Leila Castellanos receives her certificate from Bishop Gregory Parkes for completing level one of Southeast Pastoral Institute Escuela de Ministerios.

By Lily Belcher

In January of 2019, Nativity Catholic Church Parishioner Leila Castellanos joined the Southeast Pastoral Institute Escuela de Ministerios (SEPI) after her friends gave her a brochure from the diocese. The simple brochure piqued her interest in the institute that “strives to facilitate the full participation of Hispanics/Latinos in the mission of the church and society as authentic missionary disciples.”

On June 22, Castellanos and two other individuals (Theresa Hernandez from Most Holy Redeemer Parish and Felicia Westbrook from Incarnation Parish) received certificates for completing level one of SEPI from Bishop Gregory Parkes. Thirteen other parishioners from various churches graduated from the four-year institute during the service as well.

“In an evening prayer service, the bishop congratulated and commissioned these students to serve in ministry leadership throughout the diocese. The bishop remarked on their courageous commitment not only to ministry leadership, but to their … study in the program,” announced the Office of Communications for the Diocese of Saint Petersburg.

Castellanos’ first year in SEPI was interrupted for eight months during the pandemic, but she dedicated her time to online courses outside of the school of ministries. Her efforts were rewarded in the evening prayer service not only with the certificate, but also the opportunity to meet and talk to Parkes. Castellanos explained that SEPI has helped her grow in her faith by giving her a better, more in-depth understanding of the Scriptures.

She said her husband of 47 years has helped her on her journey in faith and in the program. She explained that their daily dinner conversations gave her a chance to exchange ideas and topics about the courses in which she was participating.

She also expressed her gratitude for Nativity Catholic Church, where she has actively served as a parishioner for over 15 years.

“I’m impressed with their warmth and hospitality at all levels, that helps a person a lot. It is just a great community overall that supports you to further your knowledge, just like I just did,” she explained. “The pastor, Father Tapp, and all other priests and deacons are always there to answer any concerns or questions you may have.”

For more information on the Southeast Pastoral Institute, visit sepi.us.

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