By Karen Meeks     4/18/2016

Up until two years ago, Paul Gerrard had been reading lots of Catholic books to augment his spirituality. Then he learned about the Institute of Pastoral Ministry from a fellow parishioner at St. Nicholas Parish in Laguna Woods.

Since then Gerrard has taken at least one class every session and just completed his final classes for the Master Catechist certificate. He delved into encyclicals from Popes Leo XIII, John XXIII and John Paul II. The texts present the Catholic understanding of the dignity of mankind, which is the basis for church positions on social justice. In his spiritual formation courses, Gerrard studied the four Gospels, as well as Avery Dulles’ models of the Church and catechesis. 


“The broad range of classes I have taken has exposed me to many parts of Catholic thought with which I was not familiar,” he says. “It has opened my eyes to both the oneness and universality of the Church.”

For nearly 40 years, the Diocese of Orange’s Institute for Pastoral Ministry has enhanced the teachings of local catechists, Catholic school educators, youth ministers, deacons and anyone who wants to learn more about the Catholic faith.

During any given month, about 1,000 people ranging from college students to retirees are taking classes at the Pastoral Center and parishes throughout the Diocese of Orange, says Olivia Cornejo, the institute’s director.

The institute offers various programs, certifications and re-certifications, ranging from basic certification for those who want to communicate the basic Christian message to advanced master catechist certification. Classes are offered in English and Spanish, including Biblical study to give students a basic understanding of Scripture and Christian spirituality, which offers a deeper look at “the dynamics of the spiritual life, including prayer and mysticism,” according to the IPM website.

Other classes include Introduction to Moral Theology, a discussion of the church’s stance on contemporary moral issues; Sacrament of Christian Initiation, which looks at the early Christian history and rites of initiation; Liturgy and Sacraments, which delves into liturgical and sacramental basics after Vatican II; and Psalms, which explores literary genres and history of the book of Psalms.

The institute partners with other institutions, including Loyola Marymount University, the University of Dayton, LMU Extension and the Loyola Institute for Spirituality. It recently started offering a new certificate in parish business administration in partnership with LMU Extension.

“The purpose of the institute is to provide church formation in the ministry to our leaders so they can go and teach it to their communities,” says Cornejo, who studied at the institute to become a catechist. “It provides parishioners with the theological knowledge and the skills necessary for ministry.”

Deborah Kurilchyk says she was motivated by her love of the Lord, the Catholic Church and learning to take courses at the institute. Having earned her basic catechist certificate, she teaches confirmation at her parish.

“As a Catholic convert early in life, I have always been inspired by the faith and its beauty,” she says. “Since retiring a couple of years ago, I wanted to know more.”

She studied the Old and New Testaments, spiritual life, ecclesiology (the Church), Vatican II documents, foundational theology, moral theology, faith development, leadership in parish ministry and Catholic social justice. She also took an elective on ecumenism. It took two-and-a-half years before she graduated from the Master Catechist program’s first level in October 2015.

“It was every bit as academic as my previous secular degrees,” Kurilchyk says. “And really when you think about it, the Catholic Church founded higher education, so who better to learn the faith from? I am so glad I made this decision. … It was so interesting, enjoyable, informative and worth it. We are all called to evangelize. The IPM Master Catechist program prepares us to do just that.”

Kurilchyk says the Master Catechist program was a humbling experience. “It makes one know how much there is to know about the faith,” she says. “It is a lifelong journey. The program opens us up to new dimensions of our faith and the Catholic Church, so we can continue to explore, learn, and grow. That, to me, was the true value of the program.”

For more information, visit rcbo.org/student_ipm/ or call (714) 282-3078.