By Peter Bradley
There are many ways that members of the Church can be educated, trained and formed through different formats and opportunities: such as personal study, classes, workshops, internships and retreats to name a few.
But I want to focus on the formal lay ministry formation programs that have been sponsored by the Diocese throughout its history.
The post-World War II years created the context and energy for this new Church opportunity.
We begin with the growth of the Inland Empire.
After World War II, many military retirees returned to a place they had once served in order to enjoy the great weather. Joining them were young couples looking for their first home, having grown up in Los Angeles 60 miles away.
The Vatican would take notice of this tremendous expansion in southern California by starting the new Diocese of Orange in 1976 and then the neighboring Diocese in San Bernardino in 1978.
Parallel to this significant development of population in southern California was another kind of evolution.
Pope John XXIII would convoke the 21st Ecumenical Council in the Catholic Church in 1962.
For our generation of Catholics, the Second Vatican Council would have a direct impact on belief, worship and practice. And this was particularly true for the lay ministry and its formation programs.
Today, we are familiar with key statements from that Council in its Document: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Through Baptism and Confirmation, all are appointed to work in the salvific mission of the Church.”
Later in paragraph #33, we read: “the laity can be called in different ways to a more immediate cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy.”
The universal Church was beginning to provide new opportunities for ministry at the same time the expanding Church in the Inland Empire would be searching for new ministry involvements. These two parallel tracks would soon come together.
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. For the 1950’s, my parents would be considered active parishioners. My mother was part of the parents’ group at the parish school and a dedicated member of the Altar Society. My father coached basketball at the elementary school and was a member of the Holy Name Society which held monthly Eucharistic Adoration.
As we fast forward to today, over 60 years later, it would be difficult for my parents and other parishioners at my home parish back then to imagine that a lay member of the Church would be teaching Scripture, planning parish liturgies, leading retreats, working full time as a parish business manager or pastoral associate and being the primary leader of a Catholic parish as the pastoral coordinator.
Certainly, we have experienced a great deal of change just in one generation.
One of the major events in the 1970’s that connected the issue of growth in the Inland Empire to the exciting developments beginning to emerge from the Second Vatican Council was the Church Synod that was held in the Diocese of San Diego.
That four-year process of consultation involving the clergy, religious, deacons and lay leaders provided a focal point for dialogue and visioning.
The Synod would call for expanded opportunities in adult education and the creation of new ministry roles both in the parish and diocese.
The Diocesan Synod was directed by a young priest of the Diocese of San Diego, Rev. Phillip Straling; who would later become the first Bishop for the Diocese of San Bernardino.
At that time, ministry formation had two bridges to cross. First, the concept that a lay member of the Church would participate in ministry formation was new. That type of formation had previously been reserved for priests and religious.
It also raised an additional question for reflection and discussion: what is the relationship between adult education and ministry formation?
Secondly, would lay members of the Church be willing to make a larger commitment to study and formation?
Up to this point, classes were typically a few sessions long: five Tuesday evenings studying the Old Testament.
The new ministry institutes being created were asking for a two or three year commitment. The Church was unsure if people would make that increased effort.
Dioceses across the United States began to investigate these new possibilities. And by the late 1980’s, there would be over 100 ministry formation institutes in the U.S.
The Diocese of San Bernardino would have two of those ministry institutes.
Our new Diocese sought to continue the Permanent Diaconate Program that began in the Diocese of San Diego. During that planning, a question was asked: “Is it possible to open the early part of the Diaconate Formation to all the people of the Diocese?”
At the beginning of the Diocese, there were two diocesan departments for religious education. The Department of Evangelization and Catechesis for Hispanics provided training and formation in Spanish, and the Department of Catechetical and Theological Formation did the same in English.
The Escuela de Ministerios and the Straling Leadership Institute would provide that in depth formation in spirituality, scripture and theology needed to serve in the emerging ministry opportunities of the post Vatican II Church.
The creation of the two ministry institutes came at the right time.
The new Diocese of San Bernardino began in 1978 with 235,000 Catholics; it was already a mid-sized Diocese in its first year.
By the Tenth Anniversary of the Diocese, the population was over 500,000 Catholics.
It was clear to the diocesan leaders that there were not enough priests to serve this growing Catholic population.
Bishop Straling spoke often in those early years that additional parish ministers would be needed. The new ministry institutes would become a source to help meet this pastoral need.
The Catholics in San Bernardino and Riverside counties were truly excited to be part of this new ecclesial experience.
There would be no more long drives to San Diego for diocesan meetings and workshops. It was an opportunity to build our local church right here in the Inland Empire.
The passion for church service was everywhere in the early years of the Diocese and these new ministry institutes were a perfect conduit for that energy.
As we celebrate the 25th Episcopal Anniversary of Bishop Barnes, we recognize his leadership, vision and commitment to lay ministry formation. The development of lay ministry formation is part of the dream that the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council had for the Church of the future.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.