Hearts on Fire

People touched by the Marianist charism find support and resources to build community through the Marianist Lay Formation Initiative.


By John Schroeder


Sometimes it’s a retreat. Maybe it’s a family weekend experience. Often it’s as simple as a meaningful conversation during a vulnerable period in life. But whatever spark the Holy Spirit uses to light the Marianist flame, people who have had a significant Marianist encounter want to keep it going.

This is usually what motivates participants to sign up for the Marianist Lay Formation Initiative (MLFI), a program started five years ago to equip lay people with skills to build community and keep their faith growing.

MLFI has been working in an organic way to support dozens of lay people, says Pati Krasensky, who serves as director of the Initiative. “Each year, a new MLFI group is formed,” she says, bringing as many as 12 participants together from all walks of life and locations throughout the United States (and this year, the Philippines). Many are active members of Lay Marianist communities, and most are meeting each other for the first time.

Bringing people together with vastly different expe- riences “is one of the gifts of the program,” Krasensky says. “You’ve got wisdom coming from different direc- tions and new connections being made.”

The formation process

Participants gather in the spring for an opening forma- tional retreat. They hear presentations on understand- ing and articulating the charism and on leadership in the Marianist tradition, both presented by Marianist Brother Tom Giardino.

“We also spend time praying together and building community,” says Krasensky, “and we do strategic planning — taking a closer look at what’s required to begin or boost a community back home.”

The MLFI group continues to meet throughout the year — joining in monthly conference calls or online discussions. They also enroll in a Virtual Learning Community course together, before wrapping up the MLFI formation year with a closing retreat. “The goal is to connect each person with a mentor who works with the participant to help establish or strengthen lay communities,” Krasensky says.

Support for the journey

A key outcome of MLFI — which is sponsored by the Marianist Family Council of North America — is to broaden participants’ understanding of the charism and help them see how different elements are interconnected.

That’s been the case for Don McNally from Kalmazoo, Mich., whose previous experience with the Marianist Family centered on ministering to teens through Marianist LIFE (Living In Faith Expe- rience), a youth ministry program. “MLFI gives me the chance to talk to other adults who know the charism and relate as an adult community,” he says. “It gives me strength to know there’s more beyond the high school ministry.”

A family retreat in 1985 gave Tina Bauman, a regis- tered nurse from Baltimore, her first contact with the Marianists, and since then she’s been active in staffing family retreats and other activities as a Marianist Associate and a Marianist Affiliate. Even so, her MLFI experience deepened her Marianist connection through the creation of a weekly faith-sharing group called “Hearts on Fire.”

“We have increased our awareness and knowledge of the Marianist founders,” says Bauman. “Now we are toddling together as equal disciples, trying to ‘go and do whatever He tells us to do,’ discerning what that means in our daily lives.”

Jessica Gonzalez, a fundraiser at the University of Dayton and a member of the first MLFI group in 2005, says the experience led her to begin the “Grand Walkers” lay community at UD and strengthened her ability to live out her faith day-to-day. “This means examining what I’m doing to have a better relation- ship with the Church, my community, my co-workers or the person sitting next to me on the bus,” she says.

“MLFI gave me the tools and the language to work with — and I think we became a stronger resource for each other because of the fears and concerns we shared.”

A resident of Hawai’i, Jeannie Pinpin first encoun- tered the Marianists as a student at Chaminade Univer- sity in 2001. She describes her 2008 MLFI experience as “awesome,” partly for its ability to bring the young and the young-at-heart together in community. She says she’s taken away some important lessons, too, that weren’t easy. “While MLFI gave us great tools, when we returned to our communities to try them out, some worked and some didn’t.”

But contact with her mentors has proved valuable in helping her move beyond initial setbacks. Mentors reassured her that her good intentions are important, too — and that “we need to have an open mind to further our intentions and grow from these experi- ences,” she says.

Cristin Fong, a Hawai’i native and current resident of San Francisco, values her MLFI experience for helping her transition beyond the many happy years she spent serving teens through Marianist LIFE. Now focusing her time on the needs of her two young children, Fong wasn’t sure what to do with the sense of loss she felt when the youth retreats no longer provided an outlet for her spiritual energy.

Through MLFI, Fong discovered “a multitude of resources to support me in my journey.” She appreci- ated the time spent at meals when members of her MLFI group were able to talk with each other about their “fears, hesitations, dreams and visions for what community means in their lives.”

The MLFI work led directly to her decision, along with her husband, Jamieson, to enter the “Kukalama” community back home. “Three years later it is still going strong and has grown with the addition of three new adult members and five new children,” she says.

Keeping the faith

“What all these MLFI participants have in common,” says Brother Tom Giardino, “is the start of an answer to Father Chaminade’s key question: ‘What to do on Monday? Once I’ve been touched by this Marianist thing, what will it mean in my life?’

“I think you build community. You develop and nurture a community that continues the experience — because when we are in significant association with each other, that’s when the gospel and the Marianist charism come alive.” 

John Schroeder is a freelance writer from St. Louis.

“The goal is to connect each person with a mentor who works with the participant to help establish or strengthen lay communities.”
— Pati Krasensky

“We have increased our awareness and knowledge of the Marianist founders,” says Bauman. “Now we are toddling together as equal disciples, trying to ‘go and do whatever He tells us to do,’ discerning what that means in our daily lives.”

Jessica Gonzalez, a fundraiser at the University of Dayton and a member of the first MLFI group in 2005, says the experience led her to begin the “Grand Walkers” lay community at UD and strengthened her ability to live out her faith day-to-day. “This means examining what I’m doing to have a better relation- ship with the Church, my community, my co-workers or the person sitting next to me on the bus,” she says.

“MLFI gave me the tools and the language to work with — and I think we became a stronger resource for each other because of the fears and concerns we shared.”

A resident of Hawai’i, Jeannie Pinpin first encoun- tered the Marianists as a student at Chaminade Univer- sity in 2001. She describes her 2008 MLFI experience as “awesome,” partly for its ability to bring the young and the young-at-heart together in community. She says she’s taken away some important lessons, too,

Want to know more?

Read reflections from participants in MLFI atwww.marianist.com/AliveOnline. If you are inter- ested in finding a Marianist Lay Community in your area or want to participate in the Marianist Lay Formation Initiative, contact Pati Krasensky at pkrasensky@sm-usa.org. The next MLFI session begins April 2011.

 

NOTE: To read the the online version of Marianist Culture, Faith and Community ALIVE’s Fall 2010, Vol. 7, No.3 edition where the original copy of this article is posted, please click on the following title –> Hearts on Fire

 

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