DRE Challenges



icon of Christ

“And they devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, the communal Life, the breaking of the bread and prayers.” ~ Acts 2:42

 

In the beginning, I presumed as a DRE that the best way for catechists to cover lessons over the course of a year was to have them go in chapter order. The publishers must know and have a reason for the order the chapters are in right?  Over the years I’ve rethought this idea and discerned a few things I’d like to share about chapters and what is important to cover during the year.

1. It is important that catechists know what is to be covered each week.  A “whatever the Holy Spirit leads me to talk about” is not what is best, although occurring occasionally.  It is important as a DRE to set out what your grade level catechists will be cover over the course of the year.

Dr. believes more is better

2. I have to get through all the chapters in the book right?  More is not better.  Our aim as catechists is to lead our students into a greater understanding of the deposit of faith that has been given to us and through a greater understanding of what we believe students are brought into a deeper union, a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  We should strive to help students encounter Christ, to actually meet Jesus.  We know that this does not merely happen by getting all the “information” taught.  There needs to be a “dynamism” that both proclaims the truths of the Gospel Message as well as fostering this encounter with Jesus Christ.

3. The Acts 2:42 quote communicates the 4 dimensions of our Faith – the Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed.  These four dimensions should not only be covered individually but more importantly they need to be an integrated whole and seen as unifying the Faith to be in harmony and not just merely a bunch of individual truths.  I wrote a brief blog post on this a little while back entitled Teaching the 4 Dimensions of the Christian Life.  Our Lessons should reflect this reality even when the textbook doesn’t always provide this unity.

4. Classroom Lessons should be uniform.  If you have two classes of say 2nd grade it’s important that essentially the same thing is covered and not something drastically different (this week class A talked about the parts of the Mass and class B watched the Br. Francis “Bread of Life” DVD).  Both of these are all well and good, however it’s important that a program is able to assign lessons the program will focus on during the course of each year.  This does not mean that catechist A has to do the exact same thing as catechist B, however it does mean that they should both meet the same set of objectives or outcomes for that particular lesson.

 

In Summary, DRE’s will benefit greatly in establishing specific weekly lessons for each grade so parents and catechists know what is expected of them to cover.  This helps students both know more about the life of Christ and His Church and most importantly foster a desire in each student to meet Jesus and encounter Him (with all that that entails).

 

Holy Spirit Come

 

 


Our Father

I remember when I first became a DRE I had just graduated from grad. school and once I settled into the job I was dumbfounded how many things I needed to do that I didn’t remember learning.  Here are a few things, for what they are worth, to consider as you get started.

 

1. Come up with a Calendar.  I realized early on that I needed to come up with a calender both for the days we were meeting and the days we were not going to meet as well as a catechist schedule so they knew what they needed to cover each week.  I will cover this one further in my next segment.

2. Consider how you are going communicate.  When I began in the late 90’s, the best way to communicate was through the bulletin and flyers.  Today that has expanded to much more – social media, websites and emails to name a few.  It’s important to discern in your parish what are best ways to communicate with parents, new and seasoned volunteers, and the parish at large.

3. Seek to work with your fellow staff members.  In a parish many things are going on to proclaim the Gospel to those in your parish and probably beyond your parish boundaries.  What are your colleagues doing and how can you work with them to make an impact in your parish.  Working together benefits the whole parish not to mention the various ministry leaders.

 

Anyone else have something to add regarding one of these considerations?  Please do share.


over hereMany new DRE’s that I have known either have a degree in theology but have not had much practical experience as they enter into parish ministry or they have been asked by their pastor to take on this position but have not had much catechetical training or theology.  I would like to begin a series to new DRE’s/CRE’s about what to consider as you begin your endeavor of directing and coordinating the ministry of Catechesis in your parish.

#1: Take your Time

Too often I’ve seen DRE/CRE’s begin to make too many changes too quickly.  Each one of us has gifts and talents that can really help impact the parish programs of Religious Education of children, teens and adults.  And many new ideas and changes that one wants to make are good.  However, my cautionary note is to be careful when making changes.  I want to give you 3 things I have had to learn at a new parish:

1) Listen to those who have been around longer than you and carefully discern the wisdom they have even if you don’t agree with some of their ideas.  This can cause great frustration and division if one does not prudently and slowly make changes.

2) Find out what makes those around you tick.  This really helps you understand why catechists, fellow staff, and/or parishioners feel strongly about how things are currently done.

3) To keep morale up be positive about what others around you are doing.  Granted you may not love everything they are doing but let them know that you believe that together God is going to use you and them to do something wonderful.

