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    Lay ministers wrap up training

    After four years of work, 76 lay ministers are fine-tuned and ready to serve in the local Roman Catholic Church.

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 15, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Of the 598 who first aspired four years ago, 76 men and women graduated this week in the first class of lay pastoral ministers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

    They were among the 1,000 worshipers who gathered Tuesday in the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle to celebrate.

    "Tonight," Bishop Robert N. Lynch told the new lay leaders, "you have every right to be proud."

    Their completion of the four-year program, which included classes in theology, spirituality and ministry, was the realization of Lynch's long-held dream for the diocese.

    "The church needed trained and dedicated laity," said Lynch, who wore a crimson cope and mitre. "I offer my heartfelt thanks. You stayed the course."

    The new lay ministers have pledged to continue their leadership roles in their home parishes and communities. Some are volunteers for Boy Scout programs or prison ministries. Others spearhead parish-to-parish relationships. There are those who are involved in religious education. Some are members of their parish councils. At least one hopes his studies -- a prerequisite for anyone wishing to become a deacon -- will help him reach that goal.

    The training graduates received through the diocese's Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute is intended to fine-tune the performance of the ministries they already perform and help inspire them to further endeavors, said Anne Marie Winters, a New Jersey native who was hired as the program's first director.

    "The Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute is based on the premise that service for the baptized is not an option," said Mrs. Winters, who holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Fordham University. "It's a requirement."

    Sue Sharlow, 41, mother of three boys and three girls ages 7 to 17, was among those who completed the regimen, which included weeknight classes and mentoring sessions and weekend seminars and retreats. An apprenticeship and practicum also were required.

    "The very instant I heard about it," Mrs. Sharlow said, "I knew I wanted to do it, because it was an opportunity for adult education in my faith."

    The course reinforced her interest in sister parish programs, said Mrs. Sharlow, who started such a relationship between St. Jude's and Jesus Obrero Church in El Milagro, Guatemala.

    Mrs. Sharlow, whose mother is Guatemalan, has traveled to the country regularly to see relatives. She felt compelled to help and has organized shipments of clothing, church, medical, school and other supplies to the Central American country.

    Earlier this year, to meet a requirement for her lay ministry studies, she organized a conference for local Catholic churches that have similar sister parish relationships. "We are called to love our brothers and sisters," she said.

    Dr. Mark Taylor, a child psychiatrist and a convert to Catholicism, is another graduate. Using the lessons he has learned, he hopes to practice "real solid psychiatry" and address the spiritual needs of his patients. He also hopes to use his studies as a springboard to the diaconate.

    "I hope to be doing more things, especially with the youth," said Taylor, who attends St. Stephen's in Valrico with his wife and two sons.

    Peter J. Burns, 43, program director for elder services at Catholic Charities and a member of St. Timothy's in Northdale, said the program "really gave me a new perspective on how I approach my life, my work, my church, my family."

    Dr. Alejandro Carvallo, a nephrologist and parishioner at Tampa's St. Mark the Evangelist, said: "As baptized Christians, we are all called to be disciples and apostles. I felt in order to be more effective in my ministry, I needed to learn more about my faith and about sacred scriptures.

    "Even before completing my training, I was doing some prison ministry. I'd like to continue to do that."

    The lay ministry program, launched in 1998 by Monsignor Frank Mouch, has attracted men and women of varying ages, races and cultures from throughout the five-county diocese. He retired this week.

    During the program's first year, Mrs. Winters said, there were 598 participants. By year's end, 230 remained. "Over the course of the next three years, we ended up with 76," Mrs. Winters said. "So, it's not a 'y'all come' kind of thing."

    She is proud of these first successes.

    "Bishop Lynch put it right," she said the day after the group was commissioned."He joked and called me a mother. The reality was, it was a birthing process. I was so proud of them. They are a group of marvelous, marvelous people. They are so dedicated to their church. They were so dedicated to the program."

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