A Modest Proposal

I wonder how it is that we settled on the model of one catechist per 12-15 students for religious education. 

It occurs to me that if we really wanted to invite young people into an apprenticeship in the Catholic way of life, that we would surround them with more adults. I see no reason why a “class” of 12-15 young people couldn’t be accompanied by 4 or 5 adults. 

I know that DREs will say that it’s hard enough to recruit catechists already…how can they be expected to recruit 4 to 5 times that number? The key would be that we would not be recruiting them to the role of catechist as it is understood today. Rather, we would be recruiting them to be a member of a catechetical team, facilitated by one person designated as the catechist. The other adults would be present to help with group work, to facilitate various parts of the lesson (for example, a prayer leader), to help maintain discipline, to work one-on-one with certain students, and to share their stories and life experiences.  

Not only would some folks be more willing to participate in the catechetical ministry, but those who are truly called to the role of catechist would not have to struggle on their own to maintain the attention of 15 (and, in many cases more) students.

Reactions? Thoughts?

About Joe Paprocki 2759 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

12 Comments on A Modest Proposal

  1. Isn’t what you’re describing called a “parish” or local church? Ideally, shouldn’t it be the parish apprenticing our children in the faith, of course in cooperation with families? I just read a passage about this in the General Directory for Catechesis, “From her very beginning the Church, which ‘in Christ, is in the nature of a Sacrament,’has lived her mission as a visible and actual continuation of the pedagogy of the Father and of the Son…These are the profound reasons for which the Christian community is in herself living catechesis. Thus she proclaims, celebrates, works, and remains always a vital, indispensable and primary locus of catechesis.

    This speaks to your point, it isn’t realistic to expect one catechist or even two to fulfill the demands of God’s word . It reminds me that we as catechists are only effective in so far as we are rooted, representative of, as well as located in a community of living witnesses proclaiming the Gospel.

  2. I believe what you are describing is pretty much what happens when whole community catechesis is up and running the way it should. The difference being that the formation “classes” are by age groups, children and adults, not grades. Many people are needed, catechists, catechist helpers, meal preparers, clean up people. The whole parish can be involved and be “formed” at the same time. My parish is heading in that direction but we’re still a year or two away from implementing this process. According to “Sharing the Light of Faith” (National Directory for Catholics of the US)…”Every parish needs a coherent, well integrated catechetical plan which provides opportunities for all parishioners to encounter the gospel message and to respond by fostering community and giving service.”

  3. Regina and Lauretta, the vision for catechesis that involves the whole parish community is taking root in many places, however, it is not a new concept (although some would have you believe it is). For years, many quality DREs have been running catechetical programs that involve the whole parish, form adults, and are tied to the liturgical year.

    Lauretta, we’ll all be very interested to see how your parish adapts to a new model. Whole community catechesis, when done properly, involves the entire parish, forms adults as adults, and does not abandon a systematic approach for children. When it is done poorly, it becomes an occasional event at which parents look along as their children complete crafts.

  4. Joe, our intention is not to do this “poorly”. Adult formation does not include watching their children do a craft. That’s why we are moving slowly, especially at my parish at which people hate any kind of transition. We may have to retain a traditional model as a choice for a few years as well. We are observing and learning from a few surrounding parishes. Most have been very successful in attracting parishioners of all ages, young children,their parents (that middle group that is in great need of catechesis), and the elderly.

  5. Lauretta, I have no doubt that with voices like yours (and vision like yours), your parish will succeed in providing a true experience of whole community catechesis. My cautions were intended for other readers who might too easily jump on the whole community catechesis bandwagon without thinking it through. Without the proper planning and preparation for implementing this shift, it can easily become another fad and we’ve seen too many of them come and go, leaving behind a trail of confusion. I urge you to continue adding your voice to the discussion so that people see the complexities involved.

  6. My experience with this type of multi-age, team based model of whole community catechesis was in the context of a tri-parish RCIA program that functioned “independently” of the RE programs in the participating parishes. (Although, now that I think about it there was integration of the RCIA children on a case by case basis into the RE program. In addition, the RCIA team was comprised and planning included the DREs and many of the catechists in each parish.) I’d be curious to learn more about how the whole community model works to supplant or supplement a traditional religious education program. How does it work with large numbers of students, we have 960 in the parish where I currently work. Are their printed resources, curricula you could suggest?