 

What tip do you have for new DRE/CRE’s?unlock


For years I’ve understood that the textbook was just a tool and not the end-all of the catechetical lesson.  One of the challenges today is to equip volunteer catechists to go beyond the textbook, i.e., not relying on the textbook as a crutch which they have to teach from in order to convey the content of the chapter.  Although I have some ideas on what we need to do about that, I want to share a few things that seem to be essential in this Ministry of the Word and the Proclamation of the Good News of Christ and His Church today. This are some things needed for Catechesis in the Third Millennium:

 

1. We need a holistic approach to catechesis.

As many have been saying, we need to do more than pass on content – we need to see our catechesis as initiating people into the Christian Life.  Much has been said about this, especially in the last number of years. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that it’s not a victory to get through the 30 chapters of the textbook.  It’s a victory if over the course of a year we have helped those we catechize be inspired, grow in hunger for being in communion with Jesus Christ and desire to continue that friendship they have with Him.

2. We need to help Catechists see that what they are transmitting is something that is unified.

Textbooks, among other resources, can have a tendency to compartmentalize the content of the Faith.  At times for the sake of order this is understandable and necessary.  However, too often we struggle to catechize seeing that the faith is unified not just a set of various truths.  For example, in the 3 part of the Catechism in the second paragraph of that section it expresses this truth I’m speaking of beautifully:

The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,”2 “partakers of the divine nature.”3 Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”4 They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer. (Paragraph 1692)

Even in the 3 part of the Catechism it has not “moved on” from the first two parts to now cover the 3 part (although it does cover the Christian Life lived out and what we believe about that).  But it does so in a unified manner helping the believer see that the faith in intricately woven together as a unified whole.  Catechesis today needs to keep this in mind and make positive strides in helping others see the unity of the Catholic Faith.

3. We need to root our Catechesis in the Holy Trinity.

Yes, I’m sure we all have heard that the Trinity is the central mystery of the faith and how as the Catechism says: “It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (#234).

If what we are teaching does not relate to one of the persons of the Trinity then we should not be teaching it.  As stated above regarding the unity of the faith we have to show those we catechize that God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealing Himself to us and inviting us to community with Him.  When you have a moment take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14 which conveys beautifully the Trinities Mission.  Our catechesis should always be linked with the Trinity.

4. We need to present the faith today as a compelling story — of God’s loving plan.

The Good News is a story to be told, a story to be celebrated, a story to be lived and a story to be in communion with.  It is not romanticizing to say that it is a love story because it truly is, but it is a love story that has tragedy, hope, love and joy which are all a part of the human condition.  We have a tendency in catechesis to present the faith as a lot of great truths but can struggle to help those we catechize see that it’s more a story we are a part of than a number of great truths that happened in the past.  The more we can show others that what we are proclaiming and teaching is all part of a beautiful story of God’s plan and purpose for creation then we help others see just how compelling God and his ways are.

5. We need to put people in contact with Jesus (in relationship with Him).

If we begin and end each catechetical session with a brief prayer lasting no more than 30 seconds then it is not likely that we are able to allow for the proper setting to help those we catechize come into contact with Jesus.  We need to have more prayer in our catechesis, more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, more time of silence and reflection (as challenging as all this can be).  I recently heard a story about how two priests had devoted much time to being present to the First Communion class by stopping by the classes to talk with the 2nd graders and how they also were present at the parent meetings.  Even so, after First Communion none of the parents brought their children to Mass.  One of the things the priests discovered is that they never took to time to take them to the church and have direct contact with Jesus.  They did not take them into the church to show them how this is where the Christian community gathers to celebrate, proclaim and encounter God.  Therefore, helping find more opportunities of putting people in contact with Jesus Christ is essential for fruitful discipleship.

6. The Catechism needs to be better utilized in elementary catechesis

When Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the Catechism as a reference text he did not intend for it to merely be something we use as one among many resources.  Textbook publishers have a tendency to site the Catechism as a reference or a way to show that the teaching in a particular chapter is linked to a teaching in the Catechism.  Although this is a great first step to what we had 20 years ago it lacks something significant.  The Catechism is the essential Deposit of Faith which the Church guards as a most important and vital treasure to the universal Church. The Catechism helps articulate the beauty of the Faith.  The Catechism shows how the Faith is organic and unified.  The Catechism threads the faith together in a way that we can see just how unified and simple the faith is.  When I say simple, I mean that at the heart of the Deposit of Faith we see the simple Gospel Message that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that we may not perish but have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16).  The Catechism conveys the simplicity of God’s plan accomplished through Creation, through His relationship with us, through sending His Son to redeem us and sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify the world and prepare us for the world to come.  Therefore, the Catechism needs to be used more fully in equipping catechists in their ministry of catechesis.

These are 6 things I see as vital to Catechesis in the 21st Century.  May God our heavenly and gracious Father direct us and lead us to greater renewal and communion with Himself.

What do you see as things that are needed for Catechesis in the 21st Century?


