Catch-Up Catechesis – Kids Out of Sequence

I hate the phrase “catch-up” catechesis but you know what I’m talking about…kids who come to R.E. programs having missed some years of R.E. and having missed reception of First Penance, First Communion, or Confirmation. Think this is a small problem for DREs? Think again. I recently asked a number of DREs to share some thoughts on this issue and here is a glimpse of what I got. You’re welcome to add your thoughts and suggestions for how to best deal with these situations.

·         I deal with it constantly.  I have 125 kids in my program about 15% of them begin in first grade and go all the way through.  Besides the kids who have no background, we also have kids who take four years out between communion and confirmation prep.

·         VERY prevalent at my parish as I have a large Latino population requesting “communion classes,” with students entering the program at various ages with little to no catechetical formation.

·         Every few years I have a small group of high school students that have for one reason or another missed one or another sacrament and need “catch-up.” The parents bring them of course only if there is the need for First Eucharist or Confirmation.

·         Currently we have 8 junior high and 1 high school student in this situation. That’s been pretty standard for the last 3 years.

·         Our staff had a major discussion about this last night.  We have a list with at least 10 children who are entering the program at different stages of catechesis.  More often they have no formal religious training, parents want them with their peers and the kids are anxious to belong.

·         What I’ve found thus far is that we have a huge number of Hispanic families who leave after their children receive First Communion and then return for Confirmation. I had spoken with the Hispanic Ministry office at the diocese about this and they explained to me that this is a cultural issue.  This is the way the Hispanic families receive the sacraments in their home country.  They are only prepared for a few weeks or months.  We explain the way we do it in this country, but they have great difficulty understanding. 

·         We began an “Initiation Class” about 4-5 years ago. If children come to us who have not had any RE and need to “catch up” and prepare for FR, FC, they go in this class. We’ve even had a couple prepare for baptism, confirmation and communion.

·         This happens very often, for a variety of reasons, especially given the transiency of the local population—lots of people relocating here after difficult life experiences and in that turmoil, lots of faith formation and sacramental preparation “falls through the cracks.”

·         Situations requiring “catch-up catechesis” are definitely becoming more common.  Fourteen years ago, our average “Sacramental Preparation Class” was comprised of approximately five young people.  Today, we have eighteen enrolled in Sacramental Prep. Though there is a slow but evident increase in the need for “catch-up catechesis” , conversations with other DREs lead me to believe the need is much stronger in parishes that are more heavily Hispanic.  Thus, as our demographics change, I anticipate even larger classes of young people falling into this category.

·        we have 28 second graders preparing for First Reconciliation and Communion. We have 54 students grades 3 through 10.

·         Every year between 4-6 middle-schoolers and several teens (who stopped after Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist) return and/or move in from assignments in other countries and require “catch-up” catechesis.

·         All ages from grades 3-7

·         Every year we have more and more families who come to us after missing a few years or never having been in religious education at all.  I just registered a new family with children in second and fifth grade who have never been baptized.  

·         I am not surprised to hear that you are receiving such inquiries regarding this type of catechesis.  We are dealing with it too along with an increase in the number of ‘special needs’ children.  There seems to be a definite rise in the number of children who need ‘catching up’.

·         I have 13 students this year (six 3rd graders, three 4th graders, one 5th, one 7th and two high school Confirmation)  All but one needs the First Sacrament of Eucharist and all but one needs comprehensive catch-up to their appropriate age/grade level

·         Yes, it is an issue.  It is an RCIA issue.  Those who have not been to the table should be in RCIA.  This should be a program in addition to RE program.  But that is so difficult.

·         We have students every year who are out of sequence.  They really need to be caught up.  They need to know and understand the language.  I have a few kids each year…. some just coming for communion, but right now I have one 7th grader who was baptized and doesn’t even know what the nativity is.  We have about 4 third graders who haven’t done anything and they need to be caught up.  Sometimes a divorce keeps parents from getting their act together, they just can’t handle one more thing…. But they could do a simple home study program with their child…. And think of how much they are learning too.

