By Tony DeGol
The Catholic Register
As we strive to grow in our Catholic faith, it is common to sometimes feel that something is missing on the journey.
Mary Cubbison can relate.
“I was one of those struggling people,” she recalled. “I would go to Church on Sunday and just watch, and I thought there has to be more to my faith than just this.”
So Cubbison did something about it.
The parishioner of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Huntingdon began taking a series of Adult Enrichment/Lay Ecclesial Ministry classes offered every year throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
“I just went for my own sake to learn about the modern Church and how I fit into the modern Church,” she said.
After four years, she earned certification from Bishop Mark L. Bartchak in the diocese’s Lay Ecclesial Ministry program.
“What I enjoyed was the aspect of all the different people in the room,” Cubbison noted of her classroom encounters. “We all came from different walks of life with different jobs and experiences. For it to be united with just the belief in Jesus Christ is what impressed me the most.”
Cubbison’s endorsement is certainly gratifying to Deacon Michael Russo, coordinator of the diocese’s Office of Adult Enrichment and Lay Ecclesial Ministry.
When he took over the program several years ago, Deacon Russo knew the time was right to take the course offerings to a new level of excellence.
“We have examined every single course that we have taught over the years, we have rewritten them, and we’ve updated all of the materials so that every single thing is current, and we’ve had tremendous success throughout the diocese and it continues to grow,” he stated.
A new series of Lay Ecclesial Ministry classes for the fall season will begin in early September.
Adult Enrichment is for the person who wants to just take a class to enrich his or her faith, Deacon Russo explained. Those engaged in Lay Ecclesial Ministry will take a two year series of classes.
“At the end, they receive basic certification, which enables them to go back to their parish and lead Bible study, prayer groups, and other opportunities,” he noted.
The diocese also offers a Third Year Track, Deacon Russo continued, for those who complete the Lay Ecclesial Ministry program and want to dig deeper in a special area such as Canon Law, Hospital Ministry, or Christian Initiation.
Among the course offerings is Heart of Faith, which gives an in-depth education on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“I was surprised to find out that many people were not too aware of the new Catechism, so we developed a course so they can understand the document and how important it is to our faith,” Deacon Russo said.
Heart of Faith is considered an introductory course. An example of a more in-depth course would be Sacred Scripture Revisited. A Patrology course is also offered, which is the history of the Church fathers and how they put together the dogma that we believe as Christians today.
Judy Wahl of Sacred Heart Parish in Altoona received her Lay Ecclesial Ministry certification in 2015. Among the classes she took were Heart of Faith, Old Testament, New Testament, the Sacraments, and Bible History.
“They’re doable,” she said of the courses. “They are not time consuming. What they ask you to do from week to week is doable for the average person. They’re realistic.”
Most classes are held once a week for an average of eight weeks.
“I’m better with Scripture,” Wahl concluded from her participation in the classes. “I can open the Bible now, and I have more background knowledge. It has helped deepen my faith, and I can see God working in my life.”
The expertise of the instructors is also another selling point for the program.
Teachers include priests, deacons, religious, and laity, and all instructors are prepared to answer whatever questions students would raise in class.
“One of the big things I try to do is connect the material to things that people already know – modern things,” stated instructor Father Brian Saylor, Pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Altoona. “For instance, I take a passage from Scripture and ask how this would apply today.”
Father Saylor is currently teaching Old Testament. He is also the instructor for an Ecclesiology class with candidates for the permanent diaconate. In the past, he has taught Heart of Faith, New Testament, and Prayer and Spirituality.
“I just try to do it in a very friendly way,” he said of his teaching style. “I try to inject humor. I try to be as open as I can to (the students’) questions and things they might want. I think anyone would benefit, especially with Old Testament and New Testament because they are so foundational to our beliefs and understanding.”
Prices for each class are about $55 to $75 plus the cost of books.
It is a bargain, Deacon Russo pointed out, because the quality of the courses matches the quality of the same or similar classes at a university or seminary. At a university level, a student would pay substantially more.
For a complete schedule of classes and registration information, visit the Adult Enrichment and/or Lay Ecclesial Ministry sections of the diocesan website at dioceseaj.org. More information is available through the Office of Adult Enrichment/Lay Ecclesial Ministry at (814) 361-2000.
No one should feel intimidated – even those who have been away from a classroom for a while.
“Our classes are structured so that you’re not going to be given reams of homework to take home, and you’re not going to be given difficult exams to sit and sweat over,” Deacon Russo said. “Our purpose, our mission is to bring the Church to the level of the class that we have.”