Editor’s note: Andrea Slaven, M.Ed., M.A. Instructional Technology, Pastoral Theology Certificate, is the Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Syracuse.
By Andrea Slaven | Contributing writer
Never underestimate the power of a cup of coffee. Shortly after relocating to Sherrill, Oneida County, Cathy Cornue, the Director of Religious Education (D.R.E.) at St. Helena’s Parish, invited me for a cup of coffee. Teaching has always been a professional calling for me. Little did I know at that time that my love for teaching was a stepping stone toward a life of ministry. Cathy invited me to teach faith formation as a catechist at St. Helena’s. Over the next several years, I taught faith formation on a variety of grade levels and increasingly realized that being a catechist was a vocation, a call from God, that became a core part of who I am.
Of course, as you may know, one cup of coffee often leads to a second cup. Years later, Cathy once again invited me for a cup of coffee, this time to discuss my openness to becoming the parish catechetical leader. At the same time, however, I was offered a teaching position in a local Catholic school. This was a time of deep prayer for me as I discerned between the two positions. My heart kept tugging me toward catechetical ministry and ultimately, I chose to become the parish catechetical leader.
The call of the catechist brings about an ongoing desire not only to teach, but also to learn. As a catechetical leader, I knew I had a greater responsibility to acquire further education. I studied through the Loyola Institute of Ministry, learning much more about the treasures of our faith and the gift of our Church. My ongoing education in theology and ministry has equipped me both as a leader and a communicator of the faith. In his pastoral letter “In the Name of Jesus,” Bishop Lucia expresses the importance of good leadership which requires “excellence and accountability.” Pope Francis also emphasizes the need for catechetical leaders to have “suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the faith” (Antiquum Ministerium, Instituting the Ministry of the Catechist, 2021).
There are many opportunities today for catechists and catechetical leaders to continue to learn and model to others that faith formation is lifelong and ongoing. The Office of Catechesis offers basic catechist formation with the option of online or in-person learning. The office also provides guidance for those who wish to pursue further theological education that is especially needed for catechetical leadership. Financial support is available through a variety of sources, e.g., Heritage Education Scholarships.
Pope Francis emphasizes the vocation of the catechist, saying, “Catechesis is a vocation: being a catechist, this is the vocation, not working as a catechist. So keep this in mind, I didn’t say to do the work of catechists, but to be catechists, because this is something that embraces our whole life. It means leading people to encounter Christ by our words and our lives, by giving witness” (Address to the International Congress on Catechesis, 2013).
If you believe you are being called to catechetical ministry or desire to further equip yourself as a catechetical leader, let’s have a conversation and a cup of coffee. … You never know where it might lead you.
Catechetical leadership ‘is all about the heart’
or parish leaders of catechesis, education is nourishment. As one of them says, “This isn’t a job where you can just ‘wing it.’”
The directors have an extensive background in education and experience in the catechetical ministry, such as instructing children and families in sacramental preparations and Bible study. This expertise is achieved by obtaining a master’s or a master’s equivalence certificate in theology, catechesis or other related fields of study.
We posed the following questions to parish directors or associate directors for catechesis:
How did you realize you were called to be a parish leader?
Why did you decide to further your formation for catechetical leadership?
What was your formation experience like? What did you most value?
How has your formation helped you as a leader?
How do you see the holiness of your role in the parish? How do you see your role as a vocation in the Church?
What else would you like to make sure is mentioned about formation as a director?
Here are the responses, edited for length:
Director of Faith Formation
Historic St. John’s,
I was invited to serve in the Faith Formation program by my former pastor, Father Buehler. But prior to that, I was drawn to learn more about our rich faith.
I am a firm believer in the line, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I knew that if I was going to be effective in my ministry I would have to be fully engaged in building and challenging my understanding of what it means to call myself Catholic.
I completed the LIMEX (Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension) Program in 2010. My primary goal was to simply be able to converse with coherence about our faith. I have always had a passion for theology and the LIMEX program ignited that in me. I began blogging about Scripture at that time and facilitating book groups and Bible studies. I then began serving as the Director of Faith Formation and have ever since. I have continued learning, through the Dayton classes and various workshops.
Last year I experienced the 19th Annotation through the Spiritual Renewal Center to discern where God is calling me next. It ended up being the Pastoral Care Education Program of CNY. I completed that last week. All of these things inform every level of my ministry, as it is a deepening of my self-understanding and my relationship to God. Staying with the “You can’t give what you don’t have” motto, I feel it is imperative that if you are in ministry, you nourish yourself so that you can be a conduit to others.
