Creating an Online Presence in One Week: A Tale of One Chicago Parish

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When stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March because of the pandemic, many parish religious education programs found themselves facing unimaginable challenges. The main challenge, of course, was how to reach families and children who still had another six weeks of faith formation sessions left in the catechetical year. Many catechetical leaders and catechists all over the country responded with heroic efforts to sustain their programs through virtual contact. One such parish is St. Sylvester, a predominantly Hispanic parish in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

According to parish catechetical leader Arnoldo Martinