By Elizabeth Griffith, M.S. | May 29, 2019
Every Tuesday and Thursday during the school year, from 12:30-3:20 p.m., graduate students in the inaugural class of Marian University’s pastoral ministry program meet in room 107 of Clare Hall. This close-knit cohort of students has maximized their classroom time together by developing strong friendships and becoming unified in their faith as they continue their journey to becoming well-equipped pastoral ministers.
Elizabeth (Beth) Dieckmann, a cohort member, remarked during a recent interview, “My first year has been an awesome experience. I have grown so much as a youth minister and as a person. I have learned a great amount about my faith and have developed a deeper relationship with God.”
From an early age, Beth recognized her desire to work with and care for children. In 2014, she earned a bachelor’s degree in applied educational studies with a minor in pastoral leadership and a concentration in Catholic studies from Marian University, Indianapolis. Her plan was to pursue a career in management within the daycare industry.
She began her career as a full-time preschool provider then advanced to associate assistant, working directly with teachers while managing administrative responsibilities.
A few months after her promotion, Beth received a call from her parish priest requesting a meeting. His request would help her cast her eyes towards her true passion, drastically altering her career trajectory. Soon thereafter, she took on the role of youth minister, serving the parish in a professional capacity.
Growing up, Beth had always been involved with the parish youth group and helped out around the church. When she attended Marian University as an undergraduate, she was also a San Damiano Scholar who purposefully surrounded herself with other people of faith, building a supportive community. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to her when she found her heart and head being pulled more and more towards serving the Church. Her calling was loud and clear: Beth began her search for a classroom-based master’s program in pastoral ministry around Indianapolis that would allow her the flexibility to continue working while earning her degree, and found Marian’s graduate degree in theology.
The Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry (MAPM) is a terminal degree that develops lay pastoral ministers to serve the Church. The program, developed by Marian’s theology faculty, is directed by Margaret Schreiber, OP, associate professor. It is a blended format of both classroom-based and online courses designed for students just like Beth who already work in or volunteer for the Church and would benefit from a professional-pastoral degree.
In a 2017 proposal for the MAPM program, Sr. Schreiber writes, “The overarching goal of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry degree is to prepare students intellectually, spiritually, pastorally, professionally, and personally to serve the Church as pastoral ministers. The degree will foster the vision of Marian University in forming professional transformative leaders and promote the Franciscan values: dignity of the individual, peace and justice, reconciliation, and responsible stewardship. These values provide a strong foundation in supporting the Church’s mission of realizing the reign of God. Together, the vision and Franciscan values influence every aspect of Marian University and are necessary in forming professional transformative leaders to serve the Catholic Church.”
The need for pastoral ministers has been on the rise for decades, filling many important roles in the Church: parish life coordinators, pastoral associates, directors of faith formation, youth ministers, liturgical ministers, chaplains (with CPE), etc. Credentialed lay ministers are also found serving in hospitals, prisons, college campuses, and in other for- and non-profit organizations. MAPM students are encouraged to explore and focus on the specific areas of pastoral ministry they’re most interested in.
As Beth prepares for her future, she reflected on one particular paradigm-shifting class from her first year when students formed foundational understandings of moral theology by learning to debate and explain the Church’s teachings on social justice and ecological issues. She stated, “It helped me realize why I’m supposed to live my Catholic faith outside of the Catholic Church.”
Next year, as part of the curriculum of the MAPM program, the students will complete a supervised on-site ministry experience to further develop their pastoral and professional skills. They will benefit from the university’s long-standing relationships with parishes and pastoral ministry sites, where years of Marian’s undergraduate students have served.
As Beth continues working on her degree, she manages two part-time jobs at both the daycare center and at her parish. The friendships and support of her classmates and her positive work with the youth ministry group continually provide Beth with inspiration and motivation to keep up the hard work. “I love being able to spend my time with them each week and I come out of class or youth group more energized than when I walked in,” she explained. The cohort has become a source of encouragement and support for its members as they strive to balance the sometimes competing demands of life and work with the pursuit of education.
After graduation in 2020, Beth plans to remain in Indianapolis and seek a position within a large parish, either as a youth minister or a director of religious education.