Are we focused on training catechists or forming catechists?  The National Directory for Catechesis says:

“Catechesis aims to bring about in the believer an ever more mature faith in Jesus Christ, a deeper knowledge and love of his person and message, and a firm commitment to follow him.” (No. 19A)

I wonder if our training/formation of catechists put a greater emphasis on developing skills but often lack the heart of what catechists need: spiritual formation.

Recently I was listening to a presentation about recruiting, training and forming volunteers.  The presenter, Bill Keimig, made some great points about the need to distinguish between catechist training and catechist formation.  He shared some interesting insights regarding the importance of leading catechists to being spiritually formed, i.e., our spiritual lives.  It is imperative that catechists have a foundation in the spiritual life if they are going to help make saints in the classroom.  Seeking to help students be saints is seeking to bring them to what Bill Keimig calls, “The joy of relationship”.  First and foremost the catechist must have a desire to grow in relationship with Christ.  It is also the aim of the catechist to foster a desire in students for this joy of relationship with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   The more we focus on it in our own lives the more students and those around us will see Christ working in and through us.  Granted it is the parents primary role to instill this desire in their children, but DRE’s and catechists must also foster this.

Please do not misunderstand, catechist training is very important.  Knowledge of the faith enables us to draw the students into the mystery of Christ and God’s plan of salvation.  Catechists who are seeking to grow in their spiritual lives and seeking to be formed in their spiritual lives are going to succeed more than those who have great skills and tricks of the trade to make their classes fun and interactive.  The more we can engage students the better, however at the heart and center of our mission as catechists is drawing our students into that joy and love of relationship with Christ.

As you prepare to get ready for this upcoming catechetical year year let us together resolve as St. Maria Mazarello did to “make up our minds to become saints”.  Together with God’s grace and life in us we can do great things this year!  May God be with each one of you!

Originally posted on http://www.amazingcatechists.com


challengesOver the last year I’ve noticed a trend that is unsettling to me – the consecutive missing of weekly class by students.  Last night, 10 kids out of 16 were missing from one class.  No one informed our office that their child would not be in class.  Recently when one parent wrote me an email saying that their kid was really busy with school work and they thought it best to miss School of Religion, a friend said to me that I should have said “don’t worry about your son missing, it’s only eternity we are talking about”.

Here are few questions that I wish I had more clear answers to:

1. Why is it that parents put other things consistently before faith formation?

2. Why is it a challenge to get kids to make up the work they missed when not attending class?

3. What can be done about helping parents see that when all is said and done about raising their child (ok, it’s never all said and done) will there be faith? And did you as a parent help your child come to know and love Christ to the best of your ability (and that is going beyond merely bringing you child to religious education classes).

Parents and kids alike are over-scheduled, but they find the time to fit two or three sports in at a time, what is it about faith formation that does compel them to make it a priority?

Any insights?  Please take a few moments to comment.

 


Today we just completed our annual two week summer intensive School of Religion Program.  We had 198 students register for it this year.  It was a good two weeks full of activity and learning.  This program has been going on for about 8 years now.  Originally our parish offered School of Religion classes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for 1st – 6th grade.  Once we began to offer the summer program (we do not offer 2nd grade in the summer)  we no longer offered Tuesday night classes.  Many parents really like the summer option because their kids are so busy during the school year that it is challenging to get them to class on a weekly basis.  There are pro’s and con’s to a summer intensive verses once a week for 9 months, but both meet the growing needs of parents and students.

Our Theme This Summer was Faith: Love it, Learn it, Live it! I copied the logo and put up sheets like this all around the building with different ways to apply the Live it, Love it and Learn it theme.

I want to share a few personal challenges I have during these two weeks:

1) The Parents: They are, as we always say: The primary teachers of their child’s faith.  Most parents however feel more comfortable having someone else teach them the basic tenants of the faith (more about that in a future post).  I worked really hard this year communicating with the parents and seeking feedback from them throughout the two weeks (mostly through email).  Each day I emailed the parents announcements and what their child would be learning (by grade level).  I also tried to include helpful tips for the parents, helpful parent websites on faith formation and valuable articles on helping their children grow in their faith.  One email program software we have will report how many emails were opened (some days were better than others).  I so desire to reach out to the parents and get them engaged so they can be empowered and enriched.  It is not easy.  I think some parents really did like the emails (which did take me about 2 hours to put together each day) but others were just too busy to look at them.  We need to find ways to equip parents who so often received poor faith formation themselves growing up.

2) Another challenge I have during our two week program is connecting with the catechists and aides in such a short period of time.  It’s great to work with and around them for the two weeks, but I just wish I had more time to process and see all that they are doing. They have great ideas and they bring so much to the table to share.  I also took the time each day to email them about important announcements for the next day as well as give them teaching ideas and inspirational quotes from saints, the Catechism and catechetical documents.  It is so important to help with their ongoing formation.

Sending these two emails each day took up my whole afternoon and took a lot of energy.  From an administrative point of view I’m glad the two weeks are over, but I’m sad because I wish there was more time to assist our students in their academic and most especially spiritual formation.

