The Lay Formation program began in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in the fall of 1987.
The program is part of the diocesan response to Saint Pope John Paul’s request that the formation of lay people should be among the priorities of every diocese (Christifideles Laici #57).
The purpose of the Lay Formation program is to help adult Catholics fulfill their baptismal commitment to the mission and ministry of Jesus through a process of formation and faith education.
Lay Formation helps lay people to “put on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.”
In 1986 Bishop James Mahoney (right) asked Sr. Cecile Fahl, SMS, Fr. Gerry Wiesner, OMI, Gisele Bauche, and Fr. Don Hamel to design the Lay Formation program as a way to answer the call from Saint Pope John Paul to prioritize the formation of the laity as Christian disciples. The team joined together, collaborating on themes, topics, presenters, live-in components, prayer pieces, and Christian community development.
Program founders Bishop Emeritus Gerry Wiesner and Gisele Bauche recently reflected on the beginnings of the Lay Formation program in a video conversation with Mona Goodman, who coordinated the diocesan program from 2008 to 2017:
Lay Formation format and vision:
Over 900 people have graduated from the Lay Formation program over the past three decades. In 1997, Newman Theological College in Edmonton accredited the program and recognized successful completion as equivalent to 12 credits toward an undergraduate diploma in theological studies.
The program is two years in duration, with participants meeting one weekend a month for ten months from September to June. Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal provides a beautiful setting for the participants. As a live-in program, Lay Formation costs are higher than some programs. Long-time presenter, Rev. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, says the live-in element is vital to the program’s success.
“This is one of the few programs that recognizes the importance of community and prayer as integral pieces of the overall formation process, and that has been its strength. By asking people to live together, share meals together and pray together one weekend out of every month, the Lay Formation program becomes more than simply a workshop or an in-service, it becomes a journey that fosters deep spiritual transformation.” – Rev. Ron Rolheiser, OMI
In addition to the focus on Christian community in the Lay Formation program, the emphasis through the years has remained solidly on formation rather than specific ministry training. This formation focus enriches the faith of all participants who come to the program, while still providing the impetus to move on to more in-depth ministry training for those who desire it.
The prayer component of the program is essential to formation and consists of commitment to daily prayer and many opportunities for communal prayer on the weekends. Each weekend the participants gather for the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and in the evening, and the liturgical seasons are celebrated with special liturgies on Saturday evenings. The weekend concludes with celebration of the Eucharist/Divine Liturgy on Sunday afternoon.
Participants prepare and provide the lay liturgical ministries for Eucharist, lead the Liturgy of the Hours and other prayer services. In addition, participants are empowered to facilitate Small Christian Community prayer groups. Through the program, participants are introduced to various prayer forms and the varied and rich ways of prayer that are part of our tradition, for example, centering prayer, Taizé prayer, Aboriginal prayer traditions, praying with icons and praying with scripture.
At the same time, participants grow in knowledge about the Catholic faith. Highly qualified presenters from Saskatoon and across Canada offer a broad spectrum of theological thought to Lay Formation participants. Areas of study include scripture, theology, morality, liturgy, justice and peace, and spirituality.
New streams of Aboriginal and Eparchial Lay Formation:
In the fall of 1999, participants from the Eparchy of Saskatoon joined with participants from the Diocese of Saskatoon in the first experience of a shared formation program. Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Catholic perspectives were woven together into a program which celebrates the gift of diversity that enriches our common Catholic faith. Separate sessions were scheduled for topics that present the diversity of expression and tradition in areas such as spirituality and liturgy. This is the only shared program of East and West in the world.
Based on the success and the model of the shared diocesan-eparchial program, Lay Formation was expanded to include an Aboriginal Stream in the fall of 2007. Roman Catholics – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – as well as Ukrainian Catholics now study common topics together and meet in separate streams to explore faith and spirituality in the context of their own traditions and cultures. The bishops of the Prince Albert Diocese, Keewatin-LePas Archdiocese and the Diocese of Saskatoon work together to provide the program for the Aboriginal people of their three dioceses.
Program Coordinators Timeline:
- 1986 – Sr. Cecile Fahl, SMS, designed the Lay Formation Program, along with Fr. Gerry Wienser, Gisele Bauche and Fr. Don Hamel, at request of Bishop James Mahoney.
- 1987 – Program begins under the direction of the first coordinator Sr. Cecile Fahl, SMS, at Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre in Saskatoon
- 1992 – Bill Loran, Program Coordinator
- 1998 – Kathy Hitchings, Program Coordinator
- 1999 – Louise Gantefoer and Kathy Hitchings, Program Co-coordinators
- 1999 – Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon Stream begins in conjunction with Diocese of Saskatoon Stream
- 1999 – Eparchial Stream Coordinators Sr. Pat Lacey and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, join the team, serving with Diocesan Stream Coordinators Louise Gentefoer and Kathy Hitchings
- 2001 – Lay Formation program offered at St. Peter’s Abbey
- 2003 – Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI, and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, Eparchial Stream Coordinators, with Diocesan Stream Coordinators Kathy Hitchings and Louise Gantefoer (group photo, left to right)
- 2006 – Donna Donaldson (Kristian) and Kathy Hitchings, Program Co-coordinators
- 2007 – Aboriginal Stream begins with participants from Keewatin–LePas, Prince Albert and Saskatoon dioceses
- 2007 – Aboriginal Stream Coordinator Vivian Whitehawk (right) joins the team, serving with Diocesan Stream Coordinators Donna Donaldson (Donna Kristian) and Kathy Hitchings, and Eparchial Stream Coordinators Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, and Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI.
