Home Diocesan News Newest LIMEX graduates share their experience as a community on a journey
Newest LIMEX graduates share their experience as a community on a journey Print E-mail
Written by By Elaine Polomsky Soos   
Sunday, 04 June 2017 20:37

They encouraged one another through doubts in their faith and the deaths of beloved family members. They rejoiced together in their one-the-job successes and the births of cherished grandchildren. They chose to get to know one another well – as fellow learners, colleagues in ministry, and members of a sharing relationship grounded in Christ.


“We weren’t just a learning community, we became a real Christian community who cared deeply about one another,” said Virginia Crumb, coordinator of religious education (CRE) at Vienna St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, who suffered the loss of both her mother and her sister during the four years that the newest diocesan learning group to graduate from Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension (LIMEX) gathered for its classes.

Crumb said she could not have continued in the program were it not for the compassion and understanding of the learning group. “They were there for me in extraordinary ways,” she said.

LIMEX is a graduate program of Loyola University New Orleans. Its 2017 commencement ceremony took place May 13. The university has a collaborative arrangement with the Diocese of Youngstown to educate lay ecclesial (Church) ministers in learning groups that meet locally, when attaining a professional degree in ministry would be a challenge, due to geography and/or the restraints of job and family. The program, now in its 32nd year in the diocese, offers participants the choice of attaining a master’s degree in religious education or in pastoral studies, or a continuing education certificate.

Each learning group is led by a Loyola-trained facilitator. The participants choose which day of the week, what time and place they will gather for their three-hour classes. Depending on how many summer semesters the group decides to include in their program, the degree ordinarily takes between three and four years to complete. Students learn from assigned reading, recorded lectures by Loyola professors, discussion, and the writing of scholarly, reflective papers linking the material to their own life and faith experience and their individual ministry.

This “practical theology” is, after all, what LIMEX is all about and a characteristic that sets it apart from other theology degrees that are not ministry-based, noted Carlette Chordas, who was facilitator for the class of 2017 learning group. A 1993 LIMEX graduate, Chordas has led three LIMEX learning groups at various sites in the diocese and is currently facilitating one that meets at St. Michael Parish in Canfield.

On May 19, Peg Haney and Janette Koewacich, both of whom received master’s degrees in religious education from LIMEX, and Crumb, who received a certificate in religious education, met to celebrate their accomplishment and their friendship and to participate in an Exponent interview, along with Chordas and Tom Sauline, LIMEX liaison for the diocese. Haney is the director of religious education (DRE) at Mantua St. Joseph Parish. Koewacich, the DRE at Boardman St. Charles, will begin a new position as DRE at Columbiana St. Jude and East Palestine Our Lady of Lourdes parishes July 1.

The learning group underwent many changes since its establishment in February of 2013, expanding to seven members at one time, but also shrinking, as participants left due to family, vocational or other life decisions. Each time someone departed from the community, its members experienced loss and had to regroup. After Gerard “Jerry” Land, former DRE at Lake Milton Our Lady of the Lakes Parish, graduated early (in 2016), having completed his degree in pastoral ministry online in order to enter the seminary, the final number of participants was down to a loyal three.

In the interview, the trio reflected on their journey to better understand the Catholic Church and their own experience as members of the Body of Christ, with the goal of improving their ministry performance and positively affecting the lives of the people they serve.

Haney was sold on LIMEX’s learning community format as an ideal place for learning to take place. The group interaction “facilitates understanding,” she said. “Some of [the course material] is so deep. You don’t understand it because you read it; you understand it because you’re talking about it with somebody else … and I think this gives you something that you would not get from a traditional class or Internet experience…. The process helped me be able to synthesize some of this better and be able to use it faster, because I had people to bounce ideas off of on a regular basis.”

“Even in parish work, where you’d think you would have this, it doesn’t often work that way because … things tend to come up in terms of a problem to be solved or something immediate to be addressed,” rather than as ideas that can be introduced, examined, and eventually “worked through,” Haney suggested.

Koewacich and Crumb said they found the learning agreement that LIMEX requires of its students (asking them to commit to a spirit of mutual respect and mutual accountability for the learning group and to pray daily for the presence of the Holy Spirit in themselves and others in the group) so productive that, early on, they started to employ its principles in their parish work. The two said they consciously now see parishioners as partners with them on the same journey. They recognize that families, for example, are different today than they were just a few decades ago, and they said they make it a regular practice to dialogue with their parish catechists, parents, young people and others, asking for their honest feedback on what is working and what is not, and urging them to be a part of prayerful solutions.

