By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
The Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension, known as LIMEX, is enrolling a new class that will begin meeting this fall in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The program offers two graduate degrees through Loyola University in New Orleans — a master’s in pastoral studies (MPS) or a master’s in religious education (MRE). For a lower tuition fee, students can earn a certificate of continuing education in each of those subjects.
It’s designed for “people who have careers or are seriously thinking about careers in church-related ministry,” said Butch Ekstrom, who serves as the archdiocese’s liaison with the institute. It’s a good fit for “someone who wants to teach religion or do campus ministry in a high school, a parish catechetical leader, youth minister, social ministry coordinator, pastoral associate, permanent deacon, liturgist or musician.
“About 20 to 30 percent of LIMEX groups are made of adults who are thinking about changing careers,” he said.
“We get a lot of ‘recovering lawyers’ or people from the medical field. There’s usually some significant change in their lives that prompts a spiritual awakening. Very frequently it’s people who are looking for a deep level of learning both theologically and spiritually to help them understand the change that’s happening in their lives.”
The LIMEX program has been offered in the archdiocese for about a decade now. There are currently two cohorts — groups of students — studying for graduate degrees. In recent interviews, several students praised the program’s unique design and low tuition rates.
Rather than offering online courses like some other distance-learning programs, LIMEX convenes a group of students who work alongside one another throughout the degree program. They are expected to complete reading assignments at home, then meet weekly to discuss the assignments. At the end of a course, they’re expected to write papers on the coursework.
When a new group enters the program, they decide how quickly or slowly they want to proceed, so the degree can take from three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years to complete,
said Ekstrom. Each course lasts from 10 to 15 weeks, depending on how often a group meets.
“There are papers and projects to produce and fundamentally it has about 120 class sessions spread over the years,” he said. “When a person is done they can say with great satisfaction they have completed a rigorous graduate program.”
Alice Bridges, who works for KentuckyOne Health as vice president of healthy communities, entered the LIMEX program a little more than a year ago. She said during an interview, “I just love this program.”
Bridges enrolled in LIMEX after her youngest child left for college.
“I was kind of looking for a way to advance my education in the area of health care mission integration,” she said, explaining that it’s her job to help improve the health of the community served by her organization. “I am so glad that I decided to pursue this. It’s been very enriching for me — both professionally and personally.”
She said that the weekly class discussion is “crucial because it deepens the learning. You’re not just coming at it from your own framework.”
In fact, she said, the different perspective that each student brings to the class “has been really rich.”
Eva Gonzalez, a classmate of Bridges, likened the class’ diversity to an octagonal prism.
“I look to each one of us like one of the faces of this beautiful shape, where each one gives their unique perspective to the conversations that take place. All of us in our diversity give life to this beautiful shape.”
Gonzalez is the archdiocese’s director of hispanic ministry in the Office of Multicultural Ministry. She also has two young sons — ages 6 and 12.
While the coursework is challenging, she said, she and her husband make it work.
“When I cook, like making soup and waiting for it to boil, I sit at the table and read. At lunchtime, I’m eating and reading,” she said.
Chris Tolbert, another member of this group, said he started feeling stagnant in his job as the worship director at St. Thomas More Church. His pastor encouraged him to consider a graduate program.
“I considered St. Meinrad (School of Theology), but they’re weekend classes and as a worship director, I couldn’t take off weekends.”
He said he considered online courses, too, but was concerned that his own motivation might flag. Then he discovered LIMEX.
“I think it’s a great program,” he said. “This one fit into my budget well. I have a daughter at Presentation and my whole master’s program is going to be just a little more than one year for her to go to school.
“We’re on our fourth class and as a worship director, the way I look at Scripture now, I think that impacts some of the song choices I make and the way I relate to people here at church, in an underlying way,” he added.
Ekstrom said the program includes 12 classes and each costs $1,005.
“These rates of tuition are steeply discounted by the Jesuit community in the Southern Province,” he said. “People are not going to find a legitimate Jesuit University graduate degree for $12,000. Typically they cost $25,000 to $30,000 or more.”
He also noted that the cost to earn a certificate is $440 per course.
Those already active in ministry can apply for financial aid through the Catholic Education Foundation.
“A number of students are able to reduce their cost through the CEF,” Ekstrom said. “They’re really generous and we’re grateful for that.”
Several information sessions about LIMEX will be offered this month and next from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at various parishes. Sessions will be April 23 at St. Patrick Church, 1000 N. Beckley Station Road; April 24 at St. Bernard Church, 7500 Tangelo Drive; April 26 at the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky.; May 1 at Holy Trinity Church, 501 Cherrywood Road; May 6 at St. Margaret Mary
Church, 7813 Shelbyville Road; and May 8 at Holy Family Church, 3936 Poplar Level Road.
For more information about the program, call Butch Ekstrom at the Flaget Center at 448-8581 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information also can be found on the program’s website, www.lim.loyno.edu/onsite.