Deacon John O’Leary, the Associate Director of the Institute for Homiletics was recently invited to be a guest speaker on the “St. Joseph’s Workshop” podcast to discuss the importance of homilies as a tool for evangelization and reflect on the power of preaching. In this episode, the co-host of the podcast, Emily Lugo, announces that she will be joining the Institute as the new Executive Assistant and Coordinator for Lay Programming. We invite you to listen to this podcast episode to learn more about the Institute for Homiletics and explore how lay people can be instrumental in connecting the pulpit and the pew.
The Synod on Synodality is gathering in Rome this week to discuss how to connect the Catholic church more closely with the needs of the faithful. These sessions are the culmination of listening sessions from all over the world.
In the field of Catholic preaching, Dr. Karla J. Bellinger pioneered the first comprehensive study of listening to young listeners in 2011 as part of her doctoral work. She surveyed 561 Catholic high school students, held focus groups of youth, and interviewed clergy about their needs in preaching. Dr. Ronald J. Allen of Christian Theological Seminary, her thesis reader and a pioneer in Protestant listener studies, stated at the time, “This is the first study of listeners in the Catholic church and the first listener study of youth in both the Catholic and Protestant worlds.” The results of those studies can be found in Bellinger’s 2014 groundbreaking work, Connecting Pulpit and Pew: Breaking Open the Conversation about Catholic Preaching.
The new Lilly Endowment supplemental grant will provide resources to redo that original study of listening to young listeners. The research will ascertain what has changed in the last twelve years in how young people hear Catholic homilies. Hearing their words, the study will ask, “How do we better connect with you in our liturgical preaching?” This longitudinal study will provide data as to how the listening of young people has (or has not) changed in that time.
But it’s not just the Catholics who are interested in listening. The mainline Protestant world is also struggling to connect with those in their pews. Dr. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship (CICW), commissioned Joan Huyser-Honig to highlight Bellinger’s approach so that his faith tradition can learn from her work. CICW has released two articles about Bellinger and listening to the listeners of preaching this past week. You can read those articles here:
IRVING, Texas (Oct. #, 2023) — The University of Dallas is pleased to announce that the Institute for Homiletics has received a supplemental grant of $250,000 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to further its work with the “Into Deeper Waters: Renewing Liturgical Preaching to Reach Young Catholics” initiative. Through this project, the institute seeks to raise the profile of Catholic liturgical preaching, especially in its relation to the faith lives of youth and young adults. Thus far, Lilly Endowment Inc. has granted the Institute for Homiletics $1.3 million over a five-year period to renew liturgical preaching with young people.
The Institute for Homiletics was launched in 2021 to improve preaching in the Catholic church.
“This supplemental grant will help to further our understanding of how to connect the liturgical homily with the lives of young people. We will be studying youth and young adults of all ages: from how to strengthen school Mass preaching for first graders, to preaching the confirmation homily, to campus ministry Masses, to preaching that connects with parents of young families,” said Dr. Karla J. Bellinger, founding executive director.
“It is essential that we learn how to speak to the young church, especially in the moments when we interact with them. Those moments may be at weekly liturgies or at the rarer occasions of funerals, weddings, quinceañeras and Ash Wednesday. From what we uncover, we will develop resources for bishops, priests and deacons to help them to better connect with this essential population.”
About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. launched the Compelling Preaching Initiative in 2022 by inviting 39 organizations to take part. The Institute for Homiletics was one of those first organizations to be invited. Recently, in the 2023 competitive phase of the same grant, 61 organizations will be supported in their efforts to foster more compelling preaching in the Christian church. The Lilly Endowment created this grant because of its interest in supporting projects that help nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.
About the University of Dallas
The University of Dallas is the premier Catholic liberal arts university in the country, known for its rigorous undergraduate Core Curriculum and robust graduate and professional programs in business, ministry, education and the humanities. With campuses in Texas and Italy, UD stands apart as a thriving community of learners committed to an education that forms students intellectually, socially and spiritually for a life well-lived. For more information, visit udallas.edu.
Preaching God’s “yes” was the central focus of The Institute for Homiletics summer retreat for preachers at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Dogma and Preaching, wrote “The ‘Yes’ of God is the central and universal content of preaching.”
Priests and deacons, a bishop and an abbot, came from the dioceses of Dallas, Victoria, TX and Green Bay, WI. They participated in presentations and workshops on preaching the kerygma, tying theology to lived experience, storytelling, and making preaching memorable or “sticky.” The retreat was part of the Institute’s two year Preaching for Encounter program, which is an ongoing formation program of learning, practice, support and coaching for Catholic preachers.
The first year of the program focused on the spirituality of the preacher and the “how-to” of homiletics.
As the preachers begin year two, the focus shifts to the interplay of liturgical preaching and
evangelization, with a special emphasis on how to reach young Catholics and those on the margins of
To reach young listeners, we have to understand them, Dr. Karla Bellinger, Executive Director of the
Institute, says. She shared a conversation that she had with a teenager who told her that the reason kids select their gender, hair color, and tattoo-type is that they are “creating a character,” not unlike building up from the neutral persona of a video game character. “What constitutes ‘reality’ is shifting,” Bellinger says, “and how do we speak to that?” God’s “yes” is eternal but the preaching task changes with each generation. “I was challenged by change in our culture,” noted Deacon Michael Bolesta from All Saints in Dallas, “that some of those to whom we preach create their own virtual reality.”
One of the challenges priests often face is being pressed for time. Father Wade Bass, Chaplain and
Director of the Catholic Campus Ministry at SMU in Dallas, noted that “not having a lot of time to
prepare to preach is not an ideal situation, but it is a situation altogether familiar to priests and deacons who daily labor under many pressures and responsibilities which involve preaching the Gospel.”