I will pray for our parents that they will continue to help their children grow in their faith and remember that these two weeks are only the beginning of what they should be doing now for the rest of the year until next summer (and throughout their child’s life).  I will also pray for the students that the Holy Spirit continues to speak to their hearts and minds.

Students just having a Q&A Session with our pastor.


Over the last two weeks I’ve been collecting evaluations and having meetings about how things went this year.  I praise God for the many blessings from the year – how God worked through the little interactions with families, parents, kids and catechists and how He used teachable moments in the classroom, during our times of music, stations of the cross, reconciliation, etc.  Christ desires to draw us closer to Himself and I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the many gifts and blessings (seen and unseen) that occurred this year.

Reflecting and evaluating upon what can be improved in the future is also important.  The landscape of Religious Education is rapidly changing in many respects and if we don’t consider what we need to do to continually help our families and students grow in a way where they will come to know the Gospel more fully in order that their lives can be transformed.  Reaching out to parents and children who are over-scheduled, consumed with noise and distractions limiting their ability to seek God and encounter Him is a constant challenge.

Here are some things I’ve been reflecting upon:

1) How can catechists be trained so that they can seize the opportunities they have to draw students out of their busy world and give them the one thing that satisfies – Jesus Christ?

2) Are the resources we are providing catechists helping them to authentically pass on the faith and engage kids?

3) What tools and resources can be provided so as to help engage children more fully.

4) How can we involve parents more and help them be the primary educators of their children’s faith?  We don’t want to be a program where parents “outsource” faith formation to us.  We want to be a bridge and collaborate with them in order that they may be more empowered to pass on the faith to their children.

How about you?

What have you been reflecting at the end of your religious education year?


familyonporchThe other day I was talking with a fellow DRE and we were discussing an interesting and very sad mindset of some parents today. We’ve both have had parents tell us “why do I have to do this activity at home regarding religion with my child?” that it why I send him/her to your program.”

It cannot be understated that parents are the most important formers/ educators of their children.  They know their child best emotionally, physically and spiritually more than any other person.  Weather a child attends Catholic School or not, parents have the primary responsibility of helping their children grow in faith.

Check out what the Church Documents say: the-churchs-teaching-on-the-role-of-parents-in-the-education-of-the-faith

It is clear that Religious Education Programs and Catholic Schools must reengage parents in their primary role as educators of the Christian life. Parishes and schools are partnering/collaborating with parents. It is true that parents are very busy and their time and energy is admirable to send their child to grow and learn about the Faith in the many programs provided by parishes and schools, but they are secondary to what parents should be fostering and doing in the home. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide parents to be authentic and equipped witnesses of the Faith.

3 Ways to Equip Parents

1. Always communicate with parents how important their role in passing on the faith is.

2. Continually provide ideas on how families can live the Faith at home.

3. Require parent involvement in sacramental preparation and faith assignments and activities.


religious ed iconSummer Program Underway

So far our first week of Summer School of Religion (Religious Education) is going very well.  Along with covering about 8-9 chapters so far this week (after 3 days of classes) students have had the opportunity to go to a music session on Monday and Tuesday, visit with one of our priests for a Q & A session, and attend a church tour.  Other exciting things coming up this week are a field trip for 6th graders on Thursday and 4th graders on Friday and one for 5th graders next Wednesday.  They will also attend Stations of the Cross on Friday and more times for music on Friday and a couple of times next week.  Students will also have an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation next week as well as a living saints museum.

Challenges of a Two Week Program

First, it is important to note that no program is perfect.  Parents are the primary educators and what we do in our religious education program is in conjunction and in partnership with what should be done within the family.  Families should be living the Faith, talking about the Faith and sharing the Faith on a daily basis.

Our intensive two week program is the only one of its kind in our metro area.  Many parishes practically loathe the fact that we offer such a program and others love the idea but do not have the support they need from their pastor.  Many at our own parish believe it is merely a way to “get it out of the way”.   Yes, there is the potential for parents to sign up their busy child(ren) for two weeks in the summer so they don’t have to make the time for religious formation classes during the year.  However, that does not mean they are not learning and growing during the year.  We hope and pray at a minimum they are attending Mass weekly (but this is also a problem with some parents who have their children attending during the year).  Another challenge is that the great things children learn during the two weeks are not spoken or thought of 3 months later.  For example, the lesson on the Works of Mercy is forgotten about and kids forget to apply the collection they are participating in their schools or the things they are doing during the year with the Works of Mercy that they learned about in July.  Another challenge I find is that the liturgical year is not able to be celebrated in the same way in a two week period as it is from September to May.  Catechists are able to focus on so many aspects of the faith within the context of the liturgical seasons during the year, but not as much in the summer – it’s a little more abstract.  It’s challenge to talk about Advent in July when they won’t celebrate it for another 5 months.

