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Lay Leadership Program Offers Parishioners an Opportunity to Learn More about the Faith

By Bob Cornejo, a Parishioner at St. Mary Church, Mokena, for More Than 26 Years | August 2021

Lay Leadership Program Offers Parishioners an Opportunity to Learn More about the Faith

From an early age, I had always enjoyed participating in the Mass.  When I reached the sixth grade, becoming an altar boy (sorry, but that is what they were called back then) seemed like a natural step. As I grew, so did my participation (for example, commentator, lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, parish ministries, parish committees), all the way into adulthood.

About three years ago, after a particularly disappointing event in my life, I was left wondering how I wanted to continue growing my role and participation in the parish. After the disappointment, I felt like I was back at "square one" and starting over down an unsure path.

Not long after that, one of the seminarians interning at St. Mary offered to counsel me in this matter. As he listened to my story, heard my desire to serve the church, and understood the sense of loss I was feeling, I could see a light bulb turn on in his head. He got this look of anticipation on his face, as if he couldn't wait to tell me something.

That "something" was the Lay Leadership Program. He said it was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet and was a two-year program that was designed to form the laity as disciples of Jesus. Lay ministers and ministry volunteers are prepared to assist in leading others to Christ.

Monthly formation sessions aim to form the participants personally, spiritually, intellectually, and pastorally. Weekly classroom sessions include subjects such as divine revelation, Catholic doctrine, Christian anthropology, Church history, sacraments, liturgy, morality, and Catholic Social Teaching.

As I considered the program, I had been mostly looking for an avenue to continue my education in the faith. (When I look back to the times when I considered the priesthood or the diaconate, continual learning was an important part of those times.) If this program could give me some direction in satisfying this desire to learn, and make me a better steward for the parish, then I would be most happy.

What I found was that the classes were taught by some of the top scholars in the Chicago Archdiocese and the Joliet Diocese. These classes were the foundation upon which the formation sessions would build upon.

The classes increased in me the passion for my faith and the confidence to better express those thoughts and feelings. The formation day sessions showed me what to do in order to more fully participate as a disciple of Christ. As a result, the program fulfilled the things I had been searching for, aside from showing me a new focus for my role in my parish — a role of helping bring Jesus to others.

Another happy benefit of the program has been the relationship I've developed with my classmates. We have shared a deep, common experience that has created a bond that will connect us for many years to come. We each came into the program with similar questions, desires, and uncertainties. Together, we have explored the common love of our faith that runs through all of us.

Others who have participated in the program have given similar testimony to what they experienced, as well.

Have you felt something missing in your parish volunteer work? Would you like to increase your knowledge of the faith? Do you seek growth in your spirituality? Are you looking for others seeking similar answers?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then I urge you to investigate the Lay Leadership Program. More information can be found at the website of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. Please visit or contact Michelle Shaffer at 847-970-4926 or with any questions you may have.

Consider attending an upcoming “Come & See” virtual meeting to find out more about programs available through the Institute for Pastoral Leadership. Please call for details.