“My life has been completely transformed, 180 degrees. I can’t begin to tell you.”
This is what Celina Okpaleke had to say when asked about the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute.
LPMI, which has been a pillar in the Diocese of St. Petersburg since 1998, was created to help people who are involved in parish ministry learn more about the Church and eventually take on leadership roles.
LPMI is a four-year formation program. The first year, a year of discernment, gives a well-rounded background of the Church’s history and mission. In the following three years, the participants dive deep into Church teaching and spirituality while learning about various ministry areas around the Diocese of St. Petersburg. They do an apprenticeship in a specific ministry area, and in their final year, they complete a practicum.
“There’s a desire and opportunity to have more involvement of the laity in leadership roles in our parishes and there’s a recognition that a certain level of formation is needed for that. There’s so much more about the Church that your average person attending Mass can learn. We provide the formation to help people take on leadership roles,” said Dale Brown, Director of Lay Ministry Formation for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Celina Okpaleke first got involved with LPMI by the suggestion of her spiritual director. She was so filled with zeal after her consecration to our Blessed Mother that she wanted to talk to as many people as she could about Mother Mary.
“I was so taken by my consecration that I was running everywhere, trying to do something, but I was not structured and I was not organized. My spiritual advisor said LPMI will help you through your journey so you can better understand your faith and what you are doing. This is my calling, to spread the word of consecration and spread awareness of why we should be consecrated to Jesus through our Mother Mary,” she said.
The program served as a challenge to a busy Celina. She was running a business, putting her children through graduate school, and traveling all over the world to talk about consecration. Yet, her commitment to the program did not waver. When her daughter, who lives in Maryland, had a baby, Celina flew back and forth from Florida to Maryland every week so she wouldn’t miss a class. By the grace of God and Mother Mary’s intercession, she said, she was able to do it.
“During my final practicum, I was able to put in place the structure that it takes to actually start a ministry. This was called the Consecrated Marian Society Ministry. This ministry was started to create awareness of why we should be consecrated to Jesus through Mary. This ministry is out there to empower people, not only about the need for consecration but about how do we live it, how do we maintain this life of consecration,” Celina said.
Her formation from LPMI led her to take this ministry worldwide. She serves as President of the International Consecrated Marian Society, which teaches others how to start a Consecrated Marian Ministry in any parish.
Yet, her work doesn’t stop there. During her time in LPMI, Celina was instrumental in the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 2018 and helps every year with its annual renewal. She even wrote and produced a movie about one woman’s relationship with Mary, called Hearts of Mercy. (movie poster is shown above)
LPMI gave Celina the education, the tools, and the connections that she needed to fulfill what she refers to as her life’s calling: sharing her passion for and experience with consecrating one’s life to Jesus through Mary.
“I want to spread it as far and wide as it can go, wherever and however the heavens want to take it and I’m here to do it because I’m here to do their will. I’ve given myself, totally submitted to do what Jesus and Mother Mary want me to do,” she said.
Celina was commissioned by Bishop Parkes with her fellow LPMI graduates on June 23, 2020. (View livestream here.) She will continue to serve the church through her Marian Ministry.
Article by Megan MacElroy