Earlier this year, I walked across Notre Dame’s campus for the first time in order to interview as a parish apprentice for the Institute for Church Life’s Echo program, a two year graduate program in theology with a heavy emphasis on ministerial experience.
Throughout my life, I’ve gotten to know several ND alumni. They gradually managed to build the University up to an almost legendary status in my mind. That being said, I was, unsurprisingly, enthralled, and fairly incredulous, that I was among some of the well-known buildings, memorials, and statues that grace the University’s grounds. But looking back now, as an actual Notre Dame student and apprentice, I believe that I would have been excited for very different reasons if I had known all that I would learn and experience in such a short period of time with the Echo program.
My apprenticeship began with a rigorous summer filled with theology classes over Church doctrine, catechetical techniques, pastoral solutions, and various theological topics like the Sacraments of the Church and the Holy Trinity. I encountered an incredible amount of valuable and beautiful knowledge over a two-month period. Having never studied theology academically before, I loved each minute of it.
However, I made one, special discovery that wasn’t taught by professors: so much potential, enthusiasm, and love for the Church exists in my generation of Catholics. It has been easy to become discouraged about the future when looking around many parish’s Masses and finding few Millennials. That changed this summer upon the happy realization that my classmates and I are being educated to be part of this problem’s solution.
When it came time to put all we learned to use, the ministerial portion of the Echo program began. Each student moved to their various diocesan placements across the country to begin teaching and ministering. I, with three classmates who will be my community members and housemates over the next two years, moved to the oldest diocese in the United States, St. Augustine, to work in various churches around Jacksonville, Florida.
Since then, much has occurred. I’ve weathered a hurricane, experienced Florida drivers first-hand, learned how quickly a household of theology students can go through bunches of bananas, and moved into an office at a parish named after St. Catherine of Siena that is locally known for its church because of a modern style and green roof.
I’ve started meeting members of the parish, assisting at weekly RCIA meetings, preparing to teach Confirmation courses to the next generation of Catholics, and am learning how a parish office functions…and dysfunctions. Soon, I’ll be helping form adults and children in their faith by teaching theological concepts and encouraging authentic relationships with Christ.
Out of all these ministries, I believe the most unique one I’m involved in is a Gospel-spreading method known as Kerygma. St. Catherine has fashioned this method into an increasingly popular retreat that brings back the wisdom of the early Church by making sure that the gospel is consistently proclaimed and lived with a vibrant, charismatic joy centered on Christ.
After seeing the joy of the parish preparing for Kerygma, the love of Truth within RCIA candidates, and the sincere faith of those that worship together each Sunday I’m beginning to learn what being an Echo apprentice is really about.
You get to personally witness the growth of a community’s faith while simultaneously allowing your own to be inspired and flourish. There is nothing that could be more satisfying, so I’ll be looking forward to the experiences that the next two years will hold.