Four formation classes — including two that are new offerings — are set to begin in the late summer to ensure the spiritual and pastoral needs of Catholics throughout the Diocese of Burlington are being addressed: new classes for the Diocesan Lay Formation and Deacon Formation programs and new offerings of a Diocesan Leader of Prayer and a Pastoral Associate for Parish Life Training Program programs.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne “wants to ensure the spiritual and pastoral needs of Catholics throughout the Diocese are being attended too, which is what these programs are designed to inspire and equip men and women to do,” explained Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington.

Applications are being accepted in the spring, with each of the programs set to begin in August/September.

The programs are part of a larger vision to inspire and equip men and women for greater service in the Church, under the umbrella of the Diocesan Institute for Missionary Discipleship.  “Having already seen the faith, growth, joy and zeal manifested in the current students; I am eager to see this grow,” Deacon Lawson said. “Ultimately, we will have more and more men and women, filled with the joy of the Gospel and eager to share that passion and their gifts with their parishes as we seek to build vibrant Catholic communities.”

Three of the programs will help to empower the laity to take a greater role in the Church; the fourth is for deacons who are members of the clergy. “The laity, by virtue of their baptism, are called to share their gifts in service to Christ and the Church,” Deacon Lawson said. “This is normally done by living out their faith in the secular world. However, some are called to specific ministerial roles in their parishes, for which the Diocese is called to equip them for that service.”

The new offerings of a diocesan leader of prayer and pastoral associate programs were added

As a response to concrete needs in parishes — “individuals to assist in helping facilitate various liturgical ministries in lieu of the priest shortage and individuals who can assist in the pastoral care and evangelizing mission of the parish in lieu of a resident full-time pastor,” he explained.

Each of the programs is a different length: Lay Formation is two years, Deacon Formation is five years, Leader of Prayer is four sessions and Pastoral Associate for Parish Life is one year.

These programs will be done primarily in person once a month; additional classes will be completed online.

The cost varies depending on the program and is generally split between the Diocese, the parish and the participant.

“This is an exciting time for our Diocese as the directives of the Diocesan Synod continue to be implemented with the fruits starting to be experienced,” Deacon Lawson said.

For more information, email Deacon Lawson at

Here is an overview of each of the programs:

Diocesan Lay Formation Leadership Program

This program seeks to form laity to assist in leadership roles in their parishes in areas such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, catechesis, Pre-Cana, evangelization, adult formation and building vibrant parishes. Key to this formation is inspiring and equipping the laity to serve and evangelize their parishes and communities as missionary disciples. This is a 2-year program that meets one Saturday a month in person with additional formation taking place via online courses.

Deacon Formation Program

Deacons are ordained to be permanent ministers in the Church. They are ministers of the word, of sacrament and of charity. They have significant theological education and a deep spiritual life, and are formed in pastoral ministry. They must have good human relations ability. The total time in formation is five years, two of which are in the Lay Leadership Formation Program, followed by three years of Diaconate Formation.

Leader of Prayer Program

The Lay Leader of Prayer Formation Program seeks to raise up laity who can prepare and lead appropriate forms of public prayer at the request of the pastor when clergy are otherwise unavailable. The curriculum for the Lay Leader of Prayer Formation Program consists of four sessions that will serve to cover basic liturgical principals of leading communal prayer as well as an introduction to the various Rites of the Church that may be led by lay leaders: Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying and Funeral Rites.

Pastoral Associate for Parish Life

This is a 1-year formation program designed to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to serve their parishes as a pastoral associate when it is not possible for the bishop to appoint a full-time parish priest. This service will take the form of parish administration, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, finances, sacramental preparation, liturgical planning and assistance, human resources and faith formation. This ensures that Christian life and the evangelizing mission of the community is continued.

—Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.