Advantages

I believe I shared in Part I is that our program is 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM.  Most if not all of these students are not in any other educational program during these two weeks and are only focusing on their religious education.  It is very challenging during the year when kids have been at school all day and they are tired and worn out when they come to religious education in the evenings once a week.  Also, students seem to process and retain what they are learning about because they have it day after day for these two weeks instead of only once a week.  Many parents share how they believe their child gets more out of the summer because they are finding it easier for their child to connect the dots about their faith.  I think another advantage is the ability to schedule unique activities throughout the program. Although I’ve been able to do some great things during the year it is easier to schedule music for a half an hour for each grade in a 3.5 hour day verses trying to do the same thing during the year when all we have is an hour and 15 minutes.  I try to schedule at least one thing out of class each day as well as allowing the catechists to decide when they want to take their class to a short “snack break”.  In addition, I really like that during these two weeks the classrooms can be set up in anyway the catechists want them to be set up verses during the year when it would take more time to move desks around before class begins and then move them back at the end of class.  Catechists do not tend to do that as much during the year so as not to “mess up” the Catholic School students desks or put them back in the wrong order.  Neither are they able to decorate and personalize very much during the year but in the summer they are able to do that to a greater degree.

Enrichment Sessions

Since I’ve become the Director I’ve required students and parents to commit to 4 times a year for enrichment sessions (twice in the Fall and twice in the Spring).  These session are designed to build community and continue to help kids and their parents grow in their faith throughout the year.

Although I was unsure when I first began working at the parish about a summer program, I now am an advocate of the Summer Program.  I am always aware of the challenges we face at helping live the faith throughout the year.  There are many great things about this program and I am blessed to be able to be at a parish that offers alternatives and various options for parishioners.  One size (i.e., program) does not fit all.   Feel free to contact me about this program and I’d be happy to share more.


The Past Year

The year has come to an end for most in Religious Education.  As a DRE or a catechist, did you make any mistakes this year?  It’s worth taking time to reflect upon those mistakes and not only admitting that you made a mistake or two but to learn from it.  John C. Maxwell in his book Leadership Gold said two things that I’d like to share:

1) “Everyone makes mistakes – large and small.  To get maximum attention, make a big mistake. To cause maximum damage, fail to admit it! That will keep you from growing as a leader (and may I add, as a catechist/DRE) (pg. 106).

2) Then he continues, “When it comes to success, it’s not the number of mistakes you make; it’s the number of times you make the same mistake” (pg. 106).

Looking Forward

As we take some time to wrap things up from our year don’t forget to take stock and learn from the mistakes made and taking the necessary action from the mistakes made.  I definitely have a few things that come to my mind regarding mistakes I made this year.  One of them I will share is regarding my desire to motivate catechist to do a great job.  I think there were times that I lacked a sense of gratitude toward their commitment to the program.  I wish I would have said thank you more often.  My fear is what Maxwell said about “the number of times you make the same mistake”.  I hope I don’t make the same mistakes again, but I know that it is not out of the realm of possibility.  Come Holy Spirit, assist me and guide me.

What about you?  Any thing you have learned from this year?


icon-of-christ

The ministry of catechesis has many challenges in the Third Millennium. Some of the challenges going on in my ministry of Directing a School of Religion (Religious Ed.) Program is the fact that we only have the students once a week for an hour and 15 minutes (grades 1-6) to pass on the faith.  The middle schoolers meet for an hour an a half. Most of the time students struggle to remember what they learned the week before due to the length of time between lessons (sometimes it is longer than a week). Most parents are so busy and over committed that they do not have the time to follow up and discuss with their child what they are learning. I’m not speaking about all parents but most of of the parents I’ve ever worked with this is the case. This poses a huge challenge to passing on the faith. One thing I’m doing is improving the lessons and equipping the catechists at our parish. Also, I’m trying to find ways to communicate with parents and encourage parents to grow in their faith and share it with their children.

There is a lot of work to be done and progress to be made but I’m continuing to learn the need to engage parents in their primary role of educating their children in the faith. Our program has a collaborative role, we are not the primary educators. Yes, we probably have more resources at our disposal and have catechists who maybe know the faith to a greater degree than parents who have not taken the time that an average catechist does to grow in the faith,but that does not change our role.

It would be great to hear from anyone who has insights regarding these challenges. Come Holy Spirit!


At the end of the year our classes from 1st grade – 8th grade take an end of the year assessment. The purpose of this is to see how they are understanding the faith as it is being passed onto them in the classroom and through home study.

Some are not keen on the idea of giving a test in a religious education program, because it may turn kids off to the faith or because it is a way of assessing knowledge through a written test and not all students are good at test taking. Finally, some think that it should not come down to an assessment at the end of the year.

