By Berta Mexidor
TUPELO – Certificates of Continuing Education in Theology and Ministry from Loyola University in New Orleans was presented to a group of twelve Hispanic leaders from deanery five, after a four-year period of study and perseverance, at a special Mass on Saturday, Aug. 27 at St. James parish in Tupelo.
Traveling from New Orleans for the special presentation were assistant professor and director, Tracey Lamont, Ph.D. and director of the Loyola Institute Program for the Extension of the Ministry (LIMEX), Thomas Ryan, Ph.D. The Mass in honor of these dedicated Hispanic leaders was celebrated by Father Timothy Murphy, concelebrated with Fathers Henry Shelton and Mario Solorzano, and assisted by Deacon Carlos Solá. Loyola University New Orleans offers master’s and certificate programs to lay ecclesial ministers (LEMs), as well as parish leaders.
Certificate awardees include Raquel Thompson, Maria de Jesus Hernandez, Alejandro Lopez and Yolanda Chavez of St. James Tupelo; Magaly Heredia, Mariano Hernandez, Luis Rosales, Teresa Perez and Bernardo Sorcia of St. James Corinth; Luis Gordillo of St. Christopher Pontotoc; Eduardo Padilla of St. Matthew Ripley; and Maria Cecilia Leon of St. Helen Amory. Each were sponsored by the office of Diocesan Faith Formation.
The group also received Loyola Institute’s Kairos Award for Ministry last May during the Loyola College of Nursing and Health Honors graduation ceremony. The Greek word kairos means a ‘…full spirit when people and circumstances come together in an extraordinary way to fulfill God’s will in the world.”
Facilitating the group was Danna Johnson, who earned a masters from Loyola in 2019 and is now a LEM at Immaculate Heart of Mary Houston. Sisters Carol Ann Prenger, SSND of Ripley, and Jane Wand, SSND of Booneville were also supportive and motivating the group, accompanying them along the way.
In his homily, Father Mario said that studying theology for four years is a great achievement, but that in the case of lay people, unlike priests, the task is double because in addition to studying it “…you all put it into practice the days in their lives as families, at work, and in their communities. That is why you see faith in a different way,” and he urged them to use the knowledge gained even more.
Father Tim explained that LIMEX has helped groups from Natchez to Tupelo. “A large part of the funding for the translation of the materials into Spanish was provided by the family of Betty Montgomery. She was an early supporter of LIMEX, with a Ph.D. in English, who was tragically killed in an accident in Tupelo about 10 years ago,” said Father Tim.
The LIMEX program came to Tupelo in 2008. Dr. Len Pinkley, a LIMEX pioneer, recalled in his speech the support he received and the enduring friendships created in the group, made up of six members of the Tupelo community, including one non-Catholic. Dr. Pinkley also paid tribute to departed members, including the late Betty Montgomery.
Speaking to the group of twelve leaders, Father Tim says with admiration that after they “…studied together for three years, they are the first to complete the certificate in Spanish.” Father Tim concluded saying that these twelve leaders “…are a great story of overcoming, commitment, evangelization and collaboration.”
Dr. Lamont commended the graduates for their commitment to the program and thanked the parish of St. James and the Diocese of Jackson for the collaboration. “Our educational partnership has been a blessing for Loyola,” she said.
When speaking to those who were her students, she also commended them for having “helped each other on a long and arduous road” where they also learned to overcome the challenge of dialoguing and criticizing with respect.
“You have engaged each other in authentic dialogue, critical reflection challenge, and affirmation. Truly, you have earned the right to call yourselves a learning community,” said Dr. Lamont.