By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — Three years of Tuesday classes, intense study and lengthy paper-writing has come to an end for six local students who completed the Loyola Institute of Ministries Extension (LIMEX) program recently.
Four of those people received master’s degree and two were awarded certificates in the first group to complete the courses in the Diocese of Charleston.
LIMEX is an adult model of learning on a graduate level with no professor or campus. Students meet in a group, deciding what day and what time, and work with a series of videotapes. Their work is graded by an adjunct professor from Loyola.
The groups are led by a fellow-participant who acts as facilitator after being trained at Loyola University in New Orleans.
The local class met at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist’s parish center with Franciscan Sister Noreen Buttimer, pastoral associate at the Church of the Nativity on James Island, as the facilitator.
Sister Noreen received a master’s degree in pastoral studies as did Sister Deanna Bartolemei, also of the Order of Saint Francis, and Stephanie Eckert, a psychologist at Blessed Sacrament and Summerville Catholic schools. Paul Barra, director of religious education at Nativity, received his degree in religious education.
The two people receiving certificates were: Nita White, retired DRE at Nativity, and Judy Pezanowski, DRE at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island. The difference in awards is that certificate candidates do not have to turn in the 18 papers and final project required for the master’s degree.
Sister Noreen said her job as facilitator was to determine the aim and direction of the program but not to teach.
“I might holler at them whenever they got crazy but I was not their teacher,” she joked. “We were all co-facilitators.”
Barra said the program approach was unusual and very demanding.
“Everyone needed to be prepared,” he said. “You had to learn everything yourself.”
The program is broken down into 10 courses covering subjects such as theology and Scripture studies with the last three differing per degree. Each course is 30 hours long and includes outside reading equival to a whole course. It is difficult work and students are required to sign an agreement that they will commit to the process.
That made for a very cohesive, family-like group. Sister Noreen described it as a sacred trust saying they shared a sense of confidentiality.
The lengthy process also exposed them to different experiences than would have taken place in a full-time classroom setting. Sister Noreen said they went through everyone’s life changes whether for joyous or sorrowful reasons such as deaths in the family, illness or family celebrations.
Sister Deanna described it as demanding, time-consuming and requiring a tremendous commitment to see through from beginning to end.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “I think we’re at a place in the church now, that as a minister in the church, I can’t take for granted that my baptism automatically qualifies me for ministry. I have to do something on my own to prepare for this ministry.”
It was an exacting process for all of the participants because all are in full-time ministries. But, it allowed them to continue their work and interact with one another in the process, Sister Noreen said, adding that the subjects and trends they studied “reinforced the documents of Vatican II.”
“We all went to class with different perspectives,” Barra said. “A lot of people had to change their minds. It was certainly worth it, it really got my mind going” He said he could immediately apply what he learned to his work.
That was one of the reasons why Eckert took the class. As a Catholic school psychologist she has to be able to add God to the helping process so, in her course work, she studied youth ministries. That included topics such as peer counseling and peer mediation. She also had personal reasons.
“I felt that I needed the information,” she said. “I never really learned what happened in Vatican II. I was missing a lot of information.”
Eckert also pointed out that none of the people involved were taking the degree for career advancement or to make more money, only to supplement their ministries.
“These people are getting themselves ready to help the church and I hope to see that in the format of the church in Charleston.”
LIMEX programs can be found in Scotland, England, Ireland, Canada and throughout the United States. This year, 200 people graduated from the program.
Many of the students were financially sponsored by their parish to take the degree though some paid their own way. Very few were ever absent.
Though there was no graduation ceremony at the end, all were happy with the results.
“I think it’s great,” Sister Noreen said. “I have received other degrees but I have never felt the same feeling of accomplishment. It never generated the enthusiasm in church work like this did.”
Another group has started with Sister Mary Laura Lesniak in Laurens as their facilitator.
Sister Deanna advised future students to be prepared for a prolonged commitment because of the interdependence of the group in learning. She said it was most difficult if a participant fell behind.
“That was more frustrating than the actual course of studies because I depended on others in the group for the dialogue, the input, class conversation, hearing points of view different from mine,” she said. “I relied on the others in the group for support and their presence to help see me through to the end.”
Those interested in learning more about LIMEX can contact Father Joseph Wahl at (843) 402-9115, ext. 35.