Catechetical Leader Series

How many times have you heard it said in ministry: “You can’t give what you don’t have”?  Everyone in ministry knows this intellectually.  Everyone also knows or has known someone in which this would be an accurate assertion of their struggles in ministry.  The final responsibility which the National Directory for Catechesis asserts of all catechetical leaders (CLs) is that they are to give “attention to their own personal, spiritual, and professional development” (pg. 225).


Wikipedia defines personal development as “ activities that improve self-knowledge and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and employability, enhance quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.”  In ministry one of the goals is to be an instrument for Christ so that others may come to know and love Him.  Catechetical leaders need to take time throughout the year to be aware of the areas that will help them keep everything in perspective and have a good work/life balance.  I’ve seen CL’s neglect their own personal development and get so focused on what is in front of them that their family and friendships suffer.  Without the proper self-knowledge and awareness of the need to continually develop and grow personally we will not have the perspective necessary when ministering to, for and with the People of God we serve.


The Spiritual life is a journey of “casting your net out into the deep” (cf. Lk. 5:4) in order to become more like Christ, more holy, more faith-filled, more on fire for God and more united in mind and heart with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Resources in the spiritual life abound from books to devotions to the offering of talks and retreats in each diocese.  A catechetical leader’s call is first to this vocation of holiness.  The more a catechetical leader develops their own spiritual life the more their ministry efforts bear fruit and multiply.  This aspect of development cannot to overemphasized regarding its proper place.


Many of us get what we probably call “junk mail” advertising how to lead productive and concise meetings, how to work well with difficult people and how to resolve conflicts, etc., all touting professional development.  We can learn a lot from some of these one day seminars.  Most dioceses offer professional development opportunities not only that help you improve on your catechetical skills in the classroom but also those skills that leaders need in order to organize their program, equip volunteers and lead others at the parish and diocesan level.  Granted our definition of success is not in terms of power or wealth but in terms of using our gifts to be a fitting instrument of the Gospel to those we serve.  Even if you can’t go to a national conference seek to take time to grow and work on those professional areas that would benefit your ministry.

Each of these areas of development are important in the role of every catechetical leader.  Through our own development we are better able to help others develop and become the best versions of themselves and help lead them to Christ.

What do you find is important in your personal, spiritual, and professional development?


But I’m Not The Liturgist

What does being a catechetical leader (CL) have to do with liturgical planning?  Many people in CL positions do not have much to do with liturgical planning especially as it relates to the Sunday liturgies or any other liturgy for that matter.  The National Directory for Catechesis articulate one of the responsibilities of a CL is assistance in liturgical planning (cf. Pg. 225).

Manifesting Christ

The Second Vatican Council said: “It is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC], Constitution on the Liturgy, no. 2).  The Liturgy, says Msgr. Francis Kelly, “contains the Church’s greatest and most effective catechesis.  During the course of the liturgical year, the whole mystery of Christ is relived and the inexhaustible riches of its grace for our lives are assimilated” (The Mystery We Proclaim, pg. 42).  It is therefore important for CLs to be involved in liturgical planning so as to help those they serve be more fully drawn into the “fount from which all Her power flows” (SC, no, 10).

Parish Planning

Many CLs are DREs who have the responsibility of coordinating sacramental preparation for First Reconciliation, First Eucharist and Confirmation.  In each of these there are aspects of liturgical planning that CLs need to be involved in.  Another example would those CLs involved with RCIA.  There are a number of Rites that are a part of the RCIA process and therefore require the CL to collaborate and work with the priest and liturgist/music director.

How Are You Involved in Liturgical Planning?

What are the ways you find yourself involved in liturgical planning as a CL?


For other posts in this Catechetical Leader Series click here.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Have you ever been in a work environment where you felt like you were spinning your wheels because the various groups or ministry heads in the parish refused to work together on a consistent basis?  At times in parish life it can be frustrating because of the lack collaboration.  The National Directory For Catechesis speaks of the responsibility of the catechetical leader is to seek “collaboration with the pastor, other parish ministers, and appropriate committees, boards, and councils” (NDC pg. 225).

Working Together

In my parish, an “inter-ministry” team was formed which drew all the main ministry heads together to discuss how we can together serve our parishioners and fulfill the parish priorities that had been established.  The aim of this group was to go beyond the all to common approach of each ministry being a “silo” amidst the other “silos” (e.g., Youth Ministry being completely separate from Religious Education and those two being separate from Adult Faith Formation, etc.).  This has helped cut down on different ministries trying to do similar things and discovering that by working together we can better meet the needs of our parish community.  So, how come we don’t meet our desired result or help to get more people involved?  Often it’s because various groups or ministries are not working together.