It is not about a student passing or failing. The purpose of assessments are twofold: 1) It is a solid means of helping a religious education program asses how well or poorly they are passing on the faith. In addition, it helps inform parents what their children know or do not know. Religious education programs need to strive to pass on the faith whole and entire. How are we to know how well we are doing if we have no instrument to help measure (as imperfect as it is) our progress or lack of it? It is very difficult to judge the success of a program merely on how many students like coming to class verses how many do not. Finally, an assessment in each grade helps attain goals. A program that does not have goals and seek to fulfill them lacks the focus it needs to move forward toward growth.

May Christ, the divine teacher, lead and guide us always to transmit the Gospel to the students in our Religious Education Programs.

What have the fruits been in your own parish in regards to giving an end of the year assessment?


I recently read two insightful articles on best practices regarding holding staff/ministry meetings.  One article was called, “The Joy of Meetings” and the other was “Getting More Out of Meetings”.  Both articles offer very practical suggestions regarding meetings in general but especially within a ministry context.  Check them out.

Do you have any tips regarding to productive and fruitful meetings?


I recently had the opportunity to speak to a Youth Ministry class at Benedictine College.  I was ask to share about things to consider when beginning your ministry.   Here are the 12 things I came up with.  Many of them could also be considered for Religious Education.

1. Know the pastor’s vision and hopes for the youth program

  • Are there certain programs he wants you to continue, change, create?
  • What does he want to see more of and what does he want to see less of?
  • Make sure he knows what your vision is and what are some ideas that you would like to implement in your first year.

2. Introduce yourself to the whole parish

  • As you begin your ministry it is vital to introduce yourself whether at each of the Mass on a given weekend or a small biography in the parish bulletin or both.
  • Ministry of presence begins with the whole parish.

3. Know what other ministries are doing

  • If RCIA meets at the same time you do and they are in the room right next store then this could cause problems.
  • If you are scheduling an event and need a room on Friday evening and the Catholic School is hosting a book fair on Saturday and planned on setting up on Friday night there could be a scheduling conflict.
  • Be aware of how people in the parish are involved and who the “doers” are and who the “impact leaders” are in those ministries.

4. Plan Ahead (6 to 12 Months)

  • Plan a semester or two at a time so you will be able to know where you are going and how you want to get there.
  • If your program meets weekly or bi-weekly, plan what the theme for the semester is and what the tentative topics for each session will be.
  • This also helps with scheduling, budgeting and preparations (materials, guest speakers, publicity, etc.)

5. Befriend the parish secretary and the maintenance/custodial person

  • Almost no one knows the parish like the parish secretary.  You can rise or fall based on what she is messaging to parishioners.
  • The maintenance/custodial person can help you out of many pinches or potential conflicts at the parish.

6. Become aware of the history of youth ministry at your new parish.

  • If your parish dropped LIFE TEEN a year ago for specific reasons it is wise to discover what they are (especially if you would like to consider bringing it back).
  • If the former Youth Minister who left ___ months ago spent most of his/her time taking youth to professional sports games or to the movies and parishioners kept asking for more faith oriented activities then it is important to be aware of what parishioners have responded well to and what they have not responded well to.
  • Also, what has happened in the past can help you know what has and has not worked in your parish.

7. Don’t try to please everyone

  • Some parents want the youth program to be a glorified babysitting program and others want it to be a continual retreat or monastic environment.
  • Sometimes one staff person or a group of “elders” in the parish don’t think money needs to be spent on youth ministry activities or they want this kind of focus over another.  It’s important to discern these concerns from parishioners and/or staff members as well as communicate your vision and why you approach your ministry the way you do.

8. Develop your program incrementally (in stages)

  • Try to start slowly or incrementally (step by step).  Beginning too many new things in the first year could result in one of many consequences (burnout, frustration at lack of involvement, unbalanced priorities, and a false sense of momentum to name a few).
  • Improvement, tweaking and consistency are all positive steps at the beginning of your ministry.

9. Collaborate with the DRE and the Parish School (if there is one)

  • Often the DRE works with 6-8 graders. If you are in charge of the Junior High or Middle school also then it’s important to have good lines of communication with the DRE.
  • Even if you do not lead the junior high youth ministry the religious education program feeds into the youth ministry program.  Creating bridges and healthy transitions is often key for youth being involved in your high school youth ministry.

10. Set Boundaries

  • Office Hours
  • Times when you don’t answer your cell phone (maybe between 10:00 PM and 9:00 AM)  Let your teens know that you are unavailable except for emergencies (What time are we meeting at the church tomorrow? is not an emergency nor is Do I need to go to Confession if I stole money from my brother)
  • Avoid situations where you are the only adult around with a teen or teens.

11. Meet with other Youth Ministers in your area

  • Meet with fellow Catholic Youth Ministers who can help share what they are doing to draw students into discipleship and life in the Church.  Non-Catholic youth ministers can also be a blessing because you are all a part of the local community.
  • Often dioceses organize monthly or bi-monthly youth ministry meetings where they get together to discuss future events, pray together, reflect on future ministry possibilities.

