This article is featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Voices from the Vineyard.
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Dr. Sharon Schuhmann MTS’11 has a unique job title. A member of the parish staff at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Prospect, KY, she is the pastoral associate of intentional discipleship.
Schuhmann spoke with me at St. Bernadette’s recently built parish center after a tour of their school and more recently constructed church. The buildings are a product of merging two parish communities in greater northeast Louisville, Mother of Good Counsel and Transfiguration of Our Lord, in 2008.
She explains that her position was recrafted based on Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples. “It was clear that there had to be a focus on who we want to be as a parish community at St. Bernadette.”
It seems that not many parishes have taken this idea as seriously. “Our goal involves the whole parish staff and the parishioners taking on this identity of naming themselves as disciples of Jesus,” she said.
The idea of naming, or self-identifying, as disciples was crucial to Schuhmann’s ministry. “Then, once you have named who you are, you can fulfill it in what you do.” Primarily, Schuhmann hopes that we, as the Church, can name our experiences as encounters with the living God. She notes that mystics are not extinct in 2019, and that we should encourage others to name where they see Christ in their lives, just as she does at various adult faith formation programs.
One of the projects Schuhmann is involved in is called Preaching Encounters. Fr. Jeff Nicolas, pastor and fellow Saint Meinrad alumnus, collaborates with Schuhmann during this prayer service. It begins with Fr. Jeff proclaiming and preaching on the Sunday Gospel. Then, after prayerful silence, Schuhmann proclaims and preaches on the same reading. “It gives people the chance to hear two different perspectives on the readings, but receive the same Catholic theology,” she explains.
Schuhmann preaches only where it is canonically allowed (Code of Canon Law, 766). With her knowledge and enthusiasm for the faith, she has been asked to give retreats and parish missions all over the Archdiocese of Louisville and beyond. She also offers reflections to the grade school students at their school Mass.
She is happy to be where she is in her ministry. “For me, I love this Church so much, and I love evangelizing the Church.” Schuhmann is equipped with a master’s degree in theological studies from Saint Meinrad in 2011 and a doctorate in preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology in 2016.
Schuhmann expressed how grateful she is to be a product of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. “Without the theology Saint Meinrad taught me and the network it has, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“It was the monks, some of my professors at Saint Meinrad, who saw that I had this gift of preaching and gave me the support to pursue it,” she notes. In the Church today, people can be divided on whether women should preach. Schuhmann is glad to be supported in what she believes God has graced her with.
Proclaiming and preaching the Word is just another way Schuhmann names herself a disciple. And although every parish might not be able to hear from a well-trained female lay theologian, knowing there is a possibility is the bigger point. “I believe there is plenty of room, with support from pastors, to empower lay people to be in roles like mine,” she says. The graduate program at Saint Meinrad is always welcoming lay leaders from parishes, empowered by pastors and families to be prepared to do God’s work.
“I’m always sending people to Saint Meinrad…. It will change your life. It will open doors.” Schuhmann speaks of her own experience of getting to live out the calling she has. “Saint Meinrad gives you such a strong foundation. So, for anyone reading the alumni magazine, if they see in their parish there’s someone that seems to be hungry for growing in their life in the Church, encourage that ongoing formation.”
Schuhmann has currently been asked by Saint Meinrad to aid in the permanent deacon program this year along with as a catechist for the “One Bread, One Cup” High School Liturgical Leadership Conferences teaching preaching.