In anticipation of Catechetical Sunday, I’ve written an article that can be used in diocesan newspapers and newsletters, parish newspapers/bulletins, R.E. newsletters, or posted on parish Web sites. In other words, you have permission to use the following for your local needs. Please include acknowledgment of the author and my byline as I’ve done at the end of the article. Let me know if and how you end up using this. The article is also available in Spanish: catechetical-sunday-article-in-spanish
The “Itch” to Teach: Catechists Report for Duty
All across the United States, an army of nearly 500,000 men and women is mobilizing, preparing to report for duty after a summer leave. Many of the half-million or so are returning for another tour of duty while perhaps up to 150,000 are reporting for the first time. Who are these courageous people?
They are the catechists who staff religious education programs in parishes across the country.
As families return from summer vacations and schools are back in session, parishes prepare to welcome over 4 million (Kenedy Directory, 2007) public school elementary and high school students to religious education sessions.
So, just who are these catechists?
They are secretaries, executives, factory workers, stay-at-home moms and dads, real estate agents, construction workers, lawyers, nurses, accountants, firefighters, and police officers. In other words, they are everyday Catholics, dedicated to inviting young people into a deeper relationship with Jesus. They help young people to understand the Creed, celebrate the sacraments, live moral lives, and pray.
According to catechist Pat Solenski (Saint Anthony, Fort Lauderdale, Florida), for veteran catechists, the “itch” to get back into teaching develops over the summer: “Each year as program year closes, I think I can never rouse energy and enthusiasm for another year. And for the past 26 years, as July closes, I experience an inner stirring for the coming year. Initially, I chuckled at my feeling. Now I have learned to embrace it, and I am confident it is God’s grace moving me toward the challenges and joys of the coming year!”
Director of Religious Education, Maura Sweeney (St. Boniface, Lunenburg, MA) doesn’t have to go far to find a catechist she admires – her own father, who has been a high school catechist for more than 25 years. “Though I have never heard him articulate his dedication to serving as a catechist as a “calling”, I am sure that he feels that it is. Through ups and downs with poor texts and unhealthily large class sizes,he has looked forward to each year spending hours reading up on the topics he will discuss with his students. His genuine openness with his students and willingness to take their questions seriously has lead him to building lifelong relationships with some of those he has taught. It is not unusual to see kids (some now with their own kids) stop and talk to him before or after Mass.”
For some, this will be their first year teaching religious education. “It can be very intimidating to walk into a room for the first time as a catechist,” says veteran catechist Joe Paprocki. “Most catechists are not school teachers and so the idea of teaching the Catholic faith to others can seem overwhelming at first. It’s actually better for catechists to think of themselves as coaches, rather than teachers. Millions of adults don’t hesitate to coach their kids’ sports teams. Well, catechists are basically coaching young people into the Catholic way of life.” Paprocki maintains a blog – www.catechistsjourney.com – on which he reflects regularly on his own experience of serving as a catechist.
“Catechists are not easily replaceable,” says Paprocki. “To be a catechist is not simply volunteerism. It’s a vocation!” Paprocki, an 8th grade catechist in the Archdiocese of Chicago, has posted a brief video on YouTube called “Top 10 Reasons to Become a Catechist.” “It’s basically a recruitment video! We need to get the word out that serving as a catechist is one of the most important tasks that we as lay people have.”
The Church celebrates the vocation of catechists and the ministry of catechesis on Catechetical Sunday, September 21, 2008. The theme for this year, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” According to Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, “Catechetical Sunday is a time to celebrate the work of the catechist and renew our gratitude for these faithful men and women who persevere in the labor of passing on the faith” (from the introductory letter to the 2008 USCCB Catechetical Sunday resource packet).
Joe Paprocki, D Min, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over twenty-five years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including the best-selling The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith. Joe, who earned his master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. Joe serves as an eighth-grade catechist and blogs about the experience at www.catechistsjourney.com. He and his wife, Joanne, and their two grown children live in Evergreen Park, IL.