Meeting the needs of the parish

It is easy to speak of the importance of collaboration, but really seeking to accomplish it is what matters.  Even Jesus, the second person of the Trinity did not do it all on his own and he chose 12 apostles to continue the ministry he had begun and to teach in His name.  In addition 72 disciples were chosen later to go on mission.

At the heart of why various ministry heads, boards, councils and committees need to work together is to be able to more fully bear fruit and fulfill the mission of the Church as well as the particular mission of your parish.  Most parishes have a “parish mission statement” that articulates the heart of your parishes identity and desired goals.  Therefore, it is extremely advantageous to partner and collaborate so the fulfillment of these goals can be achieved.  If you are a catechetical leader then consider reflecting on how you are doing this and ways you may need to improve.  If you are a catechist, consider how you are working or not working with other catechists and the director of your program to build community and work together in your ministry.

Some Tips from a leadership professional

John C. Maxwell is a leadership guru that I enjoy reading.  I’ll conclude by sharing what he said about collaboration in his book, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player:

Collaboration is the key word when it comes to meeting challenges as a team. Cooperation is merely working together agreeably, but collaborating means working together more aggressively. Every team player must bring something more to the table, and not just put in his minimum required work.

A collaborative team player needs to change in four key areas:

A team player must see his teammates as collaborators, not as competitors. Their skills and talents must complement one another, rather than be made to compete against each other. Competition within the team will only hurt the team.


Be supportive, not suspicious, of your teammates. Always assume another person’s motives are good unless proven otherwise. If you trust people, it naturally occurs that you will treat them better, and a collaborative spirit will grow within your team.

Concentrate on the team, not yourself.Think of progress as a relay race, where you must pass the baton onto your next teammate. Do not ask “What’s in it for me?” but rather “What does this do for the team?”
Create victories through multiplication. Remarkable results can be achieved when you harness the skills and talents of all your individual team members. Several heads are always better than one.
To be a collaborative team player…

•Think win-win-win.
•Complement others and their unique gifts.
•Take yourself out of the picture. Stop promoting yourself and ask how the team would do if you were not in it, propose ideas that will not involve your participation but will promote other teammates.

As catechetical leaders and catechists we can do great things through Christ who strengthens us if we collaborate with one another.  Come Holy Spirit?

What are ways you have collaborated in your parish that has helped you, the staff and fellow parishioners?

The last 3 posts in this series have been on the responsibility of the catechetical leader (CL) to provide formation for catechists.  I would like to now turn to the next responsibility mentioned by the National Directory For Catechesis – policies and procedures.  The NDC states the importance of the “Implementation of diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines, including the areas of catechist certification and supervision and administrative policies related to negligence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and the safety and protection of minors.”  Wow, that is a mouthful!

I’d Didn’t Sign Up For This

No, most catechetical leaders don’t find much inspiration from the policies and procedures that are created from their diocese or parish.  However, policies and procedures are necessary in order that the overall program is carried out and certain things are in place to protect both children and adults.

What They Are

It’s important to define the difference between a policy and a procedure. defines a policy as “a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.”  It is, therefore, a predetermined course of action that is being asked of catechetical leaders (from the diocese), parents or parishioners (diocesan and/or parish level).  A procedure, on the other hand, is “how” the policy will be carried out.

I found some great points about policies and procedures that I think are helpful from

The major differences between policies & procedures are identified below:

• Are general in nature
• Identify company rules
• Explain why they exist
• Tells when the rule applies
• Describes who it covers
• Shows how the rule is enforcement
• Describes the consequences
• Are normally described using simple sentences & paragraphs

• Identify specific actions
• Explain when to take actions
• Describes alternatives
• Shows emergency procedures
• Includes warning & cautions
• Gives examples
• Shows how to complete forms
• Are normally written using an outline format

Policies & procedures are required when there is a need for consistency in your day-to-day operational activities. Policies and procedures also provide clarity to the reader when dealing with accountability issues or activities that are of critical importance to the company, such as, health & safety, legal liabilities, regulatory requirements or issues that have serious consequences. ( Why are policies and procedures important).

Here is an example of how the Archdiocese of Chicago articulates their policy and then lists the procedures:

1601.1. Policy: The Parish shall have a parish handbook of guidelines and
policies of religious education. The handbook shall be in accord with Archdiocesan policies. The Parish shall make the handbook available to parents, catechists, and all interested parishioners.
a) The handbook includes such information as:
-the parish statement of catechetical purpose;
-schedules of religious education offerings;
-procedures for registration, cancellation of classes, emergencies;
-policies regarding fees, attendance at classes and disciplinary
-information on parish policies regarding preparation for
-policies regarding the health, safety and welfare of children;
-a statement of the parish’s non-discrimination policy;
-information on programs for persons with special needs; and
-pertinent Archdiocesan policies.

