For a number of students in the Diocese of Buffalo, their recent graduation from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester became a chance to learn more about the Catholic faith and embrace a more multicultural perspective of faith from a Hispanic perspective.
On May 9, Viviana Colondres-Yantin, Nelly Garcia, Nydia B. Gutowski, Ivonne Martinez, Francisco Perez, Maribel Reyes, Miriam Rosa and Silvette Sierra received graduate certificates from El Instituto de Pastoral Hispano, or the Hispanic Pastoral Institute. According to Milagros Ramos, director of the Office of Cultural Diversity of the Diocese of Buffalo, the collaboration between Buffalo's diocese and the Diocese of Rochester has been a fruitful and beneficial one for both parties.
"I'm trying to emphasize the importance of the laypeople to get prepared to do the work of the Church, what they're called to do ... they're very excited, and they're all ready to work," Ramos said of these graduates, many of whom will go on to serve the Church in their home parishes.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Mary Jo Leddy, Ph.D., the founder of Romero House Community for Refugees and an adjunct professor at Regis College at the University of Toronto. Father Salvatore R. Matano, chancellor of the school's board of trustees, presided over the Mass.
Before beginning to work with Rochester, parishes in the Diocese of Buffalo had formerly offered courses and certifications in Hispanic pastoral programs at Holy Cross Church, Holy Angels Church and SS. Columba-Brigid Church, all in the city of Buffalo, through the Northeast Hispanic Pastoral Center in New York City. However, it closed two years ago, and Rochester began offering a trial Hispanic Pastoral Ministry Institute program, where Buffalo parishes could use their own teachers and buildings.
"When we found out that they were closing, we were like, 'Okay, what are we going to do now?'" Ramos said. "Then Lynette Saenz from the Diocese of Rochester had a program and then she had contacted me and said they have an Hispanic institute but they were going to redesign it ... she's the director of multicultural ministry in that diocese ... and she wanted to know if we wanted to work together. It was perfect timing, because of what was going on with the closing of the place in New York City."
Some of the classes at St. Bernard's will be broadcast via videoconferences to classrooms in the Diocese of Buffalo's parishes if a teacher from the college cannot come to Buffalo. The curriculum that is taught in local parish classrooms will be the same as the ones offered to students in Rochester.
In addition to the students who graduated from St. Bernard's in May, other students sat in and listened to the lectures but did not actively do the projects, write papers or take tests. Ramos said many of these "oyentes," or "listeners," expressed an interest in taking the class as more active participants, and said, "Now that they've seen them graduate, they're like, 'Oh, I wish I would have done the papers.'"
Four different courses were offered as part of the curriculum, which examined Christian ethics and values, the Creed, prayer and the Sacraments. Seventeen people took the class on moral ethics, eleven took the Creed course, and 23 people learned about sacraments. The class on prayer was the smallest because it was in January, and only the people who had graduated, plus one other person, attended it.
"The ones who graduated were the troopers," Ramos said.
Some of the graduates were from the city of Buffalo, while others who attended were from Lackawanna and Rochester. The program is a fairly new for Rochester as well, and Ramos said more people ended up going to the classes in Buffalo than the ones in Rochester, adding, "We ended up getting more students, so (Saenz) would tell me, 'I'm so jealous,' because she designed it." Saenz also had to cancel some of her classes, but the Buffalo parishes did not need to cancel any of theirs.
Instructors for the classes included Father David Muñoz, OMI, of Holy Cross Parish, Doris Valentin, Deacon Alejandro Manunta and Miguel Santos. Ramos said this year's set of classes was a trial run, but she said, "I think it's working out well," and said she will continue to work with these people who were instrumental in helping Ramos put the program together.
Father Muñoz said he taught the courses on moral ethics, as well as one on liturgical ministries. When asked about the students' response, he also said the students were "really excited that they got to learn a little bit more about their faith, and excited that they could take that out to their parishes."
"I like teaching. It's one of those things that, at least, it helps me get away from parish life and be able to do something extra, and I really do enjoy seeing people who are interested in learning about their faith," Father Muñoz said. He also said of the collaboration between the Diocese of Buffalo and Rochester, "That's one of the things we're still trying to figure out," adding that resources and distance may be an issue.
When asked how she felt this program will benefit the Catholic Hispanic population in the Diocese of Buffalo, Ramos said students will be able to use what they learned to work more in their communities and prepare to "become better lectors, and better teachers, preparing them to do retreats, work in their parishes, and plan for missions and plan for different activities in their parishes."
Some of the students have gone on to teach RCIA classes, religious education, Bible studies, and other related courses, and Ramos said she hopes this year's graduates will do the same. She said the Hispanic Pastoral Ministry Institute was able to teach this year's students, most of whom were from Puerto Rico, the lessons in their national language of Spanish and gain more confidence.
"Some of them, who have gone through the other courses, have already done work in retreats," Ramos added. Some of the ones who graduated from the course, they graduated two years ago, a lot of them have been helping me with the missions, the diocesan retreats, and the different conferences, so it's empowered them to do some of the work on the diocesan level and in their own parishes."