I have been in some sort of training since 2006 with a couple of years off for good behavior! But what I valued most was the varied voices that I have been exposed to. I am so grateful for the content, of course, but the group members in each of these experiences have been so open and genuine in their own spiritual pursuit, that it created a loving and challenging environment to grow in. Was it always easy? No! I traveled over an hour to the last program and LIMEX was just under an hour for three and half years. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I am secure in my understanding of our Church’s history, its teachings and its mission.
Additionally, I have been trained to look for my own blind spots, my limitations and my reactions to any of these teachings. But thanks be to God for all of grace and mercy God gives as I do this.
It has helped me be confident, compassionate, forgiving and realistic about our Church. It has given me the words to hopefully help whoever may need it. It has helped me recognize the value of our families, especially our youth, and to work to be of use to them.
My vocation has always been my family first and foremost. To me there is an extension here. So many of the people that I serve are dear to me and over the years have become extended family. It is all about the heart. How is your heart committed to sharing the love of Jesus Christ?
I tell my catechists, it is all about your intention. Is your intention about drawing more people to God? Is the intention about helping to heal our hurting world? Set your heart on Jesus, lead with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do its thing. It is important to be ready to get out of the way and it won’t always be easy but you will be known by your fruit.
Church of the Holy Family, Endwell,
and Most Holy Rosary, Maine
I was taking classes from my friend Sr. Lois Barton over 30 years ago and she encouraged me to continue in my formation process.
I wanted to work with children and families within the parish. I wanted to go deeper into my knowledge of the faith.
My experience in formation was a wonderful process! What I valued most was that my husband went through the formation along with me. He did
formation for parish business. We studied together and did the retreats together it was a great experience for both of us.
I have confidence in what I bring to the children and families in regard to our faith, i.e., catechetical programs, sacramental preparations, adult Bible studies.
I hope I am doing God’s will by my example along with my family in making Mass an important part of our lives. Recognizing the importance and grace we receive from all the sacraments with perseverance, patience and joy.
Keep the faith and pray in encouraging others to step into the leadership role in catechesis for their parishes.
Sts. John and Andrew,
I was called in to substitute for the current catechetical leader who was unable to continue until the end of that year. That was 22 years ago.
I fell in love with ministry as a catechist and when offered the chance to lead, I wanted more information for a better understanding of how to teach, plan and execute a faith formation process. Also, when in the ministry of catechesis, I began to hunger more for understanding the Scriptures and to have a closer relationship with Jesus. When working within a faith formation program, it’s hard not to desire more understanding of the faith. It’s a feeling of being drawn into something wonderful and life changing. You cannot help but want to learn.
Within the Diocese, I attended the Basic Catechist Training, many workshops, the Formation for Ministry Program and finally was able to join a LIMEX group which was a powerful experience of learning. It has given me a language to discuss the faith with others.
I feel a love for those I connect with during the faith learning process. The holiness comes from them and I am attracted to each and every person I am blessed to interact with. I believe we are sent to serve each other. My role is a vocation because all the learning deepens my faith and helps me continue in the ministry that I am blessed to be a part of. Formation will give you tools you need to work within your ministry more comfortably and it will continue to lead you into a deeper private relationship with Jesus because you learn about history, culture, Scriptures that drive our Catholic faith.
Director of Faith Formation
St. Francis of Assisi,
Many years ago the Director in Religious Education (a Sister of St. Joseph) at my home parish of St. Patrick’s in Binghamton had decided to move to St. Louis. I felt that I should approach the pastor about filling her role, and that feeling was validated by my Bible study group.
Well, I felt like I had bitten off much more than I could handle. Fortunately for me when I met with Sister Bernice Carroll, CSJ, the Southern Region Director of Religious Ed, she encouraged me to enter into the LIMEX group that was going to start in the next few months.
I received a master’s certificate through the Loyola University Institute of Ministry Extension courses.
This learning experience focused on good listening skills, sharing feedback, and the LIMEX Reflection Process:
• Identify an experience.
• Articulate an initial understanding.
• Test the initial understanding (In light of the four contexts of ministry — Institutional, Personal, Sociocultural, Traditional).
• Make a decision.
The process sounds simple but it is not! You must be able to look at your faith and your understanding of that faith through fresh eyes. And understand and give feedback to others as well.
This process has proven to be a challenging and direct way to understand and appreciate my faith. More importantly it has given me the confidence and language to express it in a professional way.
