Dayton Graduation caps 18 months of prayer, study in groundbreaking program

Five students who completed the University of Dayton’s intense, 18-month virtual learning program in adult faith formation came away with much more than a piece of paper when they graduated July 15 before fellow parishioners in Jackson’s St. Monica Church.

They took away a skill set designed to help them evangelize to a wide range of generations in their parish – one aimed not only at bringing people back to the Church but opening the door to a lifetime of learning about its teachings.

Coming together with the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, under the supervision of associate director Laura Rivas, the University of Dayton offered the students an adult faith formation curriculum. The program, the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation, was piloted in fall 2016 in St. Monica Parish. The majority of courses were conducted online.

Those who completed the program were Angela Serrano, Barbara Rookey, Carol Schaffer, Monica Principato and Theresa Giblock-Calsetta, all St. Monica parishioners.

The group, known around the parish as “the fabulous five” for their determined efforts, occupied a front pew during the 11 a.m. Mass that was celebrated by Father Alex Enriquez, parish administrator.

In his homily, Father Enriquez expressed excitement for the students’ completion of the program and shared hopes of what their efforts will bring the community. 

“Today is a very special day, graduation day of the first group of adult faith formation students under the direction of Laura Rivas,” he said. “Graduation days give us an opportunity to look to the past and to look ahead – they open the door to new challenges.”

“You struggled over the months with a difficult program,” he continued, explaining how the nearly two-year commitment often involved 10 to 20 hours a week for assignments. “The Lord must have given you credit for your advancement, for you are here as the first

graduates of the faith formation program of the University of Dayton” in the Trenton Diocese, he said.

Father Enriquez urged them to focus on their priorities while they trust in the Lord, saying, “Lean on him. God wants you to lean on him in all ways. … Be fully aware and fully appreciative. Recognize his lordship. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ Follow the path, the direction is sure.”

Future Growth

Rivas and Laura Franklin, assistant for special projects at the University of Dayton, who was present for the graduation, said they see the program as a way to help foster the growth of adult education across the Diocese.

“It was a way to help people who really wanted to learn get started. … It is an effort that can help parishes bring back lifelong formation,” Rivas said.

Franklin shared how Dayton University’s Virtual Learning Community was founded in 2000 in keeping with the institution’s mission as a “top-tier Catholic research institution committed, in the Marianist tradition, to educating the whole person and to linking learning and scholarship with leadership and service.”

That commitment, she said, reflects the fact that there is a strong desire for quality adult faith programs as well as catechetical and lay leadership formation through distance learning.

These days, she said, the university’s Virtual Learning Community partners with more than 80 dioceses, offering faith formation courses in both English and Spanish in 28 countries.

Hard Work Pays Off

The students shared their joy in completing the program, explaining that while the course was time-consuming and challenging, they appreciated how it expanded their horizons, knowledge of the faith and intellectual insights.

Calsetta, a member of the parish since 1994 and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, catechist and director of youth, said there were many times when she struggled to balance the coursework with her life as a busy wife, mother and parishioner.

However, she said, “I feel this class will help me to evangelize and bring more people into the church of St. Monica because we were taught how to keep God and our faith at the center of everything we do.”

Rookey, involved in parish ministry for 37 years as a youth minister, then a director of religious education and a pastoral associate in four different dioceses, was asked to spearhead the recruitment of parishioners for the program by Rivas.

Rookey agreed, and said she felt the program was worthwhile because it gave her “much-needed insight about the necessity of moving away from child-only catechesis and moving toward lifelong missionary discipleship.

“Moving our parish toward becoming a learning community in which together, we are all teachers and learners,” is vital to the future of the Church, she said.


Article from The Monitor, Newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, N.J.