Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
October 17, 2023 // Diocese

McGrath Institute Provides Formation for Catholic Leaders

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

People seek spiritual guidance from their parish priests, directors of religious education, theology teachers, and more. These men and women offer counsel and support as we make our spiritual journeys.

But who assists these spiritual guides on their own faith expeditions?

Geddes Hall..Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

For the past 53 years, the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has provided theological education and leadership formation programs for Catholic leaders. The institute connects lay and ordained leaders to the intellectual and spiritual riches that come from the heart of the university. The institute renews, strengthens, and nurtures the life of the Church through education and scholarship. By taking the Catholic intellectual life and making it accessible, those involved in the McGrath Institute help to form Church leaders at all levels. 

According to officials with the McGrath Institute, the organization’s mission bridges the Catholic intellectual life and the life of the Church in order to form and empower faithful Catholic leaders for service to the Church and thereby the world. In collaboration with their ecclesial partners, the institute proposes and enacts a renewed vision of Church life through scholarship, pastoral expertise, and teaching to discern and address the needs of the Church. Their vision is to seek to become, as Pope St. John Paul II stated, a “living institutional witness to Christ and his message.”

Photo by Peter Ringenberg/University of Notre Dame
Members of the Diocese of Lexington attend a leadership retreat on Notre Dame’s campus. Attendees were participants of the McGrath Institute’s online Camino program.

Many resources from the McGrath Institute are free and available online for a variety of audiences. These include prayer guides, ministry materials, teaching materials, as well as resources for parents and children. Events hosted by the McGrath Institute on the campus of Notre Dame feature speakers and panels that address timely theological, pastoral, and cultural topics. The institute’s popular “Saturdays with the Saints” series offers lectures about Catholic saints during Notre Dame home football weekends. The institute’s Church Life Journal offers theological and pastoral reflections on the most pressing issues in the Church today and is one of the top Catholic journals in the country. In addition, the “Church Life Today” podcast offers conversations with pastoral leaders and scholars from across the country. 

The institute has been a pioneer of online theological formation with its STEP and Camino courses. Available in Spanish and English, these flexible, six-week courses created by Notre Dame professors and other theologians are specially designed for Church leaders actively working in parishes, schools, and dioceses. The online courses are well-suited for catechists, schoolteachers, lay ministers, deacons, and other adult Catholics seeking accessible courses that are intellectually rigorous and faithful to the Catholic tradition.

The McGrath Institute’s Holy Family Initiative for Family Catechesis program embraces the diverse spiritual needs and complex realities of multigenerational immigrant communities in the United States and aims to help overcome the existing divisions between immigrant parents and growing numbers of first- and second-generation Hispanics born in the United States. In addition, a partnership with Chicago-based Iskali, an organization that empowers and equips young Latinos with high-quality faith formation, enables a key demographic in the Church today to become transformational leaders and creates a culture of affiliation at the parish level.

Organizations across the country are faced with challenges, and the McGrath Institute for Church Life is no exception. Leaders at the institute find that the issue of religious disaffiliation among U.S. Catholics is a top issue. They have recognized the urgent need for nuanced and thoughtful steps to respond to the reality of disaffiliation given the scope and breadth of this challenge within the Church. Specifically, their partnership with Iskali is intended to reach the alienated or indifferent among Hispanic Catholic youth. The Take a Second Look program is intended to persuasively engage and encourage students to reengage with the Church and Catholic teaching – something many young adults today thought they had left behind, outgrown, or had never considered relevant to their lives in the first place.

Through the Fiat Program on Faith and Mental Health, the McGrath Institute is looking to help the Church develop better pastoral and professional expertise in order to make the Church more likely to nurture – and less likely to alienate – those living with mental illness and the families who care for them.

The McGrath Institute for Church Life is striving to make a strong impact on the community – in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and beyond. As a source of creative Catholic content and programming, the institute is bringing to fruition the vision of Father Theodore Hesburgh that Notre Dame serves as the place where the Church does its thinking. 

“The Institute is grateful to serve in a diocese with so many thriving parishes and schools,” said John C. Cavadini, Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life. “Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with so many local Catholic leaders who have enriched our work and made us proud to call the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend our home. We hope to continue our fruitful relationship with local parish and diocesan partners, working well together for years to come in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Upcoming Events

The McGrath Institute for Church Life’s popular “Saturdays with the Saints” presentations take place on the weekend of every Notre Dame home football game and are free and open to the public. This is a popular pregame ritual that combines the university’s rich traditions of Catholic faith and spirited game days. This year’s theme, “A Season with Our Lady,” features lectures on different aspects of Mary. For more, visit

“Conversations That Matter” webinars are taking place throughout the fall on the important topic of mental health and the Church. The webinar on Wednesday, November 8, will focus on “Youth Mental Health: Belonging and Hope in an Age of Loneliness.”

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