Masters Students Make a Difference in the Church of Utah

Friday, October 28, 2022

Photo by Peter Ringenberg/University of Notre Dame

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Three Echo students teach at St. Joseph Schools in Ogden. They are, from left to right, Daniel Perez, Will Kerschen and Grace Huegel.

By Linda Peterson

Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY – In a mission diocese like the Diocese of Salt Lake City, finding people to help in ministry can be a challenge, but help comes from many walks of life. For example, for several years the diocese has benefited from a work-study program from the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame for students preparing for a master’s degree in theology. This year, four students from the institute’s Echo Graduate Service program are working in the diocese as professors of theology. Two others are apprentices in the parishes.

Echo is a two-year service-learning training program that leads to a Master of Arts in Theology. After a summer studying at Notre Dame, program participants serve in one of 16 dioceses in the United States or in a diocese in Meath, Ireland, for two years.

“By the time a student graduates from Echo, they will have completed a master’s degree in the theology department at Notre Dame, in addition to having two years of experience working for the Church,” Geoffrey Burdell said. , associate director of Echo. “It’s a great hybrid program between a service program and a professional program. It allows both to acquire certain professional skills and a master’s degree, but it is also oriented towards service in the Catholic Church.

The mission of the program “is really to train catechetical leaders in the Church,” Burdell said. “The goal is to create real leaders for the church of tomorrow. It’s the best of all worlds in that we try to train truly intentional disciples but also truly intentional witnesses who can be professional leaders in the Church.

This year’s participants in the diocese serve both in the Salt Lake City area and in Ogden. In Salt Lake City, Simon Falk is an apprentice at Madeleine Cathedral, Elise Flick is an apprentice at St. John the Baptist Church, and Teddy Whiteman is a theology teacher at Juan Diego Catholic High School. The three live together in community.

At Magdalen Cathedral, Falk, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, serves as youth minister and young adult coordinator. He helps organize young adult events, gives talks for some of these events and leads the youth group every Sunday with the help of volunteers. He hopes to start a street ministry, feeding homeless people and sharing the gospel message with them. He values ​​the program’s opportunity for higher education as well as the work experience in ministry. Falk said he had been involved with youth groups in the past, but being the leader of a group was difficult at first.

“It’s getting easier now,” he said. Utah is similar to South Carolina in that Catholics are in the minority, he said.

“I hope to motivate young adults to do more and become more involved, and I hope to teach young people what they need to know for Confirmation and First Communion, as well as to engage them as disciples of Jesus. “, he said of his work in the parish.

Falk earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and theology from the Catholic University of America before enrolling in the Echo program.

In Ogden, Grace Huegel is a teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Elementary School, while Will Kerschen and Daniel Perez teach at Saint Joseph’s Catholic High School. They also live in community. Perez, a native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, earned his undergraduate degree in theology at Notre Dame before joining the program.

“It’s a very hands-on experience,” he said of Echo. “On the one hand, the education we receive is nothing short of stellar. Then, when we are sent to our placements during the school year, it is an incredible opportunity to give service and learn to do the job of teaching.

Perez said he felt called to the program to help bring young people back to the Church.

“The Church is suffering a bit, and it’s a global reality,” he said. “I think there is a real need for the kind of hands-on ministry that Echo allows us to do. I am very grateful to be here. We had this opportunity to serve the Church in a way that I could never do on my own.

Kerschen, a native of Wichita, Kansas, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in journalism at the University of Kansas before applying to the Echo program. He also appreciates the service aspect of the program, he said.

“That’s what attracted me: the opportunity to serve, to share the faith with others even as I study, seeking to help shape and grow the whole person through all the pillars of training and not just on the intellectual side,” he said.

His experience to date has been positive, he said.

“Since this is my first time teaching in a formal high school classroom, I’m definitely learning the ins and outs and some of the challenges of being a first-grade teacher, but aside from that, I really enjoyed my fellow professors here and the students and diving into theology with them,” he said.

Although Catholics share many of the same experiences no matter where they live, he observed that in Utah, schools and parishes have to work harder “to keep that faith alive,” he said. he declares. “I’ve seen some ways there’s this extra struggle.”

Having Echo students working at the school has been a positive experience, said SJCHS Principal Clay Jones.

“St. Joseph Catholic High School loves the Echo program,” Jones said. “We have participated in the program for the past nine years and love what it brings to our students and our community. Echo bring a knowledge of our faith from the perspective of young people, which enables our students to understand and understand our Catholic faith that otherwise might be more difficult.Echo students have connected with our students and bring a youthful excitement that meets them where they are in order to light a fire on the Catholic faith.

Burdell recently visited the program’s students in Utah. “The students are doing very well,” he said. “I think it’s great to see all the work they do, and they are certainly used and used in the diocese.”

As a missionary diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake is “a passionate ministry, but it also needs as many hands as possible and capable hands,” he added.

Martha J. Finley