Archdiocese ‘calls’ 23 laypeople into ministry

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Laypeople called to ministry

Lay ecclesial ministers have qualifying master’s degrees and have participated in a three-year program through the Institute of Lay Formation at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.
Jeannie Brunk, director of religious education at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest, meets with a family that home-schools their son on Nov. 19. Brunk is one of 23 lay ecclesial ministers who were recognized in a Nov. 5 calling rite with Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin Chears, right, pastoral associate at St. Gertrude Parish, greets Rita Simo while making rounds checking that everything is running smoothly and people are taken care of at the parish’s annual Christmas bazaar on Dec. 3. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Kevin Chears spends much of her time doing the things that need to be done at St. Gertrude Parish, 1420 W. Granville Ave. She schedules lectors, extraordinary ministers of Communion and greeters, she attends parish committee meetings and stands in the back of the church to help parishioners with anything that comes up.

“I’m the one they come and tell if the toilet paper is out in the bathroom,” said Chears, who has been the pastoral associate at St. Gertrude since 2014.
But, Chears said, there is a lot of ministry that’s part of the administration.

“You have to minister to the ministers,” she said. “You’re scheduling ministers, but you have be attentive to them too.”

There’s also planning liturgies, leading a faith-sharing group and meeting with people individually who need pastoral counseling. And, of course, running the Christmas bazaar.

“I do a little bit of everything,” she said.

Chears is one of 23 lay ecclesial ministers who were recognized in a Nov. 5 calling rite with Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge. All who were called are lay leaders in ministry, have qualifying master’s degrees and have participated in a three-year program through the Institute of Lay Formation at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

Chears had been a vice president at J.P. Morgan, in charge of making sure required reports were filed with state, national and international banking authorities, but felt that God was calling her to more active participation in the church.

“The whole way, it was God leading me, pushing and prodding as God will do,” she said. “I felt called to be of service.”

Chears said she decided to pursue her master’s degree in pastoral studies after finishing another academic program because, she said, her family was accustomed to her being in school and working. She is married with five adult children and three grandchildren.

While she was already certified as a lay ecclesial minister, she said the public calling rite is important.

“It’s a sign to laity that this calling exists, especially for a laywoman,” she said. “It’s a recognition that it takes multiple people in multiple roles to do the work of the church. It doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the pastors. They have so much to do, and they can’t do it all.” 

Kimberly Lymore has been pastoral associate at St. Sabina Parish, 1210 W. 78th Place, since 2000.

Lymore had been working as a systems analyst, but was looking for her “next life,” she said, when she started taking classes at Catholic Theological Union in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. She joined the Tolton Scholars Program there and was about halfway through when the previous pastoral associate at St. Sabina left and the pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, asked her to consider the job.

She was a little hesitant — “I had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle,” she said — but took the job and hasn’t regretted it.

“This is where the hands-on, boots-on-the-ground work takes place,” Lymore said. “Every day we have people walking through the door needing prayer, needing help, needing food or financial assistance or employment help.”

Like most parishes, St. Sabina takes advantage of the skills Lymore brought with her from her previous experience.

“I do use my IT skills here,” she said. She also puts the bulletin together, leads a weekly Bible study, delivers reflections at Mass and plans and coordinates many of St. Sabina’s extensive outreach efforts.

“Father Pfleger has been very open in allowing us to use our talents and gifts,” she said.

Lymore has earned both a master’s and doctorate in divinity. To nurture her own spiritual life, she connects with other women in ministry, and she belongs to the national Black Catholic Theology Symposium.

While she has been working as a pastoral associate for the better part of two decades, she said she did not seek archdiocesan certification until recently because of changes in the lay ecclesial ministry formation program. 

Earlier, she said, she missed a period that would have allowed her work at CTU to be “grandfathered in” and she would have had to repeat much of her academic work. Under the new system, her degrees were accepted and she completed formation at the Institute of Lay Formation to receive archdiocesan certification.
Arthur Blumberg is one of the few lay ecclesial ministers recently called who isn’t directly serving as a pastoral associate or director of religious education. He is business manager at St. Gertrude and participates in ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish, 2324 W. Chase Ave.

His journey to ministry in the church started with becoming a Catholic in 2002. He was raised without much participation in any faith, he said, and when he married a Catholic woman, he agreed to raise any children in the church. After accompanying his wife, and later his son, to Mass and other church events, he realized he was called to become Catholic as well.

It wasn’t long, he said, before “I realized I was receiving so much from the church and I had to give something back.”

He started volunteering as a catechist, then with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and as an extraordinary minister of Communion and on the liturgical board at his parish. Around the same time, he left the business world and started working in non-profit administration. Then he decided he should put those skills to work for the church.

“I realized I’d picked up a lot of knowledge about the church and about God, but I’d never systematized it,” Blumberg said. 

He earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University’s Institute for Pastoral Studies, and was on track to become a pastoral associate when the position of business manager at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Northfield opened up. It was a good fit for his business skills. Now at St. Gertrude, he is pursuing a master’s of divinity degree on a part-time basis.

His position still has an element of pastoral work, he said.

“When you work as a business manager in a church, you are fulfilling a pastoral role,” he said. “It’s all about stewardship. The dollars and cents are impacting people in a real way.”

Jeannie Brunk, director of religious education at St. Mary Parish in Lake Forest, has been involved in catechesis in one way or another since she was a 20-year-old college student in Texas, either as a volunteer catechist or Catholic school teacher. When she heard her own parish DRE was leaving, she asked if she could apply for the job. 

She was told she could or she could start formation as a lay ecclesial minister and get her master’s degree. She chose the latter, making the decision to attend CTU.

“It’s a long process, and it’s challenging, as it should be,” she said. “I feel like I have an authentic call.”

She is in her second year as DRE at St. Mary, after working in the same position at St. Patrick Parish in Wadsworth. The religious education program at St. Mary has about 350 students this year.

“My understanding is that I am here to help families form their children,” she said. “I can help them in whatever way they need.”

That includes knowing who to go to in situations where there is, say, a child who was baptized Orthodox who now is becoming Catholic, or a family who wants to homeschool for religious education, or children who are out of sync with their sacraments.

“I can do this, and they thank me, and I feel like they shouldn’t be thanking me because it’s my job,” Brunk said. “They’re not outsourcing the religious education of their children to me, but I can help keep them in the game.” 

The calling rite for lay ecclesial ministers, she said, is a highlight of her life in ministry.

“The calling is from God, and that’s being recognized by the church,” she said.

She works at St. Mary with Lore Nugent, a pastoral associate who also participated in the calling rite. Before becoming a pastoral associate, Nugent spent many years as a director of religious education.

“As much as we think we know where we are headed, sometimes God has other plans,” Nugent said. After serving for years as a DRE, “the path started opening up to develop myself.”

The idea of going into pastoral ministry “really kept tugging at me,” Nugent said. When the opportunity opened up to become a pastoral associate, she took it.
“I feel like this is a gift,” said Nugent, who, among other things, coordinates bereavement ministry at the parish. “At one moment, you have the intimate experience of being with a family whose loved one has passed away.”

Other moments are more mundane, but the work is still necessary.

“It’s constantly changing,” Nugent said.

For more information about lay ecclesial ministry, visit the Lay Ecclesial Ministry website. for more on lay ecclesial ministry formation, visit


  • laypeople
  • lay ecclesial ministry

Related Articles