It goes on, but the above is a good example of the “what” and “how” of a policy and a procedure.

Here is a parish example:

Policy: The following is the St. Ann Sunday School Well-Child Policy. We will work to adhere to this policy for the safety and well being of all the children.
Please keep your child at home if any one of the following has occurred within the last 24 hours:
Discharge in or around the eyes
Green or yellow running nose
Excessive coughing
Questionable rash
Any communicable disease

The Procedure: A quick health check will be conducted when you bring your child to the classroom.  A child will not be admitted if any of the symptoms above are present. (from St. Ann’s Parish in Coppell, TX)

The Business Side of Things

Making sure that policies and procedures are created and implemented is an important component in the overall responsibilities of a catechetical leader.  This is what I call the business side of the Church.  Without proper policies and procedures problems and even scandal occur.  This is often the least enjoyable part of the duties of a CL, but nonetheless, essential.  Proper policies and procedures ensure professionalism, safety and order which are all important in catechetical ministry.  With these in place the Holy Spirit is able to more clearly work among God’s people.

As we continue to discuss the important components of being a catechetical leader, I would like to take one more opportunity to speak of catechist fformation (click here for: Part I and Part II).  In this final part on catechist formation, which is pivotal to the success of a catechist, I would like to focus on how the catechist is called to be an authentic witness and how their primary and fundamental goal is is draw others to Christ.

A Witness

The National Directory For Catechesis (NDC) articulates clearly the importance of the catechist being a witness to Jesus Christ in the Church and in the world (pg. 240).  Formation must include helping them develop an “apostolic zeal” as well as encouraging them to become “evangelizers” (cf. pg. 240).  Formation, therefore, is much more than merely passing on skills for good discipline, lesson planning, use of technology and using different learning styles.  The zeal and evangelical spirit that a catechist brings to the classroom or faith formation environment is the key to the ministry of catechesis.  What people remember is the person more than they remember the particular teaching or means by which something was taught.  It is the catechist who is the linchpin in the catechetical process.  The person of the catechist is the one who brings all the great tools, skills and most importantly a compelling witness of faith to those they catechize.

Leading Others To Christ

The NDC continues: “Since catechists nurture the faith that was implanted by the Holy Spirit in those being catechized, their formation should also include training in catechetical methodology”(pg. 241).  This is more than helping them create a good lesson plan, but helping them see how the method in which they present the material can draw others further into their relationship with God.  “Catechists do not merely instruct their students about Christ; they lead them to him”(NDC241).  This is the heart of the why we catechize – to lead the believer to Him, Jesus Christ who has the words of everlasting life (cf. Jn. 6:68), is the way the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6), and who is all and in all (cf. Col. 3:11).

Ongoing Process

The formation of catechists is an ongoing process that can, in part, be accomplished through the certification proccesses that various diocese.  However, it is something that must always be ongoing and lifelong no matter how many courses or classes one has taken.

Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on catechist formation.  Anything you would have emphasized regarding this topic that was not covered?

Got Formation?

Recently I was looking over some catechist evaluations from last year and I came upon some comments from a few catechists who shared that the Catechist In-Service our parish provided was not necessary for them since they had been teaching for a number of years.  Granted this could be because of what was covered at the in-service, but I think it had more to do with an attitude that they are just fine where they are at.  In Part II of my discussion of catechist formation I would like to expand on the importance of ongoing formation for catechists.

Effective Catechesis

The opening sentence of the NDC under “Ongoing Formation of Catechists”, says: “Since effective catechesis depends on virtuous and skilled catechists, their ongoing formation should enhance the human, spiritual, and apostolic qualities and catechetical skills they bring to their ministry” (pg. 238).   Effective catechesis must include and foster human, spiritual and apostolic qualities in addition to the development of various teaching skills.


I find that there is a great desire for pragmatism today in our society.  Even in the Church, catechists want skills, skills, and more skills to “do” better catechesis and help their students “do” better at living the faith.  Yes, it is important to help increase the skills of catechists and rightly so in a time where our parents and grandparents mode of learning is predominately unsuccessful.  Ongoing formation must continually strive to equip catechists with various skills so that they can hone their natural talents and develop other skills that don’t come as natural to them.  However, the NDC also mentions the often forgotten component – the spiritual formation of catechists.  This is the most under appreciated component of formation offered to catechists’ today.  There are a number of factors to explain why that is, but suffice it to say, there exists a temptation to pass on the secular notion of forming those who teach.   There is a great need to make sure catechetical leaders are helping catechists see “the one thing necessary” – life in Christ (Cf. Lk. 10:42).  Assisting catechist to develop a life of virtue is vital as they witness their love for Christ and His Church to those they serve.