The workshop on preaching the kerygma addressed this time pressure by having the preachers spend eight minutes to create a theologically faithful homily. Inspired by the Sunday readings for the upcoming weekend, they focused on where they found God’s “Yes!” in those lectionary readings. From that focus, they created a 200-word text that reflected deeply on one significant theological point.
With that brief text and its single point in place, homiletician Dr. Deborah Wilhelm, taught how to use
concrete language to connect abstract theological concepts to listeners’ daily lives, while still staying
faithful to the central kerygma of the homily. Deacon Ben Rodriguez from St. Francis of Assisi parish in
Lancaster, TX, responded to this, saying, “Despite the dangers we face in this world, I learned at
Mundelein to preach about the beauty of this world and its goodness as well as the goodness of God.” The preacher’s words, as Dr. Wilhelm pointed out, help listeners orient themselves to God’s grace and
Dr. Wilhelm is one the Institute’s presenters and coaches, who all hold doctoral degrees in preaching.
They have taught, practiced, and published in the homiletics field. One of them, Rev. Dr. Edward
Griswold, retired vice-rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD, says, “I’m thrilled to have the
chance to do this work. It’s meaningful for the men, for me, and for people everywhere who listen to
preaching.” Msgr. Steve Bosso, retired from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, showcased his
scriptural expertise in his homily about Job’s lament. Rev. Dr. Michael Kueber just published Preaching
Preachers enjoyed time with their coaches in small groups, "workshopping" their preaching for the upcoming weekend. They worked on expanding that main theological point through the preacher’s own experience, study, knowledge of Church teaching, and vocation. From there it was a natural step to incorporate words that linked the homily to the lives of the people gathered in their particular community in their specific time and space.
Dr. Suzanne Nawrocki focused the preachers on the skill of “noticing” as a foundation for effective
storytelling for preaching. In discussion, the group readily named what makes for a “bad story.” What
makes for an effective story? Nawrocki walked the participants through a series of exercises to help
them answer that question. She also connected creativity with the science of listening. “Preachers must have a listening heart,” Dr. Nawrocki stated, “following the example of the ultimate Christian storyteller, Christ himself.”
Referring back to the theme as he left the retreat, Father Richard Bediako from Cuero, Texas in the
Victoria diocese, commented “I still hear the resounding voice of the invitation to respond to the “Yes”
of God who has rescued us.”
The mission of the Institute for Homiletics, founded in 2021, is for the renewal and flourishing of
Catholic preachers, says Dr. Bellinger. She adds, “We’ve just begun to recruit the new 2024 cohort of
preachers for this program. We have seen that when our clergy thrive in their preaching ministry, God’s
people thrive as well. And this Institute exists to support the Church in that.”
The Institute for Homiletics at the University of Dallas is a collaboration of the University of Dallas and
the Catholic Foundation (Dallas) with the support of the Diocese of Dallas. The Institute offers
resources to help preachers flourish and thus bring people into an encounter with God. Funding from
the Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative also supports the Institute’s work.
The Institute for Homiletics at the University of Dallas was recently awarded a one-million-dollar grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help renew liturgical preaching to better reach Catholic youth and young adults. The Institute is a collaborative endeavor of The Catholic Foundation (Dallas) and the University of Dallas.
The five-year grant made to the University of Dallas will enable the Institute for Homiletics to implement the Into Deeper Waters: Renewing Liturgical Preaching to Reach Young Catholics initiative. The project will develop resources to respond to two pressing needs of the Catholic Church: 1) the need to improve liturgical preaching so that it brings the people into an encounter with the living God, and 2) the need for effective preaching at Mass to reach and impact the lives of Catholic youth and young adults.
“We are just getting launched as an organization. We have high hopes,” says Dr. Karla Bellinger, executive director of the Institute. “I am grateful to Lilly Endowment Inc. for trusting in our potential to impact Catholic liturgical preaching. The lay faithful are thoroughly convinced about the need for better preaching in the context of the Mass; they have already been generous in endowing our operations fund. They hunger for more compelling preaching — for themselves, for their children, and for their grandchildren. This grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will help us to grow our capacity and our outreach, especially in teaching priests and deacons to better connect with the young Catholic Church.”
“The University of Dallas is proud to be the home of the Institute for Homiletics and grateful to The Catholic Foundation for such a fruitful partnership,” said University of Dallas President Jonathan J. Sanford. “We are tremendously grateful as well for the Lilly Endowment’s generous support to improve the effectiveness of liturgical preaching among youth and young adults, who are the future of the Church.”
The project is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative. The Institute for Homiletics is one of 32 organizations that will benefit from funding made in an invitational round of grants for the Compelling Preaching Initiative, which is designed to help Christian preachers strengthen their abilities to proclaim the gospel in more engaging and effective ways.
“We are excited about the work that these organizations will do to foster and support preaching that better inspires, encourages and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Their programs will serve a significant number of aspiring and current preachers who are working to reach and engage increasingly diverse audiences both within and beyond congregations.”
The Compelling Preaching Initiative is part of the Endowment’s longstanding interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.
“As a Catholic university dedicated to educating young adults faithfully and excellently, we are especially attuned to the effect that good preaching and good teaching can have in drawing them more deeply into the fullness of truth,” Sanford said. “Improved preaching can inspire all Catholics, and especially the young. We hope that they can encounter Jesus and the Gospel message more deeply, which will make a lasting impact on their lives and those around them.”
Learn more about Lilly Endowment Inc. on their website.