Summary of today’s show: Catechetical Sunday is coming up on September 16 and this year the theme is Catechists and Teachers as Agents of the New Evangelization. Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor talk with Kathy Curley and Susan Abbott about the joys and challenges of parish religious education and why catechesis is vitally important for the future of our Church and our families.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Kathy Curley and Susan Abbott
Links from today’s show:
- Catechetical Sunday
- Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II
- Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II
- USCCB, “How We Teach”
- “Are You a 3G Catholic?” by Fr. Larry Swink
- Office of Religious Education
Today’s topics: Catechetical Sunday
1st segment: Scot said today’s show looks forward to Catechetical Sunday, especially preparing for the Year of Faith. Fr. Chris O’Connor said St. John Seminary is also preparing for the Year of Faith. One thing they’re doing is sending four of the faculty members out to parishes in each of four regions of the Archdiocese to talk about the four parts of the Catechism.
They’re also inviting all of the 5th graders in the diocese, their teachers, parents, priests, and catechists to visit them at the seminary and to talk about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to show them both the seminarians and the seminary.
Scot also recalled that today is the anniversary of the events of 9/11/2001. Fr. Chris read a prayer of remembrance for 9/11.
2nd segment: Scot said Susan Abbott is here today not as a co-host but as director of religious education for the Archdiocese. Kathy Curley said she has been working in parish religious education for 16 years at St. Paul’s in Wellesley. She said she started as part-time, but over the years the parish has grown significantly and it has become a full-time position and she now has an assistant.
Fr. Chris asked why the parish is experiencing such growth. Kathy discussed the parish’s family Mass, social time for families, and how they work with families’ schedules. Scot asked how many children they have registered. Kathy said they have 525 registered as of today, but they expect over 650 when finally registered. They have more than 50 catechists, but they expect to need even more. When parents drop off their kids, they will ask them to stay, to sit in on a class, and they can see how much support there is for the catechists and how it isn’t so daunting.
Fr. chris asked what are the highlights of St. Paul’s religious education. Kathy said during the family Mass, the pastor brings the children up around the sanctuary during the homily, when he asks them questions and gets them involved. After Mass, there is a social time with a lot of parents involved. Following that, there is a Sunday session of religious education. During the week, they have a Wednesday afternoon program as well to give parents an option. For older students they have Sunday afternoons and evenings.
Scot asked Susan how many catechetical leaders there are in the archdiocese. Susan said they don’t know the exact split of full-time and part-time, but out of 288 parishes about 280 have religious education programs. (For example, Our Lady of Victory in downtown Boston doesn’t.). They have about 435 listed as catechetical leaders because some parishes have multiple leaders who take charge of certain grades. Most of them are part-time. Susan said there are several parishes where the religious ed program is directed by a deacon. A few parishes have the pastor listed as the contact person, but there isn’t more than a handful where the pastor or parochial vicar is solely responsible.
Across the archdiocese, there are about 11,000 catechists covering kindergarten to Grade 12 and not adult formation. There are about 122,000 students in those age ranges. Scot said there’s a ratio of about 11–12 kids per catechist. Kathy said that’s the perfect size class for one person, especially for people who are not professional educators. However, a lot of the catechists are sharing classes, teaching every other week, for example. The average class is about 18 and professional teachers will get even more students. Kathy pointed out that one of Susan’s daughters is a catechist in her parish.
Fr. Chris said he’s often making the announcement from the altar during Masses that they need more catechists. He asked how they convince people it’s something they’re capable of doing? Kathy said the best advertising is their own peer group. She said she sees friends and parishioners at the supermarket running the other way when they see her. Susan said she’s recruited many a catechist in line at the supermarket. But Kathy said she asks teachers already involved to talk to their friends and maybe even ask them to plan one Advent or Lent activity which they can see go well.
Kathy said she often hears from a first-timers the objection that they don’t feel qualified. But Kathy asks them to sit with her one-on-one and to show them the material. She encourages them that she doesn’t know everything either. She also noted the importance of preparing for lesson because children pick up on that. So they give plenty of resources to the catechists. She said there are plenty of good resources like short videos that stimulate discussion.
Fr. Chris asked Susan some of the benefits of being a catechist. She borrowed a line from the Peace Corps: It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love. She said we’re all called to be an evangelizer, but we’re not all called to be a catechist. However, those who do answer the call are mentored by catechetical leaders and then should spend time in prayer and with the teacher’s manual. Susan said in the end that we are handing on the faith of Christ. How can we not be in love with this idea? Then considering that some of the kids in class won’t be in Mass on Sunday, you are the face of the Church to them.
Susan said they get 24 hours per year to educate them in their faith compared to the thousands of hours of school. These children need to know that God loves them. Quoting John Paul II, the whole point of catechesis is not just to put people in communion, but in intimacy with Jesus Christ. Scot said we want to teach them that Jesus is not just a historical figure, but is alive today and loves them infinitely.
Susan said catechists make a deep commitment, being there for the kids week after week after week. They are not just showing up, but are spending plenty of time preparing for each class.
Kathy said she tells the catechists to preach the Gospel every day and if necessary to use words. They will teach through their love and nurturing and caring. If they are witnesses to Christ in their lives, they will teach better and get their points across even when there are questions you can’t answer.
Kathy said a great way to keep young people involved after confirmation is to get them to volunteer as catechists. She even has young people who started in religious education when she did 16 years ago who are now catechists.
Kathy said summer is a tough time for recruiting, so they ask people in March and April if they’d like to come back next year as catechists. She also starts preparing for people who retire from teaching catechism. She has one volunteer who has been teaching for 16 years and is finishing up his time teaching. So they always look to have extra teachers at every grade. That’s especially true in second and third grade for preparing for the sacraments. And if they get ten more students in late September at the last minute, they’ll need another teacher. Kathy also said that 7th and 8th grade is a tough slot to fill, so they have changed the program to put all the students together and have a team of 3 teachers. They also have parents who are willing to be small group facilitators.
Fr. Chris talked about how it’s essential to go to both religious education and Mass. He said it’s like going to all the football practices and not playing in the game itself.
He asked Susan about Catechesi Tradendae, the apostolic exhortation that Pope John Paul II wrote about catechesis in our time which was one of the first things he wrote as Pope. Susan said it was published on the first anniversary of his election as pope. She said she often pointed out in budget meetings this quote:
As the 20th century draws to a close, the Church is bidden by God and by events – each of them a call from Him – to renew her trust in catechetical activity as a prime aspect of her mission. She is bidden to offer catechesis her best resources in people and energy, without sparing effort, toil or material means, in order to organize it better and to train qualified personnel.
She also noted this quote:
Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.
We are telling the story of 2,000 years of our faith, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and we have to proclaim it with joy. Yes, we have issues, but if we can’t proclaim this message with joy, then just turn out the lights.
Scot asked Kathy about the joys of being a catechetical leader at St. Paul’s. She gets joy from meeting people, including parents who tell her how enthused their kids are at learning their faith. she also pleased by the class they’ve developed for students with special needs who wouldn’t otherwise be coming to religious education.
Scot asked Susan how parishes mark Catechetical Sunday. She said some parishes will do a commissioning of the catechists at Mass on Sunday. She said the Sunday being marked on the third Sunday of September was started by the Holy Father in 1935. The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year is Teachers and Catechists as Agents of the New Evangelization and the USCCB has a treasure trove of free resources on their website (see link above.)
She said this is heady stuff because if we don’t hand on the faith, it won’t continue on.
Kathy said many of us could go back in time and pick out one person who told us one thing that sticks with us that caught our attention about our faith.