St. Joseph Educational Center has served as an adult faith formation center for the contributing parishes of the Des Moines region since 1972. The Center was originally designed to support and prepare teachers of the Catholic faith, including teachers at our Catholic schools and youth ministers for public school students, and to assist with the adult faith formation at parishes. Center personnel originally taught religion at Dowling Catholic High School and performed duties in the Center as well.
Over the years the Center developed adult and youth formation programs at parishes and at the Center, partnered with Creighton University to offer the certificate program, and had been a key partner in January Thaw, an ecumenical effort to offer courses on a variety of topics for adults from many faiths. The work of the Center has been and continues to be a key component for catechetical programs in many parishes, and has helped prepare individuals for parish work in a wide variety of ministries.
Over the past 30 years, a number of parishes have expanded their own programs and hired staff to support adult and youth ministries in the parish. The number of staff at the Center has declined over the years. This is partly due to the increase in parish personnel who assist with these programs and ministries, but it is also due to budget restraints as religious personnel are replaced with lay personnel.
In addition, the Diocese has encouraged parishes to participate in setting their own vision and parish members are encouraged to become more involved in developing their own parish ministries and programs. This model was set out by the US Bishops in their 1999 statement on adult faith formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us.
In 2006, the Center was closed and the mission of the Center was reevaluated. In 2008, Dr. Tom Neal, was hired and tasked with assisting the newly constituted supervisory Board in shaping a new vision for the Center. The work of the Center from 2008 to 2012 was one of building relationships with the clergy and catechetical leaders of the Des Moines regional parishes, and offering various forms of support in strengthening the adult faith formation ministries of each parish. In August 2012, Matthew Halbach was hired to continue the mission of the Center as begun by Dr. Neal: to help foster in adults a mature Catholic faith that is living, explicit and fruitful.
SJEC Hall of Fame
Fr. Gene Stephani
In 1972, Fr. Gene Stephani was appointed as the original director of religious education. Under his direction were three groups:
- The Dowling Catholic High School Theology Department, which was supervised by Fr. Gene, but directed by the department chair.
- The Adult Education office.
- The Religious Education office provided religious education for public high school students. These classes took place on Wednesday nights and were team-taught by priests, sisters, and lay people. The students were actually bussed into the Center.
Fr. Tom Pfeffer
Fr. Gene was succeeded by Fr. Tom Pfeffer in 1974. In the 1970s the main function of the adult education office was to provide theological formation for parish religious education personnel, which included:
- Dowling Theology Department teachers
- Parish religious education teachers
- Catholic grade school religion teachers
The adult education office was essentially an undergraduate-level college theological faculty which supported these three groups.
Fr. James Polich
In 1978, Fr. James Polich became director. In 1980, Fr. Polich worked with the then-President of Dowling/St. Joseph, Fr. Michael Hess, to reorganize the leadership structure of the St. Joseph Educational Center (SJEC). The position held by Fr. Gene and Fr. Tom (Director of Religious Education) was eliminated. Instead, a system was created with three separate and equal ‘vice presidents’ under the authority of the President:
1.) The Principal of Dowling was given authority over the Dowling Catholic High School Theology Faculty.
2.) The Director of St. Joseph Educational Center (Fr. Polich).
3.) The Director of the Youth Ministry Office (Don Boucher). This office was created to coordinate youth formation, because a centralized approach to public high school religious education was being discontinued.
In the 1980s, under Fr. Polich, SJEC became heavily involved in parish-based theology and religious education classes. This was a result of the realization on Fr. Polich’s part that the Center could reach many more people by broadening its outreach to include ordinary adult Catholics. Of course, efforts to train catechetical leaders continued. In 1986, Fr. Polich helped develop the Creighton Program, a Catholic faith-focused distance education certificate program for adults.
Sr. Ruth Poochigan, O.P.
In 1987, Sr. Ruth Poochigan became the first woman director of the office. During this period the youth ministry office was combined with the adult education office.
Sr. Nancy Brousseau, O.P. served as director of the SJEC from 1993-1997.
Fr. Jim Laurenzo was the SJEC director from 1997-2001.
From 1993-2001, the Center continued to offer parish lectures and retreats, the Creighton program, and assist with adult and youth formation whenever possible. Also during this time, the Institute for Spiritual Guidance was created to provide training for spiritual directors. However, this time was more difficult because of a sharp reduction in staffing.
Andrea Molinari, Ph.D.
In 2001, Andrea Molinari became the director of SJEC. In addition to continuing with the Center’s normal functions, during this time “January Thaw” was established as an ecumenical effort to provide classes for adults from many faiths in the Des Moines area.
In 2006, the SJEC was closed and its mission was reevaluated.
Thomas J. Neal, Ph.D.
In 2008, Dr. Thomas Neal was hired. The new supervisory Board for the Center and Dr. Neal collaborated in shaping a new vision for the Center. From 2008 to 2012, the work of the Center included: offering continuing education for parish catechetical leaders; delivering and coordinating presentations, lectures and workshops at regional parishes for lay Catholics on faith matters; helping parishes to improve their faith formation programs; and providing retreats for parish staff. During this time period, the Center also initiated an Internet presence with the development of its own website and social media offerings. With all of these offerings the Center exists to support and strengthen the adult faith formation ministries of each parish in the Des Moines region.
In August 2012, Matthew Halbach, PhD Candidate in Religious Education and Catechetics (The Catholic University of America), was hired to continue the mission of the Center as begun by Dr. Neal: to help foster in adults a mature Catholic faith that is living, explicit and fruitful.