St. Rita parishioners feel ready to lead

Father Michael Tobin spoke during a ceremony for participants in the Renovación program in April. He along with four parishioners earned certificates in the parish renewal program at Marian University. He is pictured with Armando Avalos, one of the program’s participants. (Photo Special to The Record)

St. Rita Church members who earned certificates in the Renovación parish renewal program from Marian University say they now feel prepared to be leaders in their parish.   

Four parishioners, along with their pastor Father Michael Tobin, earned certificates in the spring from the university in Indianapolis.

Renovación, which means renewal in Spanish, is a two-year program aimed at forming missionary disciples among Hispanic and Latino Catholics. 

Through online courses and some in-person work, participants studied Scripture and the Hispanic church in the U.S. They also led spiritual retreats and created small faith communities.

“It helped me to see what the parish needed and how the parish works,” said Cindy Esparza. “I was able to see the need for a Hispanic youth group. That got me very interested. I am now a youth leader.”

Esparza participated with her husband, Armando Avalos. While enrolled in the program, Avalos discerned a vocation to the diaconate, he said. The couple are now in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s diaconate formation program.

Avalos said he wants to reach men “especially about the importance of being involved in the church and Bible groups.”

The couple, who have three children ages 18, 16 and 11, also said their eyes have been opened to the role of young people in the church. 

“I’d heard the youth are our future. I learned our youth are our present. If we don’t do something for them now, we won’t have them in our future,” said Esparza. “I want my children to be involved and not graduate high school and be done with the church.” 

Father Tobin said he’s proud of his parishioners’ willingness to take part in the program, which provided them with some history and context for their ministry.

St. Rita Church parishioners and their pastor were photographed on the campus of Marian University, which awarded them certificates in the Renovación program in April. They are, from left, Gabriela Mondragón, Cindy Esparza, Armando Avalos, Father Michael Tobin and Cesar Gordillo. (Photo Special to The Record)

“I think it comes as a great surprise to learn the history of the American Catholic Church and the history of the presence of Hispanics. It’s something they can be proud of,” he said. “It gives people a sense of pride, rootedness, a desire to join with others who have been building a community. I’m trying to forge community builders. To do that you need to know the community existed before you.”

That knowledge lays a foundation parishioners can stand upon as they provide much-needed leadership, said Father Tobin, who is the Archdiocese of Louisville’s vicar for Hispanic ministry.

“In the Hispanic community, we need to be stewards. We have to be responsible for finances, for piety and reverence of worship. We have to be responsible for evangelization and what it means to be a community builder,” he said. 

Oscar Castellanos, director of the Marian University program, said every parish with Hispanic ministry needs some type of leadership formation program. He believes the “missionary commitment” expected of the participants sets the Renovación program apart and makes it effective. 

“After two years, there’s an invitation to create, develop or enhance a ministry program or idea,” said Castellanos. “St. Rita wanted to work with the youth.” St. Rita has organized a youth group that Esparza leads.

A second cohort from St. Rita and one from St. Edward Church are now enrolled in the Renovación program, Castellanos said.

The program is funded through a grant of almost a million dollars from the Lilly Endowment Inc., a private foundation that awards grants to help enrich the religious lives of Christians in the United States.

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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