Developing leaders: Catholic Charities certifies 10 in parish social ministry, a first for the diocese

When Toni Hudock moved to Albany from West Virginia with her family seven years ago, she became involved with the Central Minnesota Catholic Worker in St. Joseph, a ministry committed to the work begun in the 1930s by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin focusing on hospitality, shared prayer and clarification of thought.

The experience fueled her fire for social ministry. Later, when she was hired as the faith formation director at Seven Dolors Church in Albany, she had the opportunity to be part of an educational cohort called the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative. The initiative is an arm of Catholic Charities’ social concerns department.

“It wasn’t hard to say yes, because I wanted to be part of it,” Hudock said. “There are needs in our parish, there are needs in our community. And to be able to find people who are interested in helping as much as I was, I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be able to be the voice for people who didn’t have a voice.”

Bishop Donald Kettler (far right) stands with those newly certified in parish social ministry: (from left), Barb Ryan, JoAnn Braegelman, Mary Brinkman, Toni Hudock, Rhonda Dingmann, Renee Thelen, Bob Leukam and Kevin Brink. (Kristi Anderson / The Visitor)

Catholic Charities has had four training cohorts since the program began, and Hudock was one of 10 people who continued their formation and training to receive certification in parish social ministry — a first for the Diocese of St. Cloud. Bishop Donald Kettler presented the 10 with certificates during a ceremony June 5 at St. Boniface Church in Cold Spring.

“The Christian faith, the Catholic faith, teaches us that we’re supposed to be paying attention to the people around us more than ourselves,” Bishop Kettler said in his address. “And not just the people closest to us. We’re supposed to care for our family and our parish community, but we’re reminded, like Pope Francis and others have said, that we’re supposed to reach out a little bit further, out to the peripheries.

“That’s what social ministry is all about — reaching out to others,” he added. “Social concerns committees are important because if you’re not in a parish reminding people of these things, sometimes we just get into our own maintenance mode, of taking care of ourselves and our needs, even just taking care of our parish needs. So, we have to have a voice. We’ve got to do more for others.”

Those certified include:

  • Hudock, Seven Dolors in Albany;
  • Sherry Braegelmann, St. Boniface in Cold Spring;
  • Marilyn Rhode, Holy Cross in Onamia;
  • Bob Leukam, St. Mary in Melrose;
  • Mary Brinkman, St. Martin in St. Martin;
  • Rhonda Dingmann, Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond;
  • Renee Thelen, St. Martin in St. Martin;
  • Kevin Brink, Immaculate Conception in Rockville.
  • Also certified were JoAnn Braegelman, rural life coordinator for the western region of the diocese, and Barb Ryan, rural life coordinator for the eastern region.

Kateri Mancini, Catholic Charities’ director of social concerns, said the program for certification includes meeting with Catholic Charities staff and fellow cohort members numerous times to learn about Catholic social teaching and the four pillars of parish social ministry — direct service, community organizing, legislative advocacy and global solidarity. Participants also learn important skills such as discernment and how to hold meetings.

Following the training, the leaders are expected to help grow a parish social ministry team. The are also asked to assist in hosting a Community Input Session at which members of the parish and other partners and stakeholders — ranging from law enforcement, health care and school faculty members to bus drivers, the poor and other faith leaders — come together to express concerns or needs they see in the community, Mancini said.

Catholic Charities then helps them take the feedback from that session and develop a strategic plan for how they can best develop initiatives and serve the needs of the community.

“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us that the presence and quality of social justice ministry in our parishes is an essential sign of the Gospel at work in our world,” said Mancini.

“And Bishop Kettler has similarly expressed his desire that every parish in the diocese have a parish social ministry team,” she said. “And while many do, there are still those that don’t — this process can help with that. But even within those parishes or clusters where a team does currently exist, it is important for people to be formed and have the resources they need to do this important but, at times, tough work of the church.

“It is Catholic Charities’ goal to help identify leaders and empower them for this work,” she added. “Offering certification not only recognizes the importance of parish social ministry and them as individual leaders for their great work in this area, but it also provides a process to help equip and allow for continued growth as leaders — in the area of parish social ministry and the call to be disciples in general. I think it will make our parishes and our diocese — and the church as a whole — better because we are recognizing these important leaders.”

As part of the application process, those preparing for certification identified goals, some short-term and some long-term.

Hudock said one of her next steps is to become more familiar with the legislative process.

“It is an area where I’m not strong and would like to be stronger,” she said. “I am also excited to find out what the people in our community feel our needs are and then dig deeper into that and help wherever we can.”

For more information about parish social ministry certification, contact Kateri Mancini at Kateri Mancini at 320-229-6020 or

Bishop Donald Kettler (far right) stands with those newly certified in parish social ministry: (from left), Barb Ryan, JoAnn Braegelman, Mary Brinkman, Toni Hudock, Rhonda Dingmann, Renee Thelen, Bob Leukam and Kevin Brink.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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