Preparing Leaders for the Church: Founding the Missionary Disciples Institute

by Adam Setmeyer | May 12, 2016

Missionary Disciples InstituteIn his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (EG), Pope Francis states, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries,” but rather that we are always “missionary disciples.” (EG, 120) In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis is building upon the missionary tradition of the Church, which was renewed at the Second Vatican Council in the promulgation of Ad Gentes, reaffirmed by both Pope Paul VI and Saint Pope John Paul II. This call comes from the very heart of the gospel, and “Universities are outstanding environments for articulating and developing this evangelizing commitment in an interdisciplinary and integrated way.” (EG, 134) Marian University has responded, once again, to this call by creating the Missionary Disciples Institute (MDI), funded by a generous grant through Lilly Endowment’s Youth Theology Institute initiative ($600,000 over the course of four years).

The MDI is designed to prepare 50 high school students each summer to assume leadership roles as young missionaries in service to their communities and the world through their local churches. The purpose of the MDI alignswith Marian University’s mission to be a great Catholic university dedicated to providing students with excellent teaching and learning in the Franciscan and liberal arts tradition.

Today, Marian University is uniquely situated to form transformative young pastoral leaders for service to the world in light of the Rebuild My Church initiative, the San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership, an excellent Department of Theology and Philosophy, and vibrant campus ministry. By using The Joy of the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and the writings of Ss. Francis and Clare as core resources during the MDI, students will be prepared to be missionaries now while also considering a lifelong call to ministry. Through theological education, spiritual formation,pastoral preparation, community development, and vocational discernment, students will explore pastoral ministry in a missionary key; discover the ongoing impact of the Franciscan charism; and develop a mission plan to be implemented upon return to their parish or congregation.

The MDI will take place annually for one week each summer beginning July 11-16, 2016. The primary content of the institute will be a theological understanding of mission that is experienced through prayer, reflection, and service. To make this content manageable and approachable, it will then be diffused through a five-fold understanding of ministry:

  • Kerygma (the ministry of proclaiming)
  • Diakonia (the ministry of service)
  • Koinonia (the ministry of partnership)
  • Leitourgia (the ministry of prayer)
  • Didache (the ministry of teaching)

By calling attention to these five traditional dimensions of the Church’s ministry, we will present to the students all aspects of ministry understood as essential functions of missionary discipleship. Guest presenters will deliver a keynote each day on one of these five dimensions with group tracks following. The tracks will be collaboratively instructed by a Marian University theology faculty with academic expertise in the topic and a Marian University staff alumnus/a with practical ministry expertise in the track. Additionally and importantly, undergraduate students, such as our San Damiano Scholars, will serve as mentors throughout the entire week.

The development of the Franciscan charism and practical mission skills will be defining characteristics of the MDI. The high school students will take a pilgrimage to the Motherhouse in Oldenburg, Indiana, and then apply the developed practical skills through an immersion experience. Finally, each student will develop a “missionary plan” in the form of a project to carry out at their home school or parish.

Obviously this is a huge undertaking, but one to which Marian University is committed. As a university, we continue to embrace our role in serving the Church of central and southern Indiana, however we cannot do this alone. First of all, we rely on prayer, knowing that our loving God is never outdone in generosity. Secondly, throughout the creation of the MDI, we have been working closely with the staff of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Finally, we have also received the support of national organizations like the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and have received sponsorship support from both World Library Publications and St. Mary’s Press.

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