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 | By Lavita Fernandes, Institute for Leadership in Ministry Class of ‘23

Together, with our Hearts Set on Fire

Graduation Speech Delivered at the Cathedral Basilica on Wed, May 3rd

Christus Vivit! Christ is alive and so are we! Indeed, we are grateful that we survived three years in the Institute for Leadership in Ministry. We spent approximately two years of that time in endless Zoom classes, with no contact, no hugs, and no celebrations. Our interactions were limited to Zoom sessions only. Eventually when we did meet at the socially distanced Mass during our second year, the images we had conjured of each other from the images on Zoom were different. Some of us were tall, others were short, but we were filled with joy to be together! We are truly blessed to have received the formation ILM provided and to have built friendships that will last a lifetime.

To His Excellency Bishop Cantu, we, the class of 2023, take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude for the outstanding education the diocese has provided us, with a lineup of elite faculty who inspired us and kept us motivated.

Thank you, Irma, for your wonderful leadership, tireless efforts and constant encouragement. You and the entire ILM staff are awesome! And thank you to our dear faculty; you always left us yearning for more of your knowledge. Some of you we know only as tiny images on our screen, but we appreciate your passion for teaching us theology, Christology, liturgy, and Catholic Social Teaching while living its mission on the front lines. For example, it really touched me to see the works of our very own bishop, who dared to visit areas of conflict such as the Middle East to seek peace and justice. Such an endeavor deeply empowered us. I also want to add that our deeply moving retreat themed “Feed my Sheep” facilitated by Fr. Angelbert fired us up for Pastoral Ministry.

We give our sincere gratitude to the pastors who recommended the rich ILM program to us. Three years ago, I remember when Fr Jeff invited me to join ILM. I initially declined as I was unsure if it was meant for me. He responded very gently saying he believed I was already a leader, which got me thinking. I then discerned and agreed to enroll. From then on, there was no looking back.

My fellow classmates and I echo the same sentiment: the ILM has been an incredible experience. It has been very personally enlightening for me.

If I had completed the program 27 years ago, before I got married, I would have joined a religious order and become Sr. Maria Lavita! But God had other plans for me. Our very first class, “Encountering Christ” with Sr. Pat, inspired us to make daily prayer an encounter with Christ.

It was a very transformative experience to simply recognize God in everyone and everything, even the stray cats outside my office. I once shooed them away from me, but now I meet them and greet them every day.

We started out as a larger class but a few of us succumbed to juggling work, family commitments, ministry, and the ILM coursework. It was a challenge, but 14 students in the English track survived. During the pandemic, we grieved with our classmate who lost her child, and we lamented with another classmate struggling with her troubled child. And now we mourn again for a classmate who passed away on Good Friday, who is survived by his only daughter. Rodolfo battled his ailment with sheer determination and perseverance. He would get to class breathless, with pale eyes, and he endured the agony of his treatment with hope and courage. He was an example of grit and resilience for all of us, with a never-give-up attitude! We now also grieve with our classmate Lisa who lost her son last week. These tragic events brought us together as a class, just like Jesus' disciples huddled together in despair after his death. But we also rejoiced when three of our classmates pursued the diaconate and the Advanced Lay Leader formation programs. Our prayers are with all of them.

Last but not least, we could not have done this without our families’ and friends’ support. You all are the best and we love you from the bottoms of our hearts. A big thank you to everyone for coming here to celebrate our achievement. I want to also acknowledge our colleagues from the Spanish track with whom we collaborated seamlessly in putting on a wonderful graduation reception for the class of 2022. ¡Muchas Gracias!

ILM taught us how to reach across the aisle even though we did not speak Spanish! But our actions spoke louder than words. Together we are strong. With our hearts set on fire, together we will do our best to continue serving our parish and community.

I want to leave you with a prayer from St Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,

no hands, no feet on earth but yours,

yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,

yours are the feet with which He walks to do good.

Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands; yours are the feet; yours are the eyes; you are His body.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Amen.

Thank you!