Institute grads set to share new understanding of faith

| Susan Klemond For The Catholic Spirit | May 24, 2011 | 0 Comments

Linda Harmon, center, discusses parish finances with Father Michael Skluzacek, left, and parish administrator Alan Foley at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Previously, Linda Harmon and her family didn’t attend Mass regularly because they lacked a connection to the faith, a view she thinks many Catholics share.

“If you have to get up and go to church and you don’t have a clue what it’s about, you don’t go to church,” she said.

Two years ago, when she wanted to understand the Catholic faith, Harmon asked her pastor, Father Michael Skluzacek, if she could participate in the RCIA program at her parish, St. John the Baptist in New Brighton.

Father Skluzacek instead pointed her toward the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute, a two-year program for Catholic adults in the archdiocese seeking deeper knowledge of their faith through study based on the Cate­chism of the Catholic Church.

Harmon and the other 94 members of the institute’s second class, who graduated on May 15, are finding that they’ve gained an understanding of the faith that’s not only changing their lives but also their families, parishes and other relationships — and they want to share what they’ve learned.

A sense of mission

“One of the most refreshing things about the [institute] is people are going out with a sense of mission and that they do have a responsibility to tell people about the message of Jesus Christ,” said Jeff Cavins, institute director
With the graduation of the class of St. John Vianney, and the start of the new class named for Blessed John Paul II this fall, institute leaders plan to better gauge how graduates’ new understanding of the faith is impacting their lives and continue offering formation, Cavins said. They are also adding instructors while maintaining the program’s curriculum, which “goes through our faith in an organic and systematic way,” he said.

This year, 15 seminarians from St. Paul Seminary took the course as part of their seminary curriculum, and they and the lay students benefitted from the interaction, Cavins said.

Getting to know Catholics at different points in their faith journey helps in learning how to minister to the laity, said Arthur Roraff, a pre-theology II seminarian studying for the Anchorage, Alaska, archdiocese. “I learned where they are, why they’re in the program, what they’re learning, what seems to resonate with them.”

The institute gave Bill McLeod a better picture of Catholicism, he said.

“This class filled in all the holes, all the gray areas so solidly,” said the Holy Spirit parishioner who has applied for the diaconate program. “It just lit a fire. I couldn’t feed the fire enough.”

A family project

McLeod took the course with his mother, Barb, and one of his brothers.

Study sessions with her sons offered St. Francis de Sales-St. James parishioner Barb McLeod a chance to discuss faith with them and later with her grand­children.

“To be able to be with my grown children and have a dialogue and all three equally sharing ideas . . . in an adult conversation is extremely satisfying,” she said.

Harmon’s family life also has benefitted. She said her husband and two children now attend Mass every weekend and she’s helped her children learn some of what she didn’t understand growing up.

Bill McLeod found the program’s instruction on prayer rewarding, noting that his prayer, personally and with his family, has evolved. Barb McLeod added that her husband has begun praying the Liturgy of the Hours with her.

Along with seeing her family get more involved, Harmon has become an active parish volunteer since starting at the institute, participating in eucharistic adoration, the parish finance council and leading programs.

Institute students and graduates are impacting their parishes in many ways, Cavins said. “We’re getting a lot of students who are saying, ‘I was teaching RCIA in our parish. Now I really think I have a much better grasp of the content that I need to be passing on to people.’”

Because of her passion for the program, Harmon isn’t hesitating to tell people about the faith and the institute.

“I don’t want people to have the same experience I had,” she said. “I would like them to find their way home a lot sooner than I did.”

To register for the institute’s fall session, visit http://www.stthomas.edu/spssod and search for “catechetical institute.”

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