12. Prayer

  • First and foremost your ministry is not the same as your spiritual life.  You must constantly work on your personal spiritual life (personal prayer time, Mass, spiritual reading).

a.       Martha did great things but Mary chose the better part.

b.      Jesus didn’t say count my sheep He said feed by sheep.

  • Find a person who will pray for you regularly in your ministry.  If you are able to have a team or group of people (parishioners, parents) who gather regularly to pray for you, your core team and the youth in the parish it will be invaluable to your ministry.

What would you add to this list?  It would be great to hear from you.


It has been 100 years since the birth of a great soul – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or as the world knows her, Mother Teresa.

The Lesson of Calcutta written by Fr. Robert Barron is amazing.  Here is one sentence that captures the article well:

It is the supreme paradox of the Christian spiritual tradition that we become filled with joy precisely in the measure that we contrive a way to make of ourselves a gift. By emptying out the self in love for the other, we become filled to the brim with the divine life.

At the heart of catechesis Pope John Paul II said we find a person – Jesus Christ.  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became that supreme gift to us by emptying Himself so that we could inherit eternal life.  Mother Teresa and her sisters model a life of true joy that can only be found by a complete and total gift of oneself.

Whether you are a DRE or a catechist I pray the programs you are a part of this year fosters that joy that is found by knowing and loving Christ.


John Norton from Our Sunday Visitor listed a great top 10 list on reasons to be a catechist.  Many parishes are getting ready to begin the year and are still looking for catechists. Maybe sending this out in an email or putting it in your bulletin would be a way to recruit a few more needed catechists.  Here is the link and actual article below:

http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/5282/Top-10-reasons-you-should-become-a-catechist.aspx

By John Norton

Top 10 reasons you should become a catechist

One frequent complaint I hear from readers about the state of our Church today is that too few Catholics know their faith (of course, living it is a separate matter). The temptation is to spend so much time assigning blame that we neglect our duty to do something about it.

One important way we can help pass on knowledge of the faith and love for Christ is by being a catechist in our parish.

Last year, regular writer Woodeene Koenig-Bricker prepared a list of 10 reasons to consider becoming a catechist. Here they are:

10. The best way to learn is to teach.

If your own faith education ended years ago, the resources and materials you are exposed to as a catechist will surely refresh and expand your own knowledge.

9. Catechists tell the truth.

The world needs the message of the Gospel and the way to true happiness; as a catechist, you offer a hungry world that sustenance.

8. Sharing the faith is an honor.

It’s estimated that fewer than 1 percent of Catholics are catechists.

7. Your own faith will come alive.

As a catechist, you will discover that prayer, liturgy and your own relationship with God will become more vibrant and meaningful.

6. You become an active part of the most active part of your parish.

When you join the catechists in your parish, you enter into a community that will support you on your faith journey, pray for and with you and encourage you in your Catholic way of life.

5. A catechist is a role model.

As a catechist, you get to model behaviors young people might not learn anywhere else.

4. You will be practicing stewardship.

Being a catechist is a way of being a good steward by giving a bit of your most precious resource — your time.

3. You show your own family that you value religious education.

Taking time out of your life to teach the faith shows your own children, grandchildren, siblings and family members that you put a high priority on religious education.

2. It’s fun.

Kids remind adults to live and laugh in the moment and get enthused about things like holy days and stories of saints.

1. It’s what we are called to do.

At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

Did we miss something on this list? I look forward to hearing from you atfeedback@osv.com.


I recently received an email asking me to share the feedback I received from the end of the year evaluations I gave to catechists and aides.  Below you’ll find three things that I thought might be interesting to readers of this blog.

Here are some responses I received under “Name Two ways you would improve our program”:

  • Offer the catechist magazine to whomever would like to order it
  • Have more tests and quizzes and supply grades, even if they aren’t binding
  • Provide email addresses of parents (This was put down very often)
  • Promote ways that the catechists can get to know one another better
  • Schedule a class with the pastor on a particular subject (we did this a few time with grades 1-6) but not with the 7th grade class.
  • Have kids go off site and do corporal works of Mercy.
  • Limit class size to 10-12 kids (some classes had up to 14-17 kids)
  • Have more speakers and have a Mass with the students participating (we did a closing Mass where we had the 6th graders involved)
  • Easier access to TV/DVD
  • Better involvement, communication and interaction with parents.
  • Allow easier access to internet in the classrooms
  • Use Bible every week (make kids look up Scripture)
  • More Lectio Divina (in upper grades)

Some responses to “Name two things you like about the Program”:

  • Structure of classes (this was said multiple times)
  • Stations of the Cross and All Saints Day event
  • Lesson Plans/outlines for each class (mentioned multiple times)
  • So many materials and supplies available (this was mentioned multiple times)
  • Having Reconciliation during class and Mass at various times throughout the year (mentioned multiple times)
  • Communication with parents
  • Nursery provided for the volunteers
  • Prayer time in the church that was organized
  • The various speakers who came to talk to the kids
  • Like the Vocation Fair (7th grade had this)
  • I liked the spiritual information given to us
  • I liked having a co-catechist (mentioned multiple times)
  • Support from staff (mentioned multiple times)

Some Responses from “Give two suggestions for involving parents”:

  • Have parents be an aide on a rotating schedule basis (this was the most common response)
  • Create focused questions for parents to ask their kids at home
  • Continue to send home the “With My Family” Page from the textbook – maybe have rewards if they bring it back
  • Have a class Mass with parents
  • Parent/child service project or trivia night
  • Do interactive lesson on Sacrament of Marriage involving parents
  • Sign and fill out weekly handouts
  • Homework that kids have to work on with parents
  • Bring your parents to class days (We did this in 2nd grade)
  • Have a parent prayer chain for the children and their teachers
  • Have a parent meeting at the beginning of the year (I did this and got sparse attendance)
  • Use parents as faith witnesses
  • Have parents lead the opening prayer and/or closing prayer

What about you?  Did your parish provide an evaluation?  What feedback are you receiving?


Most religious education programs have ended for the year.  DRE’s and catechists breath a little easier now that there is one less commitment in their already busy schedules.  Students enter into summer full of summer activities.  What do you do over the summer months?

Our parish has VBS next week (June 7-11) and then we have a unique alternative summer program (July 12-23) where students attend for 3.5 hours a day for two weeks to fulfill that grade level’s religious formation requirements.  Needless to say, at my parish, the summer is full.  I work on ways to implement new things and improve upon what we did over the past year.

For example, last summer I spent a lot of time creating and implementing a new format for our Year II Confirmation classes (mostly 8th graders).  This summer I plan working on the Year I Confirmation (7th grade) curriculum as well as tweaking the Year II Confirmation lessons.

What do you as a DRE over the summer?  What do you do as a catechist?  Your input and feedback would be great!


This year all our students were tested on their knowledge of the material they covered during the year. Some students did well and others did not.  An end of the year assessment helps our program for 3 reasons:

1) We see how well the students retained the marterial that was covered.

2) It helps our program know if we have a need to cover certain parts of the faith better.  If maybe one 3rd grade class did well and ther other did not it helps us become aware that maybe it is about the catechist’s need to grow need to improve or be more equipped. 

3) Assessments help parents see what their child may need to improve upon.  They are are great means of bringing awareness to parents which is a priority in our program.   

Granted an assessment of knowledge is only one component of a child’s faith formation.  Far more important is their relationship with God and their desire to grow closer to God.  It is, however, one way to asses students progress.  May Christ, the divine teacher lead and guide us always to transmit the Gospel to the students in our religious education program.


passion3The Heart of the Gospel Message – love and heroic sacrifice go together.  This past Sunday’s Gospel from John Chapter 3 reminds me of a truth that is sometimes forgotten in Religious Education Circles.  Love is the obvious foundation to the Gospel message, but love it not isolated from suffering, sacrifice and demands.  God the Father not only sent His Son, who is also God, to take on human flesh so He could raise us up to new life, but he also planned in the fullness of time to redeem the world, more specifically you and I so that we could have life and not die but have eternal life.  Without this love, love incarnate dying and suffering we could not have life with God.  Wow.  Now that’s Amazing Love!

Sometimes in our Religious Education Programs we hear parents and catechists talk about how we should show our students only love and reveal to them the depths of God’s love.  When we are labeled as requiring too much when we expect more than the minimum.  When we seek to discuss why a child is not doing any of the necessary activities/homework the Religious Education program is labeled as demanding.  Even catechists share that they focus more on the kindness, joy and love of Jesus but don’t really like to discuss the strong teachings of Jesus like taking up your cross to follow Jesus. 

grunewads-the-cruficixionThe greatest, St. Paul says, “is love”.  However, love this deep requires something; it demands a response that is not lukewarm or divided – it requires sacrifice and a committed response.  Without that Jesus would have not been able to make it to the end – to Calvary and be sacrificed, disgraced, beaten, naked and nailed on the cross.  

Our Religious Education efforts have requirements and our message in the classroom should as well so that the Gospel may not only be conveyed as a nice, pleasant and comforting story.  It must also help us be liberated from mediocrity, from expecting only a teddy bear Jesus to be encountered.  

May the heroic love and sacrifice of Christ compel us to respond to God’s invitation to commit our whole lives to Christ and His will for the students we teach and all those handing on the deposit of faith.


knowledge3

Here is a great quiz put out by Catholic Answers about some key aspects of the Catholic Faith. Test your knowledge and see how you do.

www.catholic.com/thisrock/1993/9302fea1.asp