Chordas emphasized that the model of practical theology employed byLIM EX – understanding through theological reflection (quite different from the traditional teacher-expert model) – is an excellent one for catechetical (religious education/formation) ministers to use in their

work. “It recognizes that everyone, no matter who they are – even the youngest person who is able to talk! – has something to offer. As a facilitator of the process, you allow people to connect their experience to their faith” so that "we are learning together, we are

building together.”

LIMEX requires 12 courses: six core courses, taken in the learning group (Introduction to Practical Theology; Jewish Roots of Christian Faith/Old Testament; Christian Origins/New Testament; Grace, Christ and Spirit; Church, Sacraments and Liturgy; and Spirituality, Morality and Ethics); two courses in one’s focus area, taken online (either Christian Spirituality for Ministry, Digital Culture and Ministry, Marketplace Ministry, Pastoral Life and Administration, Religion and Ecology, Religious Education, or Youth Ministry); and three electives and a capstone course, taken online. Thirty-six credit hours are required for the master’s degree. The cost of the program is about half that of other graduate programs at Loyola, because of the university’s commitment to educating professional ecclesial ministers. Still, many parishes pay for their parish ministers to earn the degree, and the diocese also has scholarships available.

The interviewees had favorite courses. Crumb said the practical theology course helped her see the importance of using, in her parish work and in her own life, the knowledge she gained, especially when she was the new CRE at her parish. She also appreciated the LIMEX requirement to daily reflect (on Scripture; on the readings, lectures and discussions; and on one’s ministry role). “Reflecting makes you sit still and contemplate, and that was really helpful to me in my understanding,” Crumb said.

Koewacich said her favorite course was New Testament, because, after learning that the (literal) way she had always read Scripture was different from the way the Catholic Church approaches it (examining its historical, literary and linguistic contexts) – “and having a lot of trouble with that” – she eventually came to understand the Bible as “salvation history” rather than literal history. “Whether Adam and Eve ate an apple or an orange or whether there was any fruit at all,” she said, “the themes in the Scriptures are true, and one important theme is that people sinned.”

Koewacich said she resolved the questions she had by viewing the Bible “with eyes of faith…. and finally, when studying the Gospels and learning about everything Jesus stood for and all the beautiful titles he had (The Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World…), by the time we got to John, I was just so in love with who Jesus was that I thought, ‘This is our faith, this is who Jesus is, this is why we’re here,’ and it made all my earlier turmoil fade away.”

For Haney, the magic was in the course on Grace, Christ and Spirit, with its bold and contemporary ways of viewing these topics. The readings and lectures, especially in the final session, which introduced the thought of cultural historian-ecotheologian Thomas Berry and philosopher-scientist Teilhard de Chardin, “exploded my mind into whole new ways of thinking about my faith. The material was challenging and yet mystifying. The whole thing was just amazing,” Haney said with a broad smile. Because of this, the paper she wrote at the end of this course was the one she most enjoyed writing, she said.

Sauline noted that 25-30 percent of the Youngstown Diocese’s professional catechetical leaders are LIMEX graduates. The group dynamic that is presented “helps them learn how to deal with differences of opinion in a reasonable and charitable way” – a requirement for a leader in parish ministry, he said.

The LIMEX program “makes catechetical leaders better informed. It equips them to be agents of transformation in their parishes” because they are more confident, more competent and more reflective, Sauline offered. The catechetical leader’s job is to “marshall the resources of the parish – to impassion, support and promote the faith formation of the whole parish” – and to make adult formation a priority. Adults who have a mature relationship with Jesus and the Church will be able to “effectively pass that faith on to the next generation” and to other adults, he said, quoting the U.S. bishops. “You can’t spread the Word if it’s not alive in you,” he summarized.

In one of her religious education focus courses, Koewacich was struck by a statement she read by religious educator-political activist George Albert Coe, who asked, “Is the purpose of catechesis to teach a religion or to change the world?

“If you are doing it correctly, you will do both,” Koewacich wrote in her paper for that course. “I think this is something we have to continually ask ourselves,” she said.

On June 29, Sauline plans to hold a meeting about forming a new LIMEX learning group. The information session will take place 7-8:30 p.m. at Canfield St. Michael Parish. Further information will follow in the June 30 Exponent, or contact Sauline at 330-744-8451, ext. 300.


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