The Catechist’s Backup: Being a Substitute Catechist

man teaching students

I am a Chicago Bears fan, and every year as of late, it seems as though a key player gets injured at a critical time. During this year’s preseason, one of our star offensive lineman, Kyle Long, was out with a shoulder injury. I was afraid that the “Monsters of the Midway” were in for another long and grueling season.

The faith formation year can feel just as long and grueling as a season in the NFL. Catechists are sometimes “taken out of the game” and miss class; they might get sick, they have work commitments that cannot be avoided, or they have to attend to a family emergency. That’s where I come in: I am a permanent substitute catechist for my parish’s faith formation program.

While I don’t have to worry about preparing and leading weekly sessions, being a substitute catechist has its own challenges. I do not know any of the young people, and I am unfamiliar with the dynamics of the classroom. Discipline can be a problem. The simplest way I know to overcome this challenge is to get to know the young people outside of the classroom. I take part in service projects, retreats, and social functions so that the young people recognize me when I show up in their class one day.

Another challenge I face as a substitute catechist is that I am not as familiar with the curriculum. Since I don’t have to prepare a weekly lesson, I might be tempted not to look at the materials until I have to. Young people will see that lack of preparation and might interpret it as a lack of respect—since I did not take the time to prepare for them, they will not take the time to pay attention to me.

There are two ways to overcome this challenge. First, I can attend any catechist preparation sessions my parish offers. This allows me to know the program, know the other catechists, and establish lines of communication so that I know what is going on. Second, I can take some time to familiarize myself with the session for that week. I don’t have to prepare to lead the session; I just need to know the objective of that session and how it fits in with the goals of the program. If get “called into the game,” so to speak, I will be warmed up and ready to play.

Serving as a substitute catechist can be a blessing. It allows me the opportunity to serve the young people in the Church to the extent that I can, it helps me grow in my own faith, and it gives me the gift of being a part of the family of catechists.

I hope that I will have fewer commitments in the future so that I can return to being a regular catechist—I love this ministry! And even though I cannot serve as a permanent catechist now, I can still help out when I can and when I am needed.

How might you help your faith formation program if you cannot commit to being a permanent catechist? How does your parish arrange for classes when catechists call in sick?

About Bob Burnham 33 Articles
Bob Burnham, OFS, is a catechist for both high-school youth and the RCIA at Resurrection Catholic Church in Wayne, Illinois. In addition to being involved in youth ministry, he is a spiritual director, speaker, and writer. Bob is the author of Little Lessons from the Saints and Little Lessons from the Mystics. Bob is also the councilor for youth and young adults in the Mother Cabrini Regional Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. Read his blog about the spirituality of commuting at

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