Heading to Florida or spending more time on the golf course was not the way John Lee Madden envisioned spending his retirement once he reached age 65 and ended his long, distinguished career as a deputy attorney general and municipal court judge.
But entering the diocesan Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry program and pursuing a master of arts degree in theology at La Salle University, Philadelphia, was.
That’s exactly what Madden did and now three years later, he was among the 15 women and men who were commissioned lay ecclesial ministers for the diocese by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during a Mass celebrated Dec. 12 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
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“I never thought I would be doing this,” Madden said, given his background, which includes a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Joseph College in Indiana, and a juris doctorate from Seton Hall University Law School, South Orange.
“It’s interesting how life unfolds and the changes that can come about in one’s life,” he said, then added that even though he was certain that he did not want to continue “lawyer-ing” after he retired, he wanted to do something “in service (and) in ministry to the Church.”
As Bishop O’Connell presided at his first commissioning since becoming diocesan bishop, he offered his heartfelt congratulations to the ILEM candidates, along with their family members and friends who were gathered, and remarked on how it was a “very important day in the Diocese of Trenton as we commemorate this great event, this great rite of passage of the commissioning of lay ecclesial ministers.”
With the commissioning of the 2010 class, the diocese now has 110 lay ecclesial ministers, all who have completed the demanding requirements of ILEM, the three-year program operated under the auspices of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Parish Development that provides for the educational, spiritual, pastoral and theological formation of its candidates.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell focused on the day’s readings, which were for the Third Sunday of Advent. Most notably, he spoke on the Gospel, which gave an account of St. John the Baptist, who was imprisoned, and how he had sent disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one to come or if they should wait for another.
As John the Baptist is one of the prominent figures of the Advent season, Bishop O’Connell referred to him as the last and greatest of prophets (of the Old Testament) to prepare the coming of the Messiah and the “gateway” between the Old and New Testament.
“John the Baptist is the personal symbol of the season of Advent and this time of waiting, this time of hope and this time of expectation,” said Bishop O’Connell. “John the Baptist announces that the Messiah is not the one who will come again at Christmas, but is the one who will come at the end of time and the one who comes mysteriously into our lives each and every day,” he said.
As it was also “Gaudete Sunday,” which is “Rejoice Sunday,” Bishop O’Connell noted how it was indeed a day to rejoice as the diocese celebrated the commissioning of the 15 new lay ecclesial ministers.
Following the Mass and commissioning ceremony, the new class of lay ecclesial ministers presented Bishop O’Connell with a gift of a $1,000 to be given to Catholic Charities’ Providence House, which assists victims of domestic abuse and their children. The donation was made in the name of both Bishop O’Connell and Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith.
In a written message, the class members stated that they chose Providence House, which is located in Burlington and Ocean Counties, in honor of Bishop O’Connell who has lived his priestly life serving in education and guidance to youth and young adults. They also recognized Bishop O’Connell’s being a Vincentian priest and the “ties of outreach” he has to the poor and underprivileged.
The class also acknowledged Bishop Smith’s many years of service as a member of the board of directors of Catholic Charities and for the ongoing efforts he has made to nurture and strengthen families in the diocese and beyond.
“We feel honored that we celebrate this special occasion of recognition and commissioning for lay ecclesial ministry at a time when our diocese is blessed with a new bishop who is committed to formation and a bishop emeritus who is the ‘father’ of ILEM,” the class stated.
“We thank Bishop Smith for his unending support and enthusiastic encouragement. We welcome Bishop O’Connell, and hope with his continued guidance, that we too may live out his motto ‘to serve and not be served,’” the class stated.
As the newly commissioned candidates basked in the glow of their special day, all agreed that the commissioning ceremony, on one hand, marked a culmination of their three-year journey in the ILEM program, as well as a new beginning in their respective ministries.
Florence Egan told of how when she first joined St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, about 10 years ago, she was the parish secretary. But her love for working with youth and continued desire to become more involved in the parish eventually led to a full-time position as coordinator of the parish’s junior high youth ministry and Confirmation preparation program.
Participating in ILEM, “seemed like the next progressive step in ministry for me,” Egan said. She noted that she also holds certification through the diocesan Certificate Program for Parish Administrators sponsored by the diocesan Office of Catechesis.
ILEM, Egan said, has not only helped her to grow in her own spirituality, but through her formation, she feels that she is better able “to give back to the people” she serves.
Madden described the ILEM commissioning as being “probably one of the most moving experiences of my life.”
“To be part of it and to be with the others in my class today was the beginning of a new phase of that journey that was very poignant,” said Madden of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, where he serves on the RCIA team and has helped to facilitate a Scripture study program. He is also pursuing certification as a spiritual director which he feels he is being called to as his “primary ministry in the parish and perhaps even beyond the parish.”
“In terms of a vocation, I felt more called to lay ecclesial ministry and it has been a very fulfilling and spiritually uplifting experience,” said Madden.
Darlene Gavin Wilson holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, a master’s degree in public administration from Rider University, Lawrenceville, and her full-time work is “being a mom” to her two children.
But it was her background as a parish organist and love for her longtime work with youth and children that led Gavin Wilson to pursue ILEM and earn a master’s degree in theology from La Salle University.
Gavin Wilson, who currently serves as the youth minister and youth choir director in St. George Parish, Titusville, said that ILEM provided her with the formation – academic, spiritual, human and pastoral – she felt she needed to continue her work in a more effective manner.
All of us, she said, “are called by our Baptism to do God’s work and until you answer that call, you can read as many books as you want, do as many Bible studies as you like, go to Mass and receive the Sacraments,” she said. “God gives you the talents and then it’s up to you to share them with others.”[[In-content Ad]]