Service to the Church and the world: McGrath Institute for Church Life


Mcgrath Graphics Conductor

Faith, education and service have always been at the heart of Notre Dame. Colleen Moore, a wearer of many hats, describes the McGrath Institute for Church Life as taking the best resources of the academy and offering them in service to the Church.

Moore, who graduated from Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies and earned a Master of Divinity degree, is an associate director of the institute. She embodies the spirit and purpose of the McGrath Institute, while also acting as the director of formation and program director for Echo, one of the formation programs.

A native of South Bend, Moore understands the critical work of the institute, having worked as a lay associate of the Congregation of Holy Cross for two years in Chile after graduation. “And that’s when I learned a little bit more about ministry in particular and learned that there was something called a Master of Divinity program and that Notre Dame had one,” she said.

Colleen Moore 1 Web

Moore returned to her family in South Bend and taught English as a New Language Moore for a year before applying to the Master of Divinity program. For three years during the program, she served as an assistant rector.

Service to Notre Dame

This all positioned Moore for what would be a career at the University. One of her professors and mentors, the late Jan Poorman, mentioned a program they were launching and inquired if Moore would be interested in applying for a new role.

“In 2004, I started working for Echo with the idea that I would do so for a couple of years and then resume my plan to go to Chicago and work. I was really interested in working with first-generation immigrant communities. That was kind of the long-term plan. But two years have now turned into 18 and I still find the work [at Notre Dame] incredibly interesting and engaging and fulfilling and challenging.”

Moore started as the assistant director for Echo, and then became an associate director for the pro-gram. In 2011, she became the director of Echo. Shortly after that she began overseeing the formation area. In the last year, she’s taken on additional administrative roles including becoming the associate director for the McGrath Institute.

Service in action

As the associate director, Moore helps guide the implementation of the institute’s strategic plan, including  the development of the internal infrastructure and collaborative  working groups that will advance  the strategic plan in service to an increasingly diverse Church.

“The institute’s director, John Cavadini, has asked me to help with the implementation so it doesn’t just end up being a nice document on the shelf. It becomes something that we actually embody.”

As the director of formation, Moore supervises and supports the program directors and coordinators in the area of formation within the institute. This includes Notre Dame Vision, Thriving in Ministry Initiatives, the Echo Program and the Catechist Academy.

Echo, the program that Moore also directs, is a two-year graduate service program in which recent graduates earn a master’s degree in theology and engage in a holistic ministry formation curriculum. Students spend summers at Notre Dame in study and formation and the academic year embedded in a faith community in one of Echo’s partner dioceses. Students serve full-time in parish ministry and evangelization or as high school or middle school theology teachers or campus ministers.

Moore describes it as a holistic formation program that offers not only a master’s degree, but also essential components like human, spiritual, communal and pastoral formation.

“Echo brings all of these areas of formation together because it is intended to develop the next generation of parish lay leaders in catechesis and evangelization, as well as train the next generation of theology teachers,” Moore said.

With so many roles and responsibilities, Moore is quick to acknowledge that the people are the best part of her work.

Echo Footwashing Web
Echo students during a foot washing prayer service. (Photo provided)

“I have extraordinary colleagues here in the institute and I get to work very closely with them within the formation area and across the institute. Not only do I get the benefit of working with amazing colleagues here at Notre Dame, but I also get to work closely with wonderful leaders who work for the Church across the country and in Ireland.”

The art of service

It’s not all work and no play for Moore, who likes to get her hands dirty — literally — when it comes to creativity and the arts, for which she has a deep love.

“We find that art is a very integrative experience that has the ability to draw our intellectual, physical, spiritual, emotional and relational selves together in powerful ways,” she said. “The Church often has experienced the pain of disintegrated leadership, and we feel a great responsibility to help our students develop a healthy and harmonious relationship between their interior lives and their professional lives.”

One art medium that helps students open themselves to formation for ministry is clay.

Students work in the Riley Hall of Art Ceramic Studio with Moore and Cecilia Cunningham, a professional ceramicist. They draw on the pas-sage from Jeremiah 18:5-6 (clay in the potter’s hands), an analogy that invites students to consider God as the artist of their own lives.

Moore poses this question to students: “And how is it that we are being called to offer ourselves, our lives, not just our minds but our whole selves, to be formed and reformed and made more malleable and receptive to the promptings of God’s spirit in our lives and ministry?

Echo Clay Pic 3 Web
An echo student works with clay. (Photo provided)

“We might understand this call intellectually, but working with a mound of clay in our hands helps us to feel and experience in a tactile way what it means to be moved and shaped and reshaped, built up and folded back over to be made new again. Cecilia reminds us that no clay is wasted because if it breaks, you can take that and put it right back into the mix to be ground up and made available again. The clay reflects the mercy and grace of God that works within our lives. Those are essential realities for students to understand as they begin a leadership formation program, especially in service to the Church.”

Preparing others for service

The institute’s programs prepare Catholic leaders for faithful service. The Catechist Academy connects Notre Dame students with parishes within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Notre Dame Vision is a summer conference program for high school youth from around the country. Notre Dame undergraduate students serve as mentors in faith to the young Vision participants. There are many other programs in liturgy, online theological education, communications ecology, faith and men-tal health, science and religion, life and human dignity that the institute has created.

“We consider our institute to be one of many arms of Notre Dame that reaches beyond itself. There are plenty of arms like that across the campus. But we are one in particular whose focus is on put-ting the many riches here — intellectual riches, the riches of our students, riches of ministry formation, the Congregation of Holy Cross, our history — in service to the Church. We want to share all of those riches and not just keep them to ourselves.

“So we ask, how do we put these particular treasures, these resources, these leaders in service to these particular needs and realities in the Church around the country and the world? That means forming faithful Catholic leaders capable of responding to real needs.”