Challenges are met with creativity, prayerfulness, and realism
By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
Driveways and doorsteps are the new outposts of catechesis in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We tried to think of ways to engage families with St. Ambrose and their faith when the economy started to open up in June,” wrote Kathleen Hamilton, Coordinator of Catechesis at St. Ambrose Parish in Endicott. “During the months of July and August we rolled out our ‘Faith on Wheels’ program.
“Each week I visited the families in their driveways (following all social-distancing guidelines) bringing ‘Good News’ from the parish and faith-formation materials for adults, youth, and children.
“The back of my car was transformed into a Catholic Faith Formation Library of sorts where they could pick and choose books, activities, or reading materials for themselves (hand sanitizer, gloves, and wipes were available for all to use when looking through materials).
“Many parishes choose to do a survey to listen to parents’ concerns regarding COVID; however, we choose to go the old-fashioned route and make a home visit to talk to them in person. This also allowed us to ‘roll out’ a new format for our 2020-2021 faith-formation program.”
“She’s been working very closely with her families,” Andrea Slaven, Diocesan Director of the Office of Catechesis, said of Hamilton.
A pastoral journey
Slaven’s office accompanied catechetical leaders over the summer with “CPR,” their slogan that includes themes such as creativity, prayerfulness, and realism.
Challenged to work with families in the absence of large gatherings, Slaven said, the parishes’ catechetical leaders reached out and became “more pastoral with families this year,” adding that “it gave them an opportunity to journey with the families as a whole instead of just with the children. And some of our catechetical leaders found very creative ways to meet with families in this challenging time.”
“We’ve all been marveling over the work that our parish catechetical leaders have been able to achieve,” said Theresa May, Diocesan Associate Director of the Office of Catechesis.
“The need is still great to connect,” said Andrea Schaffer, Diocesan Associate Director of the Office of Catechesis.
She added: “We’ve always had strong connections. But I would say they’ve been strengthened because we’ve needed each other, and we’ve found ways to connect.”
“Currently, St. Ambrose is able to offer traditional classroom programs for K-8 (because of the size of our program),” wrote Hamilton, “home-schooling programs for the same grades, one-on-one instruction for special-needs youth, and a virtual year-two confirmation class. We instituted a ‘Family Catechesis Program’ each month for grades K-8.
“Our first family meeting gave the parents the opportunity to see how the classrooms were designed for social distance with appropriate sanitation stations. We experienced excellent attendance in our family programs (both adults and youth) so far this year. …
“The first half of the year we concentrated on the ‘Mission of the Church’ and the families participated in many mission programs helping those in need in our local community. We created a weekly email to all families with mission opportunities available at St. Ambrose and also included the diocesan ‘Building Faith at Home’ series to further touch on our Catholic faith.
“Our families participated in ‘Pennies for Thanksgiving’ food gift cards, fall coat drive, collecting hats, mittens, gloves, and personal-care items. Most families participated in collecting food for the Sunday Pope Francis deemed ‘World Day of the Poor.’”
A bit of travel
Jennifer Menneci started in June as the Director of Faith Formation at St. Paul Church in Rome.
Reaching out during the pandemic, she traveled to the homes of each of the families in the faith-formation program. “During these ‘drive-by drop-ins,’” she wrote, “we delivered a small package of summer faith-formation materials and activities for the kids and their parents along with some prayers, smiles, and conversation. It was a wonderful way to meet some of the children and their parents and to let them know that St. Paul’s was here if they needed.
“We began onsite classes in October which gave us a brief time to build on those connections we made in July. Although we had to go fully remote in November, I’m so glad we took the time in July to start building relationships which we now continue over the phone and through email and Zoom.
“We did a similar ‘drive-by drop-in’ just after Thanksgiving with Advent and holiday materials, holy water, and blessing prayers. Of course we included some fun things for the children as well. Again, I was able to connect with some of the children and their parents who were really happy to see a now ‘familiar’ face from St. Paul’s. …
“We were able to speak with many of the families who really appreciated the reach-out and I was thrilled to see and connect with the children even though it was only for a few minutes on their doorstep.”
Amid the pandemic, “the families are really just stretched, they’re overwhelmed,” said Sally Herceg, Associate Director of Faith Formation at St. Joseph and St. Anthony of Padua Parishes in Endicott. So she puts “a lot of encouraging, hopeful words” from Scripture on the walls of the faith-formation site. An example is Matthew 19:26: “For God all things are possible.”
Herceg holds bag days for parents to receive materials they can go over with their children; delivers “gentle reminders” of the parish Masses on YouTube; informs families of useful webinars; uses Google Classroom; and sends emails and regular-mail birthday cards. Her faith-formation kids also get little assignments “to keep the kids engaged without making more work for them.”
Everybody plays a part
Also reaching out on social media is Terri Panuccio, Associate Director of Faith Formation at St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Utica. She read a book to the kids on Facebook Live and also did a Facebook Live rosary. For Christmas, her group read Christmas stories as they all took different parts. Also, parents sent her pictures of their children and she made a Christmas video that she put on Facebook.
Catechetical leaders remain committed.
“We are planning another week of ‘drive-by drop-ins’ for early February,” wrote Menneci of St. Paul’s in Rome.
“Moving into the second part of the year,” wrote St. Ambrose’s Hamilton, “we are going to be concentrating on the ‘Ministries of the Church’ and create programs allowing families to engage with their faith as Jesus taught us. We will also continue to send home faith-formation materials with the families for adults, youth, and children to bring St. Ambrose into the homes of our families.”
“Catechesis is never just about content,” Slaven said. “It’s always about the witnessing and the accompanying with people; but during this COVID time, it has magnified that whole idea: that we’re … also pastoral. We journey with families pastorally.”