaluated.

The timing of the new program, coinciding with the shortage of priests, is beneficial because of the increasing opportunities in parishes for lay ministry, but the Silver Lake staff said the undergraduate program is more a result of Vatican II than the lack of priests.

"Vatican II called for greater (lay) leadership," said Dr. Berchmans. "It called for us to use our gifts."

"It was a call to ministry," said Dr. Canales. "Hey, this is your church, too, so get out and start ministering."

For more information on the Theology major and minor and the Spirituality and Ministry minor at Silver Lake College, call (920)686-6175 or (800)236-4SLC, ext. 175, e-mail: [email protected] or visit the college's website at

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