·         There are two different situations that arise because of these different situations. There are children who are in third through eighth grade who are not in the sequence to receive the sacraments because:

o   The family moved

o   A parent/child had a long illness

o   The parent was not going to the church

o   Family was out of the country

o   Divorce situation

o   Parents are coming back to their faith/ have changed their faith

o   Kids were being raised a faith other than Catholic by the non-catholic parent.

·         The first group is families where the kids were baptized and they may have had some kind of Religious Education or sometimes no Religious Education. So now when the kids are older than second grade and you just place them into a let’s say a fifth grade group how will that child feel with no background. The curriculum in fifth grade will not prepare the child for sacraments and kids do not like to be placed in a group with a textbook and kids geared to Grade Two (Which is the level sacramental prep is geared). There are about 10 kids a year that fall in this area. 

·         The second group is families where the kids were never baptized and they are older than seven and now they will receive all their sacraments of initiation at the same time. They have not been going to church and have had no Religious Education.  There are no materials that I have found to help with this situation. The RCIA materials are geared to adults and the adults in the RCIA program are not trained to work with children.  So the children are referred to the RE Department for their formation. Just to begin using a textbook at the child’s grade level doesn’t give a good starting point, it assumes they have a background in the prier books. There are about 2 kids a year that fall in this area.


About Joe Paprocki 2742 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


  1. Hi Joe. Great topic! And appropriately scary for Halloween. All my experience is with catechizing adults, so I offer my thoughts with a bit of trepidation. Many of the adults I’ve worked with, however, are the parents of children who didn’t fit into traditional religious education categories. In the parish in which I had the most experience with that, we tried to take a page from the RCIA and accommodate the catechesis to the individual families. I know that’s very difficult when there many people to deal with, but it beats the alternative–not accommodating. I have to oversimplify here, but the underlying principle was we didn’t think of a child as catching up or preparing for a sacrament. We looked at the entire family as a domestic church on a journey of faith. We spent a lot of time getting to know the families and trying to understand what it is they were seeking. Usually, seeking a sacrament was only the presenting issue. We also took seriously the fact that the primary catechists of children are their parents. So we spent as much time or more with the parents as we did with the children. This approach, by the way, crosses cultural barriers. We had Latino, Anglo, and Asian families in our group.We used a couple of different textbook resources, but we didn’t use them as textbooks. We’d pick and choose from them based on where we were in the liturgical year. One resource we did use pretty consistently was Celebrating the Lectionary, now published by LTP.It wasn’t perfect, and we always had families who would try to game the system. But for lots of families, there was a real conversion to deeper faith.

    Nick Wagner

  2. This issue is not only a latino one. Last year, when I worked at a parish outside of Albuquerque, NM I had 18 “special circumstance” students who were already past 2nd grade and had not received the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

    This summer I moved to Kansas City, KS and took over a large program in Overland Park and have about 10 children in a similar situation.

    The pastoral issue is interesting, because the RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) is ideal but not easy to implement and there is not a lot of martial available which provides the necessary curriculum for these students.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I am a first year Catechist and this has been an issue that really has been tugging at my heart. The inconsistencies have really been tough for me … (((SIGH))))

  4. Parishes as well as the families struggle with the variety of issues of why these situations happen.

    Initially, I have families come in to talk about where they are in life and hear their stories. The entire family then signs a family commitment form – 1 for the parish and 1 to take home. The commitment asks the entire family to commit to:
    1) Learning prayers as a family
    2) Reading Bible stories as a family
    3) Building prayer into family life
    4) Attending Sunday Mass
    5) Attending Religious Formation sessions faithfully
    6) Continuing formation as a life-long process
    7) Pledge to become a domestic church of the home, so that the family will be well preprared to receive sacraments and become a part of the larger church community.

