Laypeople who are called to lay ecclesial ministry have a new option to prepare for their vocations: a graduate degree program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. The Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies program will meet the Archdiocese of Chicago’s requirements for certification as a lay ecclesial minister, and it includes the required formation program as well as the academics, said Linda Couri, director of the university’s Institute for Lay Formation. It will become one of four university programs that offer the education and formation necessary for certification as a lay ecclesial minister in the archdiocese, Couri said, and its students will benefit from the same lay ecclesial ministry scholarship program as students at Catholic Theological Union, Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies and St. Xavier University. Under the scholarship program, costs are roughly split three ways, with a third paid for by the archdiocese, a third paid for by the student and a third absorbed by the university. It’s only fair for the church to bear some of the cost because these are people who have a vocation to working within the church, said Father Thomas Baima, University of St. Mary of the Lake’s vice-rector for academic affairs and dean of the seminary and graduate school. “They discern a call from God to making their permanent life’s work serving in the church,” Baima said. “This call is affirmed by a call from the bishop and commissioning for special roles within the diocese. Just as we prepare men to be priests and men to be deacons, we need to assist in preparing people for lay ecclesial ministry.” Certified lay ministers serve in archdiocesan parishes as pastoral associates and directors of religious education. While the courses of study for lay ecclesial ministry include the same material at each university, each program is unique, Baima said. Students in the master’s program at USML, for example, are expected to move through the program on a part-time basis in four years, taking two classes each semester and travelling in a cohort with their classmates, meaning the same core group of students will share formation and classes all the way through the program. There will be other people involved: the classes are open to other students, and there are people who might have done most of their academic work elsewhere and are filling in academic or formational gaps to qualify for certification as a lay ecclesial minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The program also is open to deacons who wish to continue their theological education. The main reason USML is starting the program is to offer an option for people who feel called to lay ecclesial ministry but live in the northern part of the archdiocese, Couri and Baima said. It also helps expose more people to the campus and resources at USML, Couri said, citing both the beauty of the surroundings and the depth of wisdom in the faculty and other academic resources. “The transmission of wisdom gets to be shared even further among the people of God,” she said. This year’s lay ecclesial ministry formation program is expected to start with 12 new students, five of whom will be studying at USML, in addition to those who are completing requirements after studying elsewhere or those who are taking the same classes, but for another program, Couri said. Overall, there are about 45 students participating in the lay ecclesial ministry formation program. For more information, visit www.usml.edu.