"Together in God's Service"
By Jane Harriman
NEWARK, DE -- Since 1983, Melody Duffy, 55, has directed one of the largest religious education programs in the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. Holy Family Church in Newark, founded in 1979, has no parochial school. Members, from University of Delaware academics to automotive assembly plant workers, send almost 800 children a year to Ms. Duffy and colleagues to learn about their faith.
Ms. Duffy plans education and sacramental programs and recruits and trains catechists. To keep her volunteer staff at 60, she finds and prepares about 20 new catechists a year. It is a consuming job, six days a week, and sometimes as many nights, but she makes time to facilitate a group of master's students in the diocese's LIMEX (Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension) program. And, at the request of the diocese, she has pursued preparation to become a spiritual director at Neumann College.
How does she do it all?
"Melody has a tremendous commitment to passing on the faith. She is living out her vocation. She's a deeply rooted woman of tremendous faith," says Gloria Reinhardt, the diocese's assistant director of religious education.
Ms. Duffy feels empowered in part by her roots on a farm in Illinois.
"It was a different world. We had more time and that encouraged contemplation. My favorite times as a child were the quiet times after school. I remember walking down the road and seeing the rows of corn for miles. My bed was by my window and I'd lie with my head on the sill to look up at the sky and stars and hear the crickets. I'd feel engulfed in the dark and quiet."
The oldest of 10, she wanted to be a teacher and so her parents sacrificed to send her to a Catholic boarding school run by the Adrian (Michigan) Dominican Sisters. At 17 she joined the community, taught for seven years and then was in Church ministry in the Midwest. In the summer of 1974 she discovered the east coast, when she began study for a master's degree at Boston College. Three years later she was in charge of religious education at a parish in Richmond, Va.
The parish's only priest "was a mentor to me in collaborative and ecclesial ministry," Ms. Duffy says. "He taught me that in ecclesial ministry, we are called to live the dying and rising everyday. We experience that Paschal mystery in ourselves and those we serve."
In 1983, after almost eight years of discernment, Ms. Duffy left the Dominicans.
"I had no regrets, which has to do with the way they helped me leave: they believe that wherever we are, our mission is to be co-creators with God. I felt commissioned to do what I needed to do."
Ms. Duffy got the job at Holy Family and bought a house which she shares with a friend, who has become her east coast family and support system.
"We 're both readers and going to movies is one of our favorite things." They also enjoy art museums and travel.
"My real interest is in the growth of adults, catechists, parents. I want to help parents with their children's formation, and support them on their own faith journey. But that's part of my frustration. I have to pay attention to the children's programs and I don't ever do the job I want with the adults."
"Melody has such an awareness of God and the ability to find the gift that is in each person and enable them to use that gift," says Sylvia Reinhart, deputy director of religious education at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Bear, Delaware.
Ms. Reinhart says "Melody calls people forth - to be catechists, DRE's, to pursue further education."
Ms. Duffy once agonized about finding new catechists. "But I've learned I have only to ask. People are basically very generous."
In preparing catechists, Ms. Duffy gets a sense of each person's strength and how best to work with him/her, showing the respect and caring everyone needs.
Not a secular approach, but, she explains, "I have been called to service in the Church all my life, called to work with people, to make a difference, to pay attention to the important things, as an expression of my love for God."
She feels privileged to have been at Holy Family long enough to see a generation of students returning with children of their own. It gives her hope that she is passing on what is most important in life.
"With that Paschal faith," she says, "we have the courage to live fully, to survive dark times, make mistakes, and try again."
Jane Harriman writes for The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.