    Sometimes, people respond with a yeah right attitude. Sometimes, people are thrilled that I have given them the excuse to expect faith to be a priority in the family.
    Sometimes, they express, wow, this is a lot but I talk through that we are always striving to be our best and we need to aim high.

    I give them the Commitment Forms to take with them. I ask them to think about it and pray about it and
    bring it back when they are ready.

    Usually families sign it and begin. Most often we retain them as active parishioners but there are those that just go through the motions. Yet continual invitation is part of the process.

    I have had a family hold onto it for a whole year before they were ready. They have been back to church for a couple of years now and they are engaged in parish life.

    It seems as though when a life defining moment (along with God!) has sent a family into “seekers” mode, that they are usually open to building relationships within the community and with their faith. Yet families that have the usual societal pressures which begin with time, grandparents, etc. attempt the catch-up; they often don’t end up “seeking.” They are just coming for “drive-thru” sacraments.

    Over the last couple of years, I have tried a couple of different strategies. What it seems to come down to though is that we need to spend time with these families. It is a huge commitment on the part of a parish staff but well worth the efforts.

    I have had parents do some additional home schooling to help bring children up-to-speed — this works sometimes and sometimes parents stop because of other life pressures.

    I have added an assesment component. (each month, every 2 months) Done very conversationally, non-threatening, yet really dealing with content and after 1 meeting parents usually understand that there is some accountability.

    I have had sessions devoted to older children focused on the sacraments which they attend in addition to their regular sessions. Some years, they don’t attend their regular sessions for that time period.

    This year, I have implemented a family RCIA. Parents along with their children come on Sunday mornings and are learning together. The parents were not thrilled to start but after a couple of months the parents are really grateful for their formation alongside their children. I have 3 families.

    There are some bumps and I realize that this won’t work for everyone because all of a sudden people will want a 1 year commitment……but if they are truly formed and become a part of parish community,would they seek more for their families?? Could/would the RCIA process be an answer for families? The parish would then have to have other offerings that would continue to draw them back. The faith cannot be covered off in a year! A relationship doesn’t have the definite ending.

    Individual situations call for individual attention! Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this for all the families in our midst?

  5. Elaine, hang in there! There are lots of us facing this issue and strategizing ways to deal with it. Take a look at what Roberta offers above.

  6. William, thanks for the clarification about this not being solely a Latino issue. Your experience is sounding more and more typical for so many DREs.

    One clarification, there is no such thing as an RCIC. There is only the RCIA adapted for children. You are correct in recognizing that there are not many materials available for children’s catechumenate.

  7. In our parish, it has become more frustrating each year to have older kids show up knowing nothing. I’m talking about kids from 11-16 who haven’t seen church since baptism, don’t know how to bless themselves, have no clue about prayers, and whose families do not attend Mass regularly. When you ask some of these kids who God is or why He is important in their lives, they don’t know. When we take them to church, they just stand (or sit, or kneel) and do nothing. No singing, no praying, no nothing. Just clock-watching. I’m not saying they’re all like that – this year’s class, for the most part, is wonderful and very receptive – but there’s always a couple of kids in my class I feel I’m working double with just to help them catch up.

    An increasing percentage of parents in our parish do not participate in any way, shape or form when it comes to CCD – including coming for informational meetings at sacrament time – so, while it sounds lovely, any attempts at a more inclusive, family-based catechesis would likely fall flat. Additionally, once these kids receive confirmation, they disappear, never to be seen again until it’s time for Quinceanera, Sweet 16, or the wedding.

    Recently, some kids have told us flat out that CCD isn’t “real” school, or (as happened this past Sunday) they don’t need to pay attention when we go to correct them because we’re not their parents or their “real” teachers. Don’t get me started on their views on doing homework. And, if we or the DRE complain to the parents, it goes nowhere.

