Emmaus Institute for Ministry Formation will strengthen faith leaders

The newly created Emmaus Institute for Ministry Formation is an educational program designed to form faith leaders. This initiative, available in both English and Spanish, is a collaborative effort between the Diocese of St. Cloud and St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville. 

Courses for lay ministers will begin this fall and take place at Emmaus Hall on the campus of St. John’s University. It is a four-year program in which students meet one weekend a month for nine months per year. 

“What we are really looking to do is to advance the theological, spiritual, human and pastoral competence of lay leaders,” said Kristi Bivens, associate director of lay leadership formation for the diocese. “The purpose is to create well-formed ministers who will serve the mission of the Gospel in the communities throughout the diocese, their families, parishes and wider communities.” 

The Emmaus Institute is primarily designed for those who are currently ministering, or are interested in ministering, in parishes, schools and religious organizations such as coordinators of faith formation RCIA, social ministry, music ministry, business administrators and Catholic school principals. 

Courses include Catholic theology, Old and New Testament studies, moral formation, Christology and ecclesiology, liturgy, family ministries, catechesis and evangelization. 

Bishop Donald Kettler said there is a great need for well-formed laity. 

“Since attending the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando in 2017 with delegates from our diocese, the topic that surfaced the most was the fact that we need to be doing a better job of forming lay leaders in our diocese. It’s a priority for almost everybody,” Bishop Kettler said. 

As Area Catholic Communities form, he believes lay leaders will naturally emerge. 

“For those people, we can’t just put them in place and say go to it, we have to offer them adequate formation and education. I think this institute gives us an opportunity to grow our people who are working and/or volunteering in critical roles in our parishes,” he said. 

Bivens said her greatest hope is that the program will lead the Church of the Diocese of St. Cloud to a culture of ongoing faith formation, “that every baptized person will recognize their gifts and use them to make present the Body of Christ in their communities.” 

“It is my dream that every Area Catholic Community will send at least one person to the Emmaus Institute each year,” she said. 

Bivens is requesting the public’s help in calling forth potential leaders and hopes that people around the diocese will identify those in their midst who might benefit from further formation through the institute. 

Jennifer Wolbeck is excited to continue her education at the Emmaus Institute this fall. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Jennifer Wolbeck currently works as the elementary director of religious education and youth minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Osakis. 

“I have been in my roles in the parish for over 10 years and know my job well; however, I always knew that I was missing the education piece that a lot of my fellow lay ministers have, and I wanted to have that as well,” Wolbeck said. 

“Going back to school after being out for 20 years is a bit scary — where do I begin, what options are out there for me, etc. — so when I was presented with this opportunity from Kristi Bivens … I knew in my heart that this was an answer to my prayers. Each year, Father Dave [Petron] and I would talk about me going back to school and it was always ‘next year.’ Finally, that next year has come and I will be starting in the fall.” 

Father Petron said it is always beneficial for any parish to have well-trained staff. 

“Jennifer will be able to make better recommendations and decisions that affect her daily activities, and provide answers to the questions she encounters that are theologically sound with this additional training,” Father Petron said. “That not only benefits the pastor, but all those who Jennifer teaches and interacts with at the student level as well as adult level. I also anticipate this will help Jennifer recognize opportunities with other parishes and even within the community that might be missed without this training.” 


The new institute also will offer the complete four-year program in Spanish. This is a continuation of the Hispanic ministry formation program begun in the diocese in 2017. Fifty-six students participated in a two-year program through the Pastoral Leadership Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake University (Mundelein Seminary) in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Members of that cohort are invited to continue on through the new institute, for a total of four years of formation. A new cohort is also beginning in Spanish this fall. 

Additionally, the institute will be working with the diocesan diaconate program to launch the first Hispanic diaconate program in the diocese. Spanish-speaking men interested in pursuing diaconate ordination will attend the four-year formation institute, with an additional year of training focused on intellectual and ministerial formation and an emphasis on preaching and theological reflection. 

“This program is guided by the four dimensions of development: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral set by the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the U.S.,” said Deacon Ernie Kociemba, diocesan director of the diaconate. “It also takes into account an important cultural community-building aspect. 

“The landscape of our diocese is changing and the overall Catholic population is shifting,” Deacon Kociemba continued. “We have a growing number of Hispanic/Latino Catholics, many of whom need spiritual and pastoral care in both Spanish and English. We have fewer priests than we once did, and I find this formation to be a fertile ground in which to foster new catechists and recruit potential vocations to the priesthood and diaconate. We need to rethink how we can be more effective in forming and sustaining our new neighbors to become disciples of the Good News and to be ‘Church’ in a new way.” 

WANT TO LEARN MORE? For more information or to register for the Emmaus Institute, contact Kristi Bivens at 320-251-0111 or visit stcdio.org/emmaus-institute. To speak to someone in Spanish about the institute, contact Mayuli Bales at 320-529-4614. 


Author: Kristi Anderson

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

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