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Partners in Bridge Building: Conversatio

Updated: May 24

Here at Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission, we firmly believe that discernment is a lifelong practice, not a one-and-done event. We help ministers hone their discernment skills, explore their vocations, and seek out resources that enhance their ministries. Many of the people we work with have been in ministry for years. We also partner with the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary to foster this discerning spirit in students, helping them grow in ministerial servant leadership.


Conversatio: Creating a Culture of Encounter is a three-year program during which students earn a Master of Divinity degree, live in intentional community, and participate in the Benedictine way of life. They serve in Area Catholic Communities in youth ministry, faith formation, or liturgical ministry. The parish component offers an opportunity to work with and be mentored by lay ecclesial ministers and gain pastoral experience in Area Catholic Communities. Conversatio’s main goal is to prepare students to foster ongoing Christian conversion and encounter in themselves and in local and rural congregations where they serve. Effective pastoral leaders commit to the ongoing work of renewing Christ’s body and foster relationships with God and neighbor. The Benedictine vow of conversatio morum (long-term commitment to conversion and growth by the Spirit) and Pope Francis’s notion of a culture of encounter (relationships) inform the mission and ministry of Conversatio.


As students are discerning their vocation to lay ecclesial ministry, our parish partners play an essential role in providing guidance, mentorship, and resources. The student’s coursework informs and forms them for parish leadership and ministry. Theological foundations, the Church’s tradition and history, vocational call to ministry, and various methods and models of catechesis and evangelization learned in the classroom provide students with a strong foundation to serve God and God’s people in ministry. Their work in the parish, in turn, breathes life into the body of knowledge they are learning in the classroom. They can directly apply and share the wisdom gained in “real life” to make a meaningful impact. 


Our graduate assistants provide support in different areas of ministry, all while learning about parish life and community in rural Minnesota. When students are placed in a parish, they are asked to observe, listen, and participate in parish life for the first month to understand the community, the history, and the people. One student is working in middle school youth ministry, building relationships and helping the parish keep an already robust ministry vibrant. Another student is teaching confirmation classes and helping with First Communion preparation for both the Spanish- and English-speaking communities. Another is assisting leaders in the community to teach English to new immigrants. One of the graduate students has said, “I am learning not only the tasks of ministry (creating forms, turning on lights, moving furniture, keeping a schedule, communicating details) but also how to build relationships, be present for people, and listen.”


Students are experiencing the day-to-day administrative work involved in ministry as well as the person-centered and relationship-building aspects of ministry. They work ten hours a week from September to June. Conversatio is always looking for partners in area parishes to mentor and accompany graduate students in meaningful ministry. 


If your parish is interested in being part of this partnership, please contact Donelle Poling at

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