- 2008 – Mona Goodman, and Kathy Hitchings, and Vivian Whitehawk Program Coordinators; Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, and Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI, Eparchial Stream Coordinators
- 2009 – Irene Sharp and Anne Lafleur, Aboriginal Stream Coordinators
- 2011 – Kate O’Gorman and Mona Goodman, Diocesan Program Co-coordinators, with Irene Sharp and Anne Lafleur, Aboriginal Stream Coordinators, and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, and Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI, Eparchial Stream Coordinators
- 2012 – Debbie Ledoux, Aboriginal Stream Coordinator
- 2014 – Renske Avyert, Aboriginal Stream Coordinator
- 2016 – Mona Goodman, Diocesan Program Coordinator
- 2017 – Jennifer and Blair Carruthers, Diocesan Lay Formation Program Coordinators, with Marlene Hansen, Aboriginal Stream Coordinator, and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, SSMI, and Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI, Eparchial Stream Coordinators
Volunteers on the Lay Formation team over the years:
Anne Loran, Ivan Hitchings, George Rolheiser, Henry Spilchuk, Agnes Pelletier, Irene Sharp, David Schann, Judy Gatin, Bob Friesen, Brian Ander, Wayne and Joanne Kzyzyk.
Lay Formation is funded primarily through the Bishop’s Annual Appeal and participant fees, usually shared equally between the participant and their parish. Teachers with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools can also apply for support from their school division.
With the restoration of order of the initiation sacraments in the Diocese of Saskatoon (placing confirmation before first communion, with children now fully initiated at the age of about 7 years), the need for providing resources and support for life-long faith development and the formation of missionary disciples has become a major emphasis. The Lay Formation Program is a significant diocesan resource for the ongoing renewal of adults in their Catholic faith.
Smaller rural areas of the diocese struggle to find human and financial resources. Because of the agricultural situation (ever-decreasing commodity prices, diminishing family farms and rural depopulation), many parishes, rural communities and families are stressed to the limit. The Lay Formation Program has been vital for parish renewal and support in these situations.
The program is an essential foundation for lay ministry and leadership development in the diocese. This high-quality formation is especially critical at this time, as together clergy and laity face ongoing challenges. With increasing demands on our priests whose energies are spread far and wide, it is critical that the baptized be formed and prepared to collaborate and assist their pastors, parishes and communities.
A strong Lay Formation Alumni Association has grown out of the program and graduates are found in all areas of parish and diocesan life.
Parish pastoral leadership teams, diocesan commissions and advisory groups, RCIA, youth ministry, religious education, pastoral visiting, care of the sick and dying, preparation of liturgy, funeral vigils, lay presiding in the absence of the priest, inner city ministry, restorative justice, marriage preparation and enrichment are only some of the areas in which the graduates of Lay Formation are providing ministrym – living out their baptismal call to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ in the world.
What do graduates of the Lay Formation say about their experience?
Graduates repeatedly express a profound sense of gratitude, describing a renewed confidence, and a deeper Christian commitment. They speak about new and deeper understanding of their Catholic faith. They value the Christian community they encounter at Lay Formation: the deep friendships that are formed are one of the most precious gifts of the experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lay Formation graduates say the prayer and the spirituality that they encounter together in this program deepened their relationship with God. Lay Formation transforms lives.
Read testimonials or watch the videos featuring Lay Formation graduates.
Former Lay Formation coordinators reflect on the experience:
Bill and Anne Loran were participants in the first Lay Formation session presented in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. in 1987. In 1992 Bill Loran became the program coordinator.
“The goal of the program (metaphorically speaking) is “to put on the mind the heart of Christ” and in seeking that goal participants have first-hand experience of
building Christian community. Each year at the time of graduation some participants express the desire to see the program extended to a third year.” – Bill Loran
Louise Gantefoer served on the Lay Formation team as a program coordinator from 1999 to 2008, collaborating with the Eparchial Stream and engaged in dialogue and planning for the Aboriginal Stream.
“How grateful I am to have served as a part of the Diocesan Lay Formation Team as co-coordinator from 1999 to 2008. Aside from our collaboration as a team, which was a joy…, it was my good fortune to meet so many wonderful people from all corners of the diocese and beyond. To see the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts and minds of all those that came into the program each year and to witness the transformation that happened during the course of two years of formation was exhilarating! To be a part of this “Divine Dance” was a privilege and an honor.” – Louise Gantefoer
In 1998, Kathy Hitchings became the coordinator of the Lay Formation program, serving with many team members and volunteers — one long time volunteer was her husband Ivan Hitchings. Kathy retired in 2011.
Kathy Hitchings, Mona Goodman, and Bishop Emeritus Gerry Wiesner, OMI, (left to right) at a diocesan farewell for Mona Sept. 7, 2017 in Saskatoon.
Mona Goodman served as coordinator in the Lay Formation program from 2008 to 2017. At a diocesan farewell, she reflected on the history and the impact of the program: Diocesan farewell to Mona Goodman: reflecting on the history and the impact of Lay Formation in our diocese
“Who gets to journey with God’s people? Who gets to walk with others in their faith journey? Who gets to learn and be formed and transformed by the people of God? I did!” – Mona Goodman
Jennifer and Blair Carruthers are the present diocesan coordinators of Lay Formation. The couple is happy to be walking with others on their faith journeys “It is a great honour to be serving as the new Diocesan Lay Formation Coordinators. We have been married for 27 years and have five amazing young adult children. Although God has always been leading us, it was our leap of faith in 2014 that found the seven of us on a mission trip to Haiti with our parish, the Cathedral of the Holy Family. Our lives have been forever changed. We saw God at work in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and we started a new journey of faith. Since then, we have been very involved in the Alpha program and Matthew Kelly ‘Passion and Purpose’ programs. God is leading us down this faith-filled path and we will humbly walk wherever he may lead.”