Hands-on preparation for a career in ministry

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The Diocese of Camden’s fifth cohort of Notre Dame University’s Echo apprentices is hitting the ground running in two parishes and one high school, finding and building a community of faith together and with those they serve and learn from.

Echo apprentices Salvatore “Sal” Giorlando, Miranda Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mulligan recently began their work in the Diocese of Camden, ministering in parishes and a high school in South Jersey. Their experience is part of their work in Notre Dame University’s Master of Arts in Theology program.

Miranda Fitzpatrick, a 2019 graduate of Saint Anselm College, New Hampshire; Salvatore “Sal” Giorlando, a 2019 graduate of The Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; and Ryan Mulligan, a 2016 graduate of the University of Dayton, Ohio, are spending the next two years living at Saint Joachim Parish in Bellmawr and working in parishes and a high school.

Each one pursuing a master of arts in theology from Notre Dame University. The university’s graduate service program integrates work, study and a life of faith to serve the church and explore a career in ministry.

“I’m super excited,” says Fitzpatrick who, while still “settling in,” is growing into her ministry at Sewell’s Church of the Holy Family.

Like her housemates, there is much work to be done in her field assignment. Teaching religious education twice a week to junior high youth, running the parish’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich outreach to Cathedral Kitchen, and working with baptismal prep are just some of what she is tasked with.

A year ago, as a senior at Saint Anselm majoring in theology and psychology, the Canton, Connecticut native learned of the Echo program from a school campus minister.

After graduation, she and the more than 50 Echo apprentices completed four summer courses at Notre Dame before embarking on their ministry work throughout the nation.

“This is a huge time of learning for me,” she says, adding that the Holy Family community has been “very supportive.” 

Each apprentice is given a mentor at the parish or school to guide them along the process, she says. Next summer, the three will return to Notre Dame for more coursework, after which they will return for one more year at their assigned location.

“This career path is something that makes me happy, and something I’m eager for. I’m excited to learn more about parish life, share my faith and inspire others.”

Ryan Mulligan, a Lansdale, Pennsylvania, native, has spent the past three years as a civilians program manager at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Last year he put aside his own ambitions and listened to another voice.

“I was burying my talents, and now God was calling me to use my skills to be a better disciple and further his kingdom,” he explains.

Mulligan is working at Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish in Glassboro now, helping out with the community’s youth and young adult ministries.

“We’re all getting our feet wet still, but soon we’ll be prepared” to step up and take on bigger leadership roles, as their time in South Jersey continues, he says.

“I feel at peace here,” says Sal Giorlando, a Long Island, New York, native working as assistant campus minister at Haddonfield’s Paul VI High School, helping coordinate junior and senior retreats, plan school liturgies and organize the school’s peer leadership program.

“The students give me joy, and it’s a supportive school community,” he says.

Although their busy schedules don’t allow for much interaction some days, the three apprentices do have every Thursday night dedicated for fellowship, which means a communal meal, prayer and activity. So far, they have enjoyed a backyard bonfire, a Phillies game and a movie night.

“We never see each other, but when we have the chance to be together, we make the most of it,” Mulligan says, adding that “they’ve made me feel at home.”

Mary Lou Hughes and Sister Kathy Burton, co-directors of the diocesan office of Lifelong Faith Formation, have seen the great fruits produced over the years through the Echo program, and expect it will continue with the new cohort. This year, Camden is one of 11 Catholic dioceses across the country participating in Notre Dame’s lay leadership formation initiative.

“The apprentices are learning to balance an authentic, deep prayer life; the responsibilities of their ministry; and the responsibilities of their academic formation,” says Sister Kathy.

In these challenges, she says, “they are not alone”; her office, the diocese and their faith communities are always willing to lend a hand.

“They are a blessing and a gift from God to South Jersey,” says Hughes. “It’s life-giving to the parish community to see the young church actively present.

“They learn firsthand what it’s like to be involved with a parish or school community,” she says. “They leave here knowing what it means to be the church of South Jersey.”