    Another problem in our parish is that we no longer have any catechists to teach high school kids who are catching up. They’re stuck in my class with 6th graders for Confirmation I and, if they’re still under 16 after that, get stuck with 7th graders to make the sacrament in Confirmation II. If they’re 16 or over they get put in with the RCIA adults. It is challenging to say the least to try and be inclusive in my teaching. I do my best, but it’s a little tricky to balance being able to talk somewhere in the middle so the 11 year olds can understand but the 15 year olds don’t think you’re talking down to them.

    We’re doing the best that we can, but we’ve also lost a few good catechists because their best efforts have been met with disdain by the kids and deafening silence by the parents.

  8. Kathleen, thanks for sharing. It’s clear that you are dealing with a lot of frustration concerning this issue. It is very challenging, isn’t it?

    Sounds like the parish as a whole needs to address the issue of the role of parents…that responsibility cannot fall on the catechist or even the DRE alone. Many parishes are succeeding in expecting more and getting more from their parents. When some parents are confronted with the notion of taking on more responsibiity for involvement in their children’s faith formation, they respond, especially when what’s being offered to them is substantive formation for their own spiritual growth, not just information meetings.

    As for the kids thinking you’re not their “real” teacher, just remember that the Church has called you to this ministry and stands behind you. God has all authority and has given all authority to Jesus who in turn has entrusted that authority to the Apostles. You are teaching with that authority behind you and don’t ever forget it!

    Also sounds like the parish needs to keep up efforts at recruiting catechists. It’s not acceptable to simply toss up our hands and say that we don’t have anyone to teach the high school kids! The parish needs to emphasize the call to serve as catechists and the crucial priority of catechesis.

    You no doubt are doing your best and working very hard and for that, I affirm you. Your frustrations are real but not insurmountable. I pray that your parish as a whole will aggressively address these challenges, recognizing that it is our job to invite and challenge people to embrace their baptismal commitment!

  9. It is important that we keep the best interests of the children as a top priority when deciding how to help them “catch-up.”

    I have learned to listen to these families closely as most times there are underlying causes, hurts, family messes that have gotten them to this point. When they choose to come back, that is the time to be the most understanding. I am learning to leave my emotions behind me and explain to parents that what needs to happen now is to prepare the family as well as the children for the reception of sacraments.
    I explain that the process is not about punishment but about preparation. I explain that sessions, retreats, service, Mass, etc. are all part of the process to be prepared. If your child misses math class because they are sick, they are expected to learn the material that was covered. That is not a punishment but a necessity for your child to be able to continue advancing their math skills. It is the same in learning about our faith. I know this is expressed simplisticly but usually parents seem to have an aha moment.

    The disrespectful talk and behavior often is a mirror of what the teens have heard or seen at home or think they have regarding church, CCD, and themselves. Sometimes teens get a sense of no one at the parish being commited to them and they act out.
    If parents and church are simply tolerating them, they will respond likewise. Teens also are well aware of a family’s commitment to attending Mass. If the family doesn’t come to the church for Mass, the building is foreign to the kids and they literally feel out of place.

    How do we change all of that? Let me know! Just keep trying and know that change takes time.

    When groups have issues of disrespectful students wasting everyone’s time, I would suggest that they be sent to the DRE. That is the time that I have a talk with a student about everyone’s commitment, have them write a note of apology to the catechist. If this doesn’t work, I send the apology note home to be signed by the parents. I explain that if the behavior continues, the pastor and myself (DRE) will have a meeting with the student and parent(s).
    Though these measures are last resorts!

    I as DRE try to call kids by name as they enter and leave the building. I try to make conversation about topics that I know are of interest to them. If you know them, they will feel more in relationship with you and less likely to be disrespectful.

  10. During the changeover of my blog, one comment got lost in space. I was able to retrieve it and print it here:

    Joni says:
    I am a 7/8 grade teacher in a Catholic school setting. I too have students each year that have not received sacraments. I often find that parents send their children to Catholic school for the very purpose of

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