Friar Takes Pride in HNP’s Role in Development of Bishops’ Conference Document

Dan McLellan Features

The Oct. 9 issue of America in which Edward Hahenberg has an article, “When the Church Calls,” based on the critical issue of “vocation”broached in the 2005 US bishops document on lay ecclesial ministry, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord , made me think back. University of Toledo theologian Richard Gaillardetz called Co-Workers “the most mature and coherent ecclesiastical document ever produced on a theology of ministry.”

HNP played a key role in the production of this document.

Several years ago, Vincent Cushing and Fred Hofheinz, the then-program director for religion at the Lilly Endowment, crafted a program commonly called the Keystone Project. The project worked over a period of years with almost half of the seminaries and schools of theology for ministry in the U.S. helping them develop strategies to enhance teaching and learning.

Over the course of the project, it became clear that all of the schools involved had some program for the education and formation of lay ecclesial ministers.

At the final luncheon, Hofheinz mentioned to me that it would be very useful for our schools to be guided in their work with lay ministers by a document analogous to the Program for Priestly Formation. None yet existed.

Knowing from an earlier USCCB document, “Lay Ecclesial Ministry: The State of the Question,” (1999) that the bishops’ Subcommittee on Lay Ministry was open to moving in this direction and knowing that a just-completed Bonfils Trust-funded project headed by Ken Himes was left with some money, I received permission from then-Provincial John Felice to use that surplus as seed money, if the bishops were interested in developing such an analogous document.

I brought the Hofheinz idea — and HNP money — to the subcommittee staff who invited me to move the question at the next meeting of the subcommittee. I presented the idea, and the bishops gave their staff approval to pursue the venture.

HNP’s seed money and a case statement written by the subcommittee staff persuaded the Lilly Endowment that the project was feasible, and they provided a $250K grant to underwrite expenses.

Over the next few years, the subcommittee staff brought together bishops and theologians to produce the work Gaillardetz so highly praised.