June 14, 2013

First graduates of Hispanic Leadership Institute ready to lead, help others grow in their lives of faith

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin poses with the Hispanic Leadership Institute’s first graduating class in the Lay Leadership Pastoral Formation Program at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on May 11. (Submitted photo)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin poses with the Hispanic Leadership Institute’s first graduating class in the Lay Leadership Pastoral Formation Program at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on May 11. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

As Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein observed the Hispanic population increase throughout the archdiocese in the early 2000s, he saw a growing need for Hispanic leaders in the local Church.

He envisioned Hispanic leaders who would not just minister to the Latino population, but who would form the frontline in creating unity with their English-speaking brothers and sisters in the Church.

On May 11, Archbishop Emeritus Buechlein’s vision became a reality as the first class graduated from the archdiocese’s new Hispanic Leadership Institute. On that day, 45 Hispanic Catholics from around the archdiocese received their certificates of completion for the two-year Lay Leadership Pastoral Formation Program.

“This program taught us what leadership in the Church really means,” said graduate Juan Carlos Ramirez, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. “The program really prepared us to know our role and responsibilities in the Church, how to use the gifts and talents that God has given us to continue in the mission that Archbishop [Joseph W.] Tobin told us [in his homily]—to go and look for people who are really hungry for Jesus.”

In his homily at the institute’s graduation Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on May 11, Archbishop Tobin called the new leaders to focus on three themes as they minister—unity, zeal and the goal of living lives authentic to the Gospel message.

That approach was also echoed by Franciscan Brother Moises Guiterrez, archdiocesan Hispanic ministry coordinator, who developed the Hispanic Leadership Institute’s Lay Leadership Pastoral Formation Program.

“The primary goal [of the institute] was to give the already committed leaders in the archdiocese the skills and the formation needed to continue serving in the parish, to commit even more so,” Brother Moises said. “And also to help them become disciples for a 21st century Church, which calls us to integration, authenticity, to being global leaders.”

When Brother Moises joined the archdiocesan staff in 2010, Archbishop Buechlein asked him to help form a team to research and develop the Hispanic Leadership Institute.

“[The team] traveled and went to different programs in Chicago and St. Louis and got the best from each of them,” said Brother Moises.

The archdiocese’s Hispanic Leadership Institute was under way by the fall of 2011.

The two-year program involves eight courses taught during weekly classes, plus eight daylong workshops and two retreats.

To make the program easily accessible throughout the archdiocese, it is offered at two locations—the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis, and at Church of the American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg.

Candidates are identified by pastors. They look for Hispanic members who are active in parish ministry, and who are willing to commit their time and continued participation as lay leaders in the Church.

But the end goal is to create more than just leaders.

“It’s a fabulous program because it’s not just about leadership and authority—it’s about creating disciples to follow the Lord and inviting others into that process as well, as opposed to just taking a position in authority or leadership,” said Tim Gonzalez, a Hispanic Leadership Institute instructor. Gonzalez holds a masters in divinity degree, and works for the multicultural ministry at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, his home parish.

“I see [the program] having a tremendous impact. It’s a great opportunity to renew our parishes at the grassroots level, renewing our catechesis from adults all the way down to children. If we have well-formed adults who can model discipleship and that relationship with the Lord, they can share that with others,” Gonzalez explained.

The institute will produce a new class of graduates each year. Based on the current numbers of students enrolled, Brother Moises expects a graduating class next year of 30-35 students from the Indianapolis branch and 20-25 graduates from the southern branch.

“With having a class every year, as that moves along, you’re going to see some real growth, not just in the community itself but in how ministry is done in those communities,” said Msgr. Paul Koetter, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. The parish was one of 19 represented in the class of graduates.

“I’m so glad we started this because it creates that opportunity for the Hispanic members of our parishes to get the kind of theological background they need. We don’t have a lot of help in that area,” Msgr. Koetter said.

Graduate Mariana Rodriguez of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis is anxious to share her newly gained knowledge.

“I learned so many things on how I can help people that are in the same boat I used to be of not knowing anything about our religion,” she said.

Others are hoping one day to use their newfound knowledge as deacons for the archdiocese.

“Almost 20 of the men who participated in the class also applied to the deacon program,” Rodriguez said. “We are just waiting for the results of the evaluations.”

Ana DeGante and her husband, Heriberto Romero, who are members of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, completed the program together. While DeGante admitted it was “challenging” at times to juggle their class schedule with caring for their twin daughters, she said she is grateful to “God, the archdiocese and all the family and friends supporting all of us.”

The program’s message of unity had a particular impact on her.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us to show how we can be just one community, the body of Christ. We are not just Hispanics, there are no Anglos—we are just one community all together,” DeGante said. “This is what I hope to be eventually—one community, no matter what race or color.

“This is the beginning of the journey. ... We have a big responsibility on our shoulders to show what we can do for this country. We are here to serve. It’s a big responsibility, but I think we can do it.”

(For more information on the Hispanic Leadership Institute, contact Brother Moises Guiterrez, archdiocesan Hispanic ministry coordinator, at 317-592-4068 or 800-382-9836, ext. 4068, or e-mail him at mguiterrez@archindy.org.)

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