Adopting a broad approach to better prepare candidates for congregational ministry, St. Meinrad Archabbey engaged with four distinct but related areas to achieve that goal: effective recruitment of candidates for priesthood; development of spiritual formation program for lay ministry students in the Benedictine tradition; quality theological education and broader formation opportunities for permanent deacon candidates; and, establishment of a Center for Effective Parish Leadership.
The Archabbey adopted three programs to effectively recruit candidates for priesthood. It hosted a national symposium on promoting vocations among the “Millennium Generation” from whom the future priesthood would come. Specifically aimed at understanding the contours of the “Millennium Generation” and their ideas of religious vocation, the national symposium was held on June 12-14, 2000 at St. Meinrad School of Theology. The Forum on Recruitment and Marketing (FORAM) was held twice a year in several different states; FORAM brought together groups of vocation directors in order to discuss successful approaches to recruitment and develop strategies for recruitment and retention of priesthood candidates. “Thinking of Priesthood” retreats, designed to aid vocation directors to seek out and promote vocations to the religious life and priestly ministry, were held on a regular basis both at St. Meinrad and local campuses. Candidates were brought together during these three-day retreats to learn more about priesthood and formation and to examine through prayer, reflection and conversations what it meant to be “called”. In all 497 such retreats were held in several states across the nation.
In order to develop spiritual formation program for lay ministry students, St. Meinrad organized a national symposium held on March 22-24, 2001. Attended by bishops, theologians, diocesans directors, educators and lay ecclesial ministers, the symposium laid the groundwork for the development of a model program of spiritual formation for lay ministry students. After several meetings following the symposium, the spiritual formation program development committee designed a framework for spiritual formation of lay degree students. The program is set to run in a trial phase for four years and focuses on the Benedictine emphasis on lectio divina – prayerful reading of the scriptures, the importance of community, celebration of liturgy, and attention to the presence of Christ in the ordinary rhythms of the day.
To offer quality theological education and broader formation opportunity to permanent deacon candidates, St. Meinrad developed a permanent diaconate curriculum emphasizing aspects of catholic theology and pastoral skills; it included classes on such topics as liturgy, scripture, spiritual direction, Church history, homiletics, and pastoral care and counseling. As a four-year course, the deacon formation program was piloted in the diocese of Richmond and was followed later in the dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston, Evansville, Tulsa, and Knoxville. The program was scheduled to begin in the dioceses of Belleville and Lexington, and the archdiocese of Indianapolis in the fall of 2004.
Finally, St. Meinrad established the Center for Effective Parish Leadership to meet the need for collaborative skills among clerical and lay ministers; it met the need for enhancement of leadership skills among increasingly greater number of lay men and women serving in parish ministries.