By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to the CS&T

Carpets of flowers, regular tours to shrines, ministry fairs and booklets for grieving families represent a spanerse collection of projects designed to reflect the Word of God on earth. They represent a small bouquet of the spanerse ideas that graduates of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Church Ministry Institute develop to spread the Word of God.

They mirror, in a way, Jesus’ words that “I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:18-22). But the modern-day “fishers,” armed with three years of training in liturgy and Scripture, ministry skills and spirituality, are using their inspanidual talents and creativity to evangelize, said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Ellen Diehl, administrator of the institute.

The purpose of the training is to deepen the faith of participants so they can go back to their parishes to help their pastors through various activities that enhance the life of the Church, Sister Diehl said.
“It helps prepare heads of pastoral councils, RCIA volunteers, church lectors and readers, to help them grow spiritually, and to introduce them to people from other parishes,” she said.

Some graduates come up with original ideas, while others like Sue Yanik, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, build on existing programs.

Yanik, a former Lutheran, said she became a Catholic five years ago because of the warm welcome she experienced while attending Mass with her “cradle Catholic” husband, Joe. Once she embraced the faith, she decided she wanted to know more about it, which led her to the Church Ministry Institute.

She calls her studies a “faith journey” that gave her a good foundation on which she could help spread the kingdom of God. For Yanik, a landscape designer, flowers accomplish that mission.

St. Joseph’s Green Team had a garden on the large parish grounds for the past 30 years. But when team founder Laurie Snook moved away, Yanik, who recently graduated from the three-year program, asked if she could join the team and help expand the garden. The result is a profusion of roses, impatiens, daffodils, shrubs and even potato vines.

“We have lots of gardens because we enlisted parishioners to adopt a small part of the grounds to do what they want,” Yanik said. “We have lots of full-size statues in the inspanidual gardens. We have St. Mary, St. Anthony and St. Joseph. We have a memorial garden for unborn children. There are weeping cherry trees planted as memorials.”

Many members of the Green Team have toiled on the grounds for decades, including its oldest member, who is 90 years old. The team’s creations are as much a spiritual bouquet as a tangible reflection of the season, she said.

“Being on the Green Team is an outward sign of our inward faith,” Yanik said. “It shows how much we love and support the Church.”

The team is about to undergo a test of endurance because St. Joseph is building a new church, which means the eventual uprooting and transferring of many of the plants and flowers to a new “home.” Plans for the big dig are already being discussed, she said.

Some institute graduates look inward to find ways to serve. Sharon Albergotti, business manager at St. Barbara Parish in Philadelphia and one of five recent graduates from the parish, drew on the 2006 death of her father, Richard.

“He was the backbone of our whole family, and we were grief stricken,” Albergotti said. “And it was up to me to plan the funeral and take care of the details for my mother. That was really hard.”

She flew solo on her idea, which was to create an extensive booklet, a guide, really, to help grieving families know what to do and what choices are available to them when planning a funeral Mass. The booklet contains information on the deceased – name, date of birth, a brief biography and a list of the next of kin.

The booklet, which can be updated on Albergotti’s computer, gives the date and time of the funeral Mass, the celebrant, the lectors and the altar servers.

“There is a lot of information that people don’t know, such as what readings can be used, and what can’t be done, what fees are involved and how the Church handles a cremation,” she said. “Families aren’t always aware that cremated remains must be buried in sacred ground or placed in a mausoleum.”

Albergotti’s three years studying at the institute and her work on the booklet have helped her to more fully appreciate Christian living. She puts more thought into her daily prayers and she feels more spiritually alive, she said.

The ministry program began in Philadelphia 30 years ago as a way to prepare men to be permanent deacons. In the early years, women studied for two years, and the men went on for a third year, which led to their ordination as permanent deacons.

Originally, classes were held at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, but in recent years, moved out to various locations across the Archdiocese. Sister Mary Ellen said plans are under way to once again use the seminary for the program.

Father Christopher Redcay, until recently pastor of Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Philadelphia, said the newly minted lay ministers provide a spiritual cushion that assists pastors and offers a continuity of ministries. Several members of his parish have gone through or are still enrolled in the Church Ministry Institute.

One graduate’s project was to raise enough money to hand out 300 Bibles after Sunday Mass. A parish couple plans tours for the faithful to such shrines as St. Katharine Drexel, St. John Neumann and St. Padre Pio. A couple of years ago, some ministers held a ministry fair that provided information on parish activities, such as school volunteerism, religious education, evangelization and multicultural events.

“The Church Ministry Institute gives people a deeper understanding of the theology of the Church and makes clear to them the needs of Our Lady of Ransom and of the larger Church community,” said Father Redcay, who was named pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Malvern, and who takes comfort in the fact that many of Our Lady of Ransom’s ministries will continue, thanks to the dedication of the lay ministers.

“Pastors can be a guiding force, but they can’t do everything,” he said. “Parishes now can be not just in the hands of priests, but in the hands of the faithful.”

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.