On Sunday, May 15, at our Confirmation Retreat, Father Tim asked the candidates if they were arrested for their faith, would there be enough evidence to convict them? It is a challenging question because all the medals and crucifixes and external symbols of faith are not what encourages people to want to be a Catholic Christian. Being a disciple and follower of Christ is about actions and justice and welcoming strangers into your community. I see holiness like that, and I think that is what truly encourages vocations in a parish. As Pope Francis says, being a servant leader means getting your hands dirty and smelling like the sheep.
Pastoral Associate and
Director of Faith Formation
St. Peter/St. Mary,
There was no defining moment in which I realized I was called to be a parish leader. The role has come to me by continually trying to follow (what I consider to be) the path that God has laid out for me. Through prayer and discernment I continue to take the next step, one step at a time.
Formation is an integral part in any leadership position within a parish. It is particularly important in catechetical leadership. In order to be well-equipped for this position I needed to work on my own education first.
My initial formation came through the LIMEX program. LIMEX was truly a life-changing experience for me. The education and formation I received through LIMEX, along with the network formed with other catechetical leaders in the process, was the foundation for everything that has come since. Through the Office of Pastoral Leadership, I have also participated in the Foundations program and Pastoral Care Education, both of which have furthered my education and stretched my comfort zone.
I earned a Certificate in Church Management from Villanova University and am currently enrolled in the Creative Leadership program at Syracuse University. Other leadership experience has come from the mentorship of previous and current catechetical leaders, as well as the pastors with whom I have ministered.
Over the years, my formation experience has been both challenging and rewarding. It has helped me be a well-formed and well-prepared leader in parish life. It has also helped me to form others, whether they be catechists, parents, families or children.
There is holiness in every vocation. The role of being in leadership in catechesis carries a great responsibility — to parish families, to the parish, to the diocese, to our Catholic faith and — ultimately — to God. God calls us to live our vocation to the fullest. As a catechetical leader I can best do that through prayer, discernment and formation.
Formation is imperative if we are to accomplish our goals in catechesis. By continuing my own formation and education, I am setting the tone for others in the Faith Formation Program and in the parish as a whole. A very wise woman, Sister Katie Eiffe, uses the following mantra: “Formation is lifelong and ongoing.”
Director of Faith Formation
St. Mary of the Assumption
and St. Augustine,
I was a second grade catechist for my daughter and loved it! I moved up with the kids each year and taught my other children’s classes, too, on different days, so that I could teach each of them. It was then that I realized that being a catechetical leader would be my dream job.
When I got hired as a part-time Catechetical, I knew that I needed formation to feel confident in my position. This isn’t a job where you can just “wing it.” This is really important! So, I knew I needed strong formation so that I could lead the children and families effectively and appropriately, according to our Church teachings and traditions.
I am a certified Catechist Level 1 and a Certified Catechist Level 2, both through courses, workshops and events through the Diocese of Syracuse. I have my master’s certificate in Catholic Theology and my master of arts in pastoral theology from St. Joseph’s College of Maine. I have a certificate in church management from Villanova University, and The Alliance for Certification of Lay Ecclesial Ministers and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership granted me certification as a lay ecclesial minister serving as parish catechetical leader in 2020.
I loved every minute of formation. I love to learn and love to grow and since I am passionate in my faith, learning more about it was intoxicating! I loved the people I met along the way; like-minded, passionate people that are called to serve that are now close friends!
It has given me the confidence and knowledge I needed to effectively do my job. It has given me the courage to share what I know with others because I trust what I have learned. It has helped me to be someone that people can trust turning to when in need.
I get to live my faith each and every day. I get to tell children, parents, grandparents, parishioners and others about a God that loves them like crazy and help them to enter into a relationship, or deeper relationship, with Him so that they get to experience the joy that I have! I get to let them know that they are never alone and that they are loved beyond words or measure. What a gift that is! And all the while, I know that I am doing His work and building His Church. I cannot think of a better gift to have been given and I am forever humbled to be given that gift.
Catechetical Leader (K-8)
I was asked to take the role by my pastor. I’m sure there are others more worthy, but I am honored to be in this role.
I felt I needed more grounding in the “content knowledge” and to be more knowledgeable about the history and tenets of the Catholic Church.
I valued the students on this journey with me and the instructors who kept us involved and learning.
I feel that I have grown in my own knowledge and continue to strive to learn more each day.
I see myself as a role model for our children.