Last April, Pope Francis ordained a group of 19 priests, urging the new clergymen to serve more than to rule their parishioners, and above all, not to bore them.
“Let this be the nourishment of the People of God,” the pope said during the ordination ceremony in Saint Peter’s Basilica, “that your sermons are not boring, that your homilies reach people’s hearts because they come from your heart, because what you say to them is what you carry in your heart.”
Most Catholic churchgoers could well understand why the pope felt it necessary to warn against boring homilies, but the University of Notre Dame’s John S. Marten Program for Homiletics and Liturgics has now embarked on a unique project specifically designed to strengthen Catholic preaching.
The Rev. William A. Toohey, C.S.C., Notre Dame Preaching Academy, a five-year initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, has enrolled its first cohort of 23 priest-participants from Notre Dame’s founding religious order, the Congregation of Holy Cross, as well as from the archdioceses of Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky; and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.
The new program will make use of an online learning and discussion course, numerous group discussions, coaching from homiletics experts and even assessments from some of the hundreds of people to whom the priests preach each week.
According to one of the program participants, Rev. Jeff Nicolas, rector of the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Louisville, “one of the elements that helped to recruit priests to participate is the chance to have a Notre Dame homiletic expert evaluate and help them with their preaching.”
“The greatest strength is the collaborative nature of this endeavor,” said Rev. Michael E. Connors, C.S.C., director of the Marten Program. “Preachers will self‐assess and design their own goals for improvement; peer‐learning groups will both support and critique each other; congregations will offer their input; and homiletic experts will coach priests in what life‐giving preaching looks like.”
According to Karla J. Bellinger, associate director of the Marten Program, the new program aspires “to create a rich community of learning to fortify the fruitfulness of Sunday preaching. In piloting this style of learning we hope, eventually, to make quality preaching improvement resources available to any priest or deacon wherever he is in the world; also to localize preaching support, so that clergy learn to help each other grow.”
The John S. Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgics was established at Notre Dame 1983 with a gift from John S. and Virginia Marten of Indianapolis.