COLORADO SPRINGS. Friends and supporters of the Catherine of Siena Institute gathered to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the institute’s founding, on July 9 at the Falcon Club on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Co-founders Sherry Weddell and Dominican Father Michael Sweeney were joined by Dominican Father Michael Fones, who served as co-director for several years, for the celebration.
The Catherine of Siena Institute, based in Colorado Springs, operates internationally and has worked in over 1,000 parishes in 214 dioceses across 14 countries.
Patrick Conley, Called & Gifted Coordinator for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and one of many traveling teachers for the institute, served as emcee for the event.
First speakers were Weddell and Father Sweeney, who swapped stories about the unlikely beginnings and growth of the institute. The two met at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, where Father Sweeney was the pastor and Weddell was a parishioner.
At the time, Weddell was a fairly recent convert to Catholicism with a heart for evangelization and was seeking a way to help Catholic lay people utilize their God-given charisms to build and fortify the Church.
Father Sweeney “had a deep desire to reach the lapsed and unchurched. In the spirit of St. Dominic, he found it intolerable that the Church should be ineffective in this most critical area,” (from the Catherine of Siena website, “How it all began” (https://siena.org/how-it-all-began).
Father Sweeney was also trying to find an effective way to evangelize and he formed a small study group on the role of the laity in the Church.
The Institute became known initially by the unique spiritual gifts discernment process created by Weddell, now known as The Called & Gifted™ Discernment Process.
“Christifideles Laici” (Christ’s Faithful People), an apostolic exhortation written by Pope John Paul II in 1988, was the inspiration for this work, along with the desire to help ordinary men and women understand and live their vocation in the world for the sake of encountering Jesus Christ and following him.
According to Weddell, “Our best rough estimate is 123,000 Catholics have attended a Called & Gifted workshop and taken the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory so far.”
Katherine Coolidge, Catherine of Siena’s Director For Parish and Diocesan Service, said she first became involved with the institute by listening to audio recordings of the Called and Gifted Workshop with a small group at the parish where she served as youth ministry coordinator.
“For me as a youth ministry coordinator, the workshop was a game-changer,” she said. “I began to see my role not simply as providing a ‘service’ but calling forth the baptized, teens and adults to participate in the mission of Jesus togther.”
Father Michael Fones shared his experience getting to know a young man named Daniel. Father Fones later interviewed Daniel in a video that has become an important part of training for parish and diocesan leaders. Through Daniel’s journey, one can recognize the different spiritual thresholds a person typically travels from being merely an observer to becoming a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.
Bishop James Golka added a few words of support, sharing that as a pastor in the Diocese of Grand Island he had his staff go through the Called and Gifted process. He said that he has read “Forming Intentional Disciples” and is planning to take advantage of the institute’s work within the diocese.
Since the founding of the institute on July 1, 1997, in addition to presenting countless Called and Gifted Workshops, clergy formation, parish missions, Weddell has also written “Forming Intentional Disciples” (2012), “Fruitful Discipleship: Living the Mission of Jesus in the Church and the World” (2017) and edited “Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples” (2015).
Among its other offerings the Catherine of Siena Institute has a “Forming Intentional Disciples” Facebook Forum with over 11,000 members, and Ananias Training for “Traveling with Others the Discipleship Path.” Looking forward, the institute hopes to make translations available in more languages as demand for the trainings and formation continues to grow.
For more information, visit the website: https://siena.org/.
(Linda Oppelt is administrative assistant for The Colorado Catholic Herald.)