    Thanks for this discussion Joe, do keep us posted Lauretta.On a related but different question, what about the segregation of the RCIA from RE in the parish catechetical mission? Do many parishes successfully integrate the two? It appears most parishes separate RCIA from RE, a pastoral associate coordinates the former and a DRE the latter. Is this the practice of most parishes?

  7. Regina, I believe that stems from the prevailing (and unfortunate) notion that RE (catechesis) is for children and that DREs work with kids while Pastoral Associates work with adults. There are indeed many DREs who oversee the catechetical mission of the entire parish, from womb to tomb, including the RCIA. From my experience, this tends to be less prevalent than the segregated model you speak of. It takes a long time to shift a paradigm, doesn’t it?

  8. Joe,
    We are in our fourth year as an area faith community of four rural parishes, and one priest. Between all four of us we have 250 youth gr. 1-12, with classes in 3 locations. We have slowly changed curriculum so that at this point, all of our parishes are using the same material, and we have one Confirmation Mass with the Bishop, confirming candidates from all four parishes. During the year we do 2-3 educational activities that include the whole parish, such as Advent Activity/Prayer night, the Living Stations of the Cross, and a parish Mission.

    We use Finding God for grades 1-8, and that has been a wonderful and almost problem free transition; most catechists love the series. The challenge for us has been trying to involve the parents and parish adults in the Gathering Sessions. Sisters Emma and Mary Ann lead the five Finding God Gathering Sessions this 2006-7 year, and the most that ever showed up were 3 (Three!!) We tried Sunday after 9:30 am Mass with Coffee and Rolls, or Wed. nights while youth were in classes; it didn’t go. We’d love some suggestions/advice on an alternative approach. What we are offering must not be what they need at this point; how do we go about determining the needs of our adults, and not make learning about their faith just one more thing to go to, but something that they want to do. As we think about planning for next year, we are open to suggestions. Thanks!

  9. Pam, thanks so much for your comments and congratulations on such collaboration between parishes!
    I wish I had the simple solution to the challenge of enticing adults to attend the Gathering Sessions…boy, the book I could write!
    Seriously though, my suggestion would be to form an adult faith formation committee or board with representatives from each parish and invite them to research/survey the needs of adults in the parishes and to develop strategies that respond to those unique, local needs.
    I’m also curious about the response you get to the whole parish activities. If response to those is good, I suggest trying to build other adult formation opportunities off of them.
    What other suggestions do folks out there have?

  10. I’m not sure, are you saying that the adults are invited to participate (or help out) in the sessions for the kids? Not knowing your parish I’m guessing that could be the reason for not much interest. I could be wrong but i believe that adults need adult sessions.
    Also,from what I understand because something like this is such a drastic change, people are skeptical at first. I attended a workshop regarding the Generations of Faith process. I know that’s not what you are doing. However, speaking with people who have been successful at their parish, it seems it took about three years to get the adult attendance they hoped for. The first year, they only had 8 adults participate. The second year, more came, maybe 15 , more the third year and now after 5 years there are 50-60 adults involved in one way or another. I guess the answer is that we have to persevere and think positive if we want success.Don’t give up!

  11. Going back to the original premise, our parish this year allowed confirmation candidates to gain service hours by helping w/ lower the level classes. The effect was wonderful as both groups benefited. The younger kids got more attention from someone they can look up to and almost all of the 8th graders have continued on after fulfilling the original obligation.

    Since we are not trained teachers (for the most part) the one catechist for 12-15 kids (by definition) will fail. We especially fail those kids who most need us. We need a model that shares our faith not teaches it like just another subject. This forum is a great opportunity to learn from others.

    Our parish instituted ‘team-teaching’ and rotated classes for junior high a while back back but abandoned it the year I signed up to teach 8th grade. What a pity.

    I still teach 8th grade as a team w/ a yound woman as we feel it is important to always present both the male and female perspectives – especially at this age. I am anxious to hear other ideas and experiences.

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