Shirley Scapanski owns and operates a dairy farm near Mayhew Lake with her husband, Gary. The couple has been married 34 years and has four children, four grandchildren and one grandchild on the way.
For the last 16 years, Shirley Scapanski has also worked part-time as the director of faith formation for Annunciation Parish in Mayhew Lake, which is twinned with Immaculate Conception Parish in Rice.
“Almost every morning, I have the opportunity to watch the sun come up,” Scapanski said. “When I look at the colors in the sky, I think that the greatest artists we have cannot make those colors. One thing I am really realizing is that God is always creating. He created us, but then inside of us the creating continues. The mystery of God is like watching the sun come up in the morning.”
She says the awe of the sunrise is similar to the sense of wonder she experiences in the students, parents and catechists she works with every day. And that is one of the reasons she pursued certification as a lay ecclesial minister, serving as a parish catechetical leader and youth ministry leader, through the Diocese of St. Cloud.
On Sept. 25, Scapanski will be presented with her official certification by Bishop Donald Kettler at the Jubilee of Catechists.
Becoming certified is a professional acknowledgment that one has met nationally recognized standards for competence, is able to demonstrate competency in ministry, and is recognized by the local church as being a competent, qualified minister.
The process, which has recently undergone transition from a statewide process to a diocesan process, includes the creation of an extensive portfolio, describing an individual’s formation.
“The process gives leaders the ability to reflect on their ministry and to broaden it,” said Brenda Kresky, diocesan consultant for faith formation. “It gives them a holistic perspective of their ministry, to see that it’s not just about education. It also includes personal skills, practical skills, leadership skills, spiritual skills. All of those pieces help make a holistic minister.”
Kresky said the process looks at a person’s strengths and also shows where there might be gaps or areas that need more work. Since the certification lasts five years, it also helps a minister to set goals for themselves over time.
“You are never done learning, never done growing,” Kresky said. “When you go to conferences or workshops, you sometimes tend to gravitate toward things you like, not necessarily things that will broaden your perspective. It’s really about how we can do ministry better, and everybody deserves that.”
For Scapanski, goal-setting means incorporating more art into the program, learning more about global brothers and sisters, and encouraging parents to become more involved and welcomed in the parish.
Last year, Scapanski said there was 169 years of experience among the volunteer catechists in their faith formation program.
“I don’t do this on my own. I have many people to help me. We have been very, very blessed in this parish to have volunteers come forward to teach and who stay and teach even after their own kids have gone,” she said. “I think when you have people who are all trying to do the same thing, there is great energy and great thought, and great ideas come out of it. It is a vocation, because it’s a calling to teach our young people.”
Scapanski said that becoming certified gave her the opportunity to examine her own faith journey — where it started, which she said began with her parents teaching her the faith, and how it changed over time.
“The process was really about stretching yourself. It made me stop and think: what do I really know and what do I need to read up on?” she said. “It also was a chance to go back and look at the things I’ve done.”
Some of her most memorable teaching moments include the time her students used flashlights taped under the pews to talk about walking in the light of Christ, encouraging students to pray for one another by giving each other St. Patrick’s Day blessings and an outdoor prayer that included blessings from the north, west, east and south.
One of her greatest rewards has been to have one of her former students, who now works at St. Paul’s Outreach — a national Catholic campus ministry outreach — come back to visit her.
“She said to me — and I carry her words with me — ‘You know, Shirley, you just plant the seed. You plant the seed and that’s what you are called to do.’ The teachers and I are just planting the seed, helping the growth of the students and trying to help the parents along as we help the students along. We are planting the seeds of faith.”
Not everything has always been easy, Scapanski said, which is why it took her nearly eight years to complete the process.
“One thing I always keep before me is something that my dad used to say, ‘Just take it one day at a time,’” she said. “I need to remember that challenges are the ebb and flow of life. I need to learn not to judge. There are things you can’t fix, things you can’t change. You learn to do your best, to try and instill everything we can here and then let it go.”
She said that sometimes when kids leave the program, she wonders if they are ever going to see the inside of a church again.
“That thought and the kids inspire you to keep going, to keep trying new things,” she said. “One thing that gives me hope is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus pulled people by the ears to come follow him. He called them, he invited them, he welcomed them. And that’s what I believe we need to do — to be a welcoming presence to all people, to grow in faith, to grow in knowledge and to help others to do the same.”
For more information on the certification process, contact Kresky at 320-251-0111 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.