Master of Arts in Ministry awards degrees to seven

The Masters of Arts in Ministry program graduates pose with Cardinal O’Malley and administrators following the May 20 commencement exercises. Pilot photo/Lisa Poole

BRIGHTON -- The chapel at St. John’s Seminary was filled with family and friends May 20 as seven men and women received their Master of Arts in Ministry degrees from the institution’s graduate program for laity.

The Master of Arts in Ministry signifies the graduates’ fulfillment of the training required to serve the local church as pastoral associates, religious educators and as lay ministers in hospitals, campuses and prisons.

The seven members of the class of 2009 were: Frances E. Crespi, Colette T. Crowley, Craig B. Gibson, Ellen Therese Oesterle, Suzanne LaForge Spero, Andreas Elias Widmer and Elizabeth Yon.

The ceremony began with an invocation delivered by Father Arthur L. Kennedy, rector of St. John’s, and was followed by a commencement address given by Father Thomas Foley, the Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership for the Archdiocese of Boston.

In his address, Father Foley repeated the words of Jesus to his Apostles: “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”

This theme pervaded his address.

“You are to give without cost--freely, generously, lovingly to your brothers and sisters, to friends and strangers, to the Church and to the world--the wisdom, the spiritual riches and the splendor of the truth you have received,” Father Foley admonished them.

“The dogmatic constitution on the Church teaches the laity has their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people,” he said, encouraging the group to be, “ministers of welcome, reconciliation and understanding.”

Following Father Foley’s address, MAM co-associate director David Franks introduced the commencement’s student speaker, Andreas Widmer, as a man who exemplifies what it means to carry out the lay apostolate.

Widmer is a former Swiss Guard to Pope John Paul II, and a founding member of the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference. He also co-founded the SEVEN Fund -- a non-profit organization run by entrepreneurs that works to increase innovation and diffusion of enterprise-based solutions to those living in poverty.

Widmer spoke on the “extraordinary and transformative” experience of the MAM program.

He stressed that the “environment of profound joy that permeates the MAM community” is what distinguishes it from other lay theology programs.

Further, he said, it is the prayer life imbedded in the program that connects its students more readily to the joy of God, and allows them “to experience God’s love and joy in a very personal way.”

In his conclusion, Widmer reminded his fellow graduates that the MAM program is not an end in itself, but an instrument for procuring lay leaders for the Church.

“Today we are sent out into the vineyard with the call to recreate that experience, that atmosphere of profound joy in our own communities; to go out and invite people to the banquet that the Father has prepared; to go out and tell the world to come and rejoice with us,” he said.

Following Widmer’s address, Father Stephen Salocks, the dean of faculty at St. John’s Seminary, presented the seven candidates to Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and Father Kennedy for the conferral of their degrees.

Before offering the ceremony’s concluding benediction, the cardinal congratulated the graduates and thanked the faculty and staff of St. John’s Seminary, whose efforts made the program possible.

The cardinal added that to attend the MAM graduation, for him, is like a retreat that is “spiritually very refreshing.” He spoke on the symbolic importance of the degree as the realization of the grace they received in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“Being a lay ecclesial minister in the Church is more than having a degree, a certain corpus of knowledge, or initials after one’s name,” he said.

“It is that these men and women have responded to a call to deepen their relationship with the Lord and their commitment to serving God and His Church and for that we are all very grateful,” the cardinal said.

After the ceremony, the graduates gathered in the seminary courtyard to meet with their families and friends.

Joined by his wife and children, graduate Craig Gibson reflected on the ceremony as a culmination of his years of studying, prayer and faith formation.

“It is so gratifying,” he said, but stressed that the MAM program “is just a milestone I’ve gone through” on a longer journey of faith formation.

Gibson, who is working separately towards his board certification as a chaplain, said the degree, “is really just a starting point, a magnificent brush stroke of these theology and ministry-related studies that now invites me to dive in even deeper.”

Gibson said he expects to be done with his certification units within the next year and will then likely go to work in one of the archdiocesan hospitals as a lay ecclesial minister. His wife, Nancy, said she looks forward to having him home again on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Gibson’s sponsor and the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Winchester, Father Richard Messina, attended the ceremony and expressed his happiness and gratitude for the lay formation offered by the MAM program.

“I’m thrilled,” said Father Messina. “In this day and age, with all of the shortage of priests, we need people like this to help us.”

MAM’s four-pillared program structure, founded in 2000, aims to build a supportive community of laity by fostering their intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and human formation. The degree’s requisite 11 core courses, four electives and 100 hours of field education provide students with a background in subjects such as Church history, moral, sacramental, and systematic theology, philosophy and Scripture, as well as the opportunity for specialization in specific areas of ministry including catechetics, liturgy or care of the sick.

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