By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T

WYNNEWOOD – The Church Ministry Institute (CMI) offers its participants many blessings. Just ask Philip and Patricia Geoghegan of West Grove. They list learning more about the history of the Catholic Church, delving into the Bible, expanding their service at their home parish and even drawing closer together as a couple as the many by-products.

The Geoghegans were among the 2009 CMI graduates at the graduation ceremony held May 17 at the Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated the Mass that preceded the graduation.

“Before being in CMI we had never been Bible readers,” said Philip, adding that he had a Catholic education from grammar school to college. “This was the case for most Catholics of my generation. So, being introduced to the Bible was particularly rewarding. Now I read the Bible every day.”

For Patricia being able to recruit more volunteers for their ministry project, the Garden Club, has been particularly gratifying. The group is responsible for exterior maintenance and beautification around the church property. Even though the couple had been involved in the initiative prior to taking the CMI courses, they were able to take this outreach to the next level.

“When people think of the Garden Club they don’t always think of it as a ministry project,” Patricia said. “We do the weeding, use the weed whacker, plant new shrubs and things like that. By sharing this project with others and in turn hearing a lot about what other folks were doing we were able to expand. Now I’d say that the club is a success and we have been able to bring in a lot more volunteers.”

The retired couple said that attending CMI classes together brought more intimacy to their marriage. Since they had a 50- minute drive each way from their home near Lincoln University to Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown they had time to review the sessions taught by lay instructors as well as nuns and priests. CMI courses are also offered at Lansdale Catholic, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Ryan high schools as well as St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

For Philip the time together was a way to reinforce what he learned in class. He often found that his wife interpreted a comment differently or that she honed in on something that he didn’t pay any particular attention to.

“It was great having someone you could talk to after sitting in a classroom for two and a half hours,” he said. “We often found that one of us picked up on something the other one didn’t. We encouraged each other.”

Of course, there were other fringe benefits for the couple. “We brought the snacks,” laughed Patricia. “Also it was great to learn without having to take tests.”

The class included a spanerse mix of couples, a mother and daughter and a father and son. Also among those who participated in the graduation was Joseph Nero Jr., from Holy Cross Parish in Springfield and his son, Joseph Nero III, from St. Pius X Parish in Broomall.

“It was an enjoyable program,” said Joseph Nero Jr. “I didn’t know it was three years when I enrolled, but the three years went fast. There was a lot of learning and growing. Graduation was overwhelming and now I’m looking forward to whatever programs MaryAnne Harrington (director of the Office for Formation of the Laity) has for the alumni.”

Since enrolling, the senior Nero has been involved in the pastoral council, become a lector, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and even teaches fifth grade PREP class (formerly CCD). He and his wife also now volunteer at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Darby. He added that his son and their friend Richard Chalemi, who also attended CMI sessions at the seminary, have expanded their parish ministries.

The CMI program started in 1981. There have been more than 1,700 graduates since its inception. A new class begins every September. Among the classes offered are Sacraments, Morality, Laity and Spirituality, and the Sacred Scriptures. Those who are interested in enrolling in the next CMI class, which will graduate in 2012, can contact Sister Mary Ellen Diehl, I.H.M., at 215-587-0551.

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at