By Katherine Long
Deanne Hall, director of faith formation at St. Mary’s in Oswego and associate in the Northern Region Office of Faith Formation, has been named the recipient of the 2016 New Wineskins Award from the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. The award will be presented at the NCCL conference later this month.
According to the NCCL, the award is designed to “highlight and celebrate extraordinary achievement occurring in parishes (or parish clusters) in the ministries of evangelization and catechesis; share successful initiatives that may benefit other parishes; encourage continued creative innovation in parish catechetical and evangelization efforts; and reflect the spirit of the ‘new evangelization’ promulgated by Pope John Paul II and the General/National Directories for Catechesis.”
Hall is being recognized for her development of the St. Sebastian Club at her parish. Named after the patron saint of athletes, the St. Sebastian Club is a supplemental faith formation program meant to enhance, not replace, core faith formation programming, Hall explained.
“It’s for families with youths who have scheduling issues,” Hall said in an email interview with the Sun. “Most cases, it’s traveling sports families, however, this program is also used for youths with a chronic illness or visitation issues. This is an open option for the parents. Parents are the primary catechists and part of our mission is to provide them with options to help meet their family faith needs.”
Hall noted the program is tailored to the families at St. Mary’s, but that any parish could develop its own version. “Parishes, like families and individuals, are varied and it’s so important to understand there is no one magic bullet, except to ‘cast the net’ from all sides of the boat,” she said. “Meeting people where they are at can never be repeated enough.”
The program has three approaches — technology, handouts, and travel kits.
Hall developed a website, stmarysteam.weebly.com, where families can find ideas for activities, students can select a “faith work” to complete, and parents can take a brief retreat for themselves, she explained.
Parents can also receive and share classroom handouts with their children. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the parents to fulfill their role as primary catechists as well as refresh their own understandings,” Hall said.
Travel kits are lent to families and contain games, handouts, Bibles, even items to create a prayer table in a hotel room, Hall explained. Why a traveling option? “Oftentimes families have their best talks when they [are] all in vehicles,” she said.
St. Mary’s parishioner Lisa Roman describes her family as “avid churchgoers” — every weekend, no matter what and no matter where they may be, they attend Mass, she said. The three Roman children — Julia, 14; Neil, 12; and Louie, 9 — are all active in sports and extracurricular activities, however, which can sometimes present scheduling conflicts with faith formation classes. The family has taken advantage of the options the St. Sebastian Club offers.
In addition to the helpful handouts, the content of the website is both convenient and engaging, Roman said. One of the videos they watched, about individuals with special needs, led to a great family discussion about helping others, she noted.
A strength of the program is that it “emphasizes that God is with you everywhere you are, and you can be learning wherever you are,” she said.
“I think it’s wonderful that [Hall] is willing to put so much of her time into listening to people and caring for kids and trying to come up with something that will meet the needs of the kids we serve. I applaud her and I appreciate her,” Roman added.
Meghan Donabella, mother to 7-year-old Madelina, echoed those sentiments. When Madelina’s hockey practices and games or other family obligations and plans conflicted with faith formation classes, the family was able to turn to the St. Sebastian Club.
The materials provided were beneficial, Donabella said, and working through them with Madelina offered a “win-win”: time for the two “to sit down together and talk about our faith,” she said, and engage in conversations that wouldn’t come up in the typical “family hustle.”
For the Donabellas, faith, family, and involvement in sports are all important, and the St. Sebastian Club “allowed for us to get the best of everything,” Donabella said.
She also noted Hall’s willingness to collaborate to come up with the best alternative. “We’re lucky to have her,” Donabella said.
That vision was what set Hall apart for the NCCL award team. “I think what most impressed the task force was that Deanne was able to look at a reality that many Parish Catechetical Leaders face — the reality of sports schedules and kids’ hectic lives — and offer an alternative to those families on a temporary basis…. The families that participated were not dismissed, rather the parish tried to make them feel included,” said Carol Ann Gaddis, who chaired the NCCL task force that reviewed the New Wineskins Award nominations, in an email to the Sun.
Diocesan Director of the Office of Faith Formation Cathy Cornue agreed. “Dee is a great example of how continuing faith formation and creativity can help us meet today’s families where they are…. Dee is a wonderful ambassador for the Syracuse Diocese, a woman of deep faith, whose vision for a different way to bring others to Jesus will be a blessing to many,” she said in an email.
Hall said she was shocked and honored to receive the New Wineskins award. “The National Conference [for] Catechetical Leadership is a highly professional and recognized organization, passionate about sharing the ‘teaching ministry of Jesus to every Catholic child, youth and adult.’ Quite frankly, I never really thought of myself as a leader but rather a servant. To that end, I guess that was the purpose for which God intended the program — help others experience Jesus in the daily ritual we call life. I just happened to be a very blessed conduit,” she said.
This is the second year a catechist from the Diocese of Syracuse has taken home the New Wineskins award. Cheryl Smith, then diocesan resource center administrator for the Eastern Region Office of Faith Formation and formation assistant for Annunciation Parish in Clark Mills, received the 2013 award for her work on the Power of ONE program. Smith is now catechetical leader at St. John the Evangelist in New Hartford and at Annunciation.
To watch a webinar on the St. Sebastian Club developed by Hall, visit bit.ly/1TOtWKI.