Making the Grade

May 25-31, 2006
Making the Grade
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Diocesan Pastoral Council Meeting Focuses on Religious Education for Life

With a less populated meeting than usual on a late spring morning, the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) gathered at Bishop Grimes High School to listen to presentations about lifelong religious education and communication. They also heard updates on the the HOPE Appeal and best practices shared by St. Helena’s and St. Cecilia’s parishes.

Representatives from the Eastern Region opened the meeting with prayers and song. Sister Katie Eiffe, Diocesan Director of Religious Education, was first with her presentation on the ministry of catechesis. She mentioned that Father James Lang, Vicar for Parishes, had spoken to the DPC in the past regarding the “changing church” and highlighting a call to leadership within the diocese. “The word ‘catechesis’ itself comes from a Greek word which means ‘to echo’ or to ‘re-sound.’ In the ministry of catechesis, we are called to echo, to re-sound the word of God in Scripture,” Sister Katie said, “and the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus.” Sister Katie’s presentation also focused on the new National Directory for Catechesis published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005. She said the document defines catechesis as, “the word used to describe this essential ministry of the Church through which the teachings of Christ have been passed on to believers throughout the ages.”

The bishops describe catechesis as an essential ministry that also speaks to the mission of the church to “go out and make disciples.” Sister Katie described “whole community catechesis,” meaning that discipleship itself is a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ, not just a program for educating children. Basically, she said, everyone is called to grow in his or her understanding of who Jesus is, of how Jesus is present and active in everyday life.

Most of the cathechists in the diocese are volunteers, Sister Katie said, and they share their own faith by witnessing. “The catechetical community in our diocese is strong and vibrant,” Sister Katie said. She also said that they are called to move from “good to great.” One of the keys to a successful program is to have professionally trained leaders, she said. “It’s not good enough to say to a well-meaning, generous man or woman, ‘Oh, you just have to unlock the doors, turn on the lights and hand out the books.’ That is not leadership,” Sister Katie said. “That is not discipleship.”

She asked the DPC members if they were aware of who the cathechists are in their parishes, where the regional religious education resource centers are located, how to reach the regional religious education director, how persons with special needs are served and other basic questions. Sister Katie then asked the group to reflect on what they had heard and to share their reactions. One DPC member asked how many parishes have the pastor listed as catechetical leader, and Bishop James Moynihan interjected that he did not feel that was a good model. “That tends to lead to ‘It’s my way or the highway,’” Bishop Moynihan said. Sister Katie added that being a catechetical leader is a full time position in itself.

In order to impact someone else’s faith life, Sister Katie explained, the catechist needs to have experienced conversion. “We are all called to conversion; that is to change our lives in response to the presence and action of God in our lives, over and over again,” she said. And, she explained, parishes must nurture the ongoing conversion of parishioners, including children, teens, adults and senior citizens.

The mission of catechizing needs to involve families and to feel more like church and less like school, Sister Katie said. Most of the programs are still on classrooms, textbooks, teachers and following the school calendar. “We need to look at new ways of engaging all members of the parish in ongoing faith formation,” she said. That does not mean that present programs should be abandoned, but rather supplemented with activities that would engage everyone.

Sister Katie also introduced the regional directors of religious education before she ended her presentation. The Eastern Region director, Cathy Cornue, then followed with a description of the catechetical program of her parish, St. Helena’s in Sherrrill. Cornue explained that the parish began with “baby steps” in addressing the need for continuing faith formation. The sacramental programs at her parish help to engage the whole family encouraging them to work together and involving the parents by giving them a “question of the week” to discuss at home. They also work to build family traditions at Advent and Lent. They also come together as a parish to support those in the military and those affected by Sept. 11.

Sister Lucy Flaherty, MFIC, from St. Cecilia’s in Solvay, presented her parish’s “Envisions” program as an example of best practices. “We’ve been planning for the future of our parish,” Sister Lucy said. “We want to refurbish our church, reclaim our people and rekindle our faith.”

Members of the parish engaged in a telephone marathon calling 560 families and inviting them back to the church. “There were almost 300 who said they would plan to be more active,” Sister Lucy said. The parish publishes its own newsletter, “The Harp,” and will offer a special program for Catholics “Returning Home” this fall.

Danielle Cummings, Director of Communications and Assistant Chancellor of the diocese, presented her final offering in the “Communications 101” series for DPC. The focus of her presentation was utilizing the Internet for parishes. Cummings also went over a completed communications survey that addressed the ways most parishes communicate. Church bulletins and pulpit announcements beat out websites and mailings in most parishes. However, there is interest in developing parish websites. Cummings suggested that the page be updated frequently, that there be one person responsible for building the site and another responsible for updating the information at the site. She also offered handouts of what the diocesan website looks like. Besides communication efforts that focus on technology, Cummings also reflected on the need for person-to-person communication. “We are all called to be disciples,” Cummings said. “We need to be passionate about our faith and we need to communicate by our actions as well. It’s so important that we develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can go share it with others.”

Christopher Parker offered an update on the HOPE Appeal and Heritage Campaign. Fewer than one percent of pledges to the Heritage Campaign were canceled with no payment, while 29,989 donors have paid their pledges in full. The current pledge fulfillment rate is 86 percent, Parker noted.

Those parishes who utilize the best practices have the most successful HOPE Appeal campaigns, Parker said. When the pastor speaks about the HOPE Appeal from the pulpit, when lay leadership talks about the Appeal, when the HOPE Appeal video is shown to parishioners at Mass as an adjunct to the homily, when a parish mailing —besides the diocesan mailing — is made, when there are frequent updates and requests for support and when each parish donor receives a personal thank you note, card or call, they will more likely be successful in reaching their goal, Parker said.

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