All Aspects of the Catechist’s Life

The NDC emphasis the need for ongoing formation of catechists that includes “all aspects of the catechist’s life”.  It speaks of the human, spiritual and intellectual levels that need to be developed in the life of catechists (see pages 239-240).   In order for a catechist to grow and continue to be formed they must be provided an integrated formation which assists them as they themselves grow and develop as a person, as a disciple of Jesus and as a faith-filled Catholic.


Here are a few ways to assist catechists in their ongoing formation:

~ Promote the reading of spiritual books and CD’s (especially regarding aspects on the spiritual life).

~ Always encourage them to grow in their spiritual lives.

~ Provide retreats, evenings of reflection, and opportunities for spiritual growth.

~ Help link the importance of how the saints and holy men and women relied on the reservoir they had through a life of prayer.  The success of the saints was not as much in the personal skills they possessed, but in their authentic witness of life that truly inspired those who encountered them.

Catechist Formation – Part I

The first summer I spent at my current parish I was talking to a catechist who said to me: “The Church doesn’t believe in Purgatory anymore do they”?  On another occasion I’ve had a catechist share how the Holy Spirit actually dwells in water in the baptismal font.  Also, I have heard of catechists doing nice crafts or activities that do not support the heart of the day’s lesson even if they get kids moving around.  These few examples point to the great need for the initial formation of catechists and their ongoing development.  In this post I would like to share what the Church in the United States (i.e., United States Conference of Bishops) has to say about how a catechetical leader (CL) has the responsibility to help catechist receive initial and ongoing formation.

Initial Formation

The National Directory For Catechesis (NDC) lists 11 points that should be considered regarding the initial formation of catechists (see pages 237-238).  Among those points I would like to focus on the first and fourth.  The NDC begins, “Initial formation of catechists most profitable precedes the beginning of their ministry and can employ different methodoligies.  Whether the training is done at a diocesan catechetical center or in the parish, it should be adapted as much as possible to the specific needs of the individual catechist” (pg. 237).  The final sentence before the list says: The initial formation of new catechists should:

“Help them develop an understanding of the nature and goals of catechesis.”

The Nature and Goals of Catechesis

What is the nature of catechesis?

The nature of catechesis is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation to humanity.  Catechesis in its very essence is communicating or echoing a person and aiming to bring people into communion with Jesus Christ (cf. Catechesi Tradendae 5).  Catechetical Leaders whether on the parish level or the diocesan level need to help catechists understand from the beginning of their ministry that they are to proclaim the Gospel message communicated orally (apostolic tradition) and through the Sacred Scriptures.  This is what we know as the Deposit of Faith.

What are the goals of Catechesis?

The goals of catechesis are to 1) help bring about an understanding of the knowledge of the faith so that deeper conversion will be fostered and occur (cf. Catechesi Tradendae, 20).  It is also a part of the goals of catechesis to communicate what the General Directory and the National Directory for Catechechesis calls the 6 tasks:

1. Catechesis that promotes knowledge of the faith
2. Catechesis that promotes a knowledge of the meaning of the Liturgy and the sacraments.
3. Catechesis that promotes moral formation in Jesus Christ.
4. Catechesis that teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ.
5. Catechesis that prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church.
6. Catechesis that promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society.

Initial formation for those in ministry is essential to authentically passing on the Faith.  Communicating the nature and goals of catechesis cannot be assumed or overlooked.  I believe the following statement can be true in the Church as well as outside the Church: “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church”(Archbishop Fulton Sheen).

Even though our catechist don’t hate the church the aspect about “perceiving” what we believe can apply to them.  If catechists are not formed they communicate and pass on what they think we as Catholics believe and it can often be inaccurate to what we actually believe.

Thorough Formation

The 4th point listed in the NDC says that initial formation of new catechists should: “Provide thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic faith and practice, making the catechist aware of the social, cultural, ethnic, demographic, and religious circumstances of the people he or she will serve, so that the catechist can bring the Gospel message to them” (pg. 237).

There is a lot here to unpack.  Many challenges exist to providing thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic Faith when there is only a limited amount of time to equip catechists.  However, it is important to help provide and point towards important resources for catechists.  A brief introduction on the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very important as a catechist begins their ministry.  An introduction on how to use the Scriptures and help engage students in them is also essential.  Also, giving catechists various resources and showing them where they can find them (e.g., resources you have in your office as well as valuable websites that communicate the faith well are valuable for catechists).

What about You?

How does your diocese and/or parish help catechists attain a strong initial formation in the Faith?  What challenges do you experience in helping catechists acquire a thorough formation as they begin their ministry?

Other posts in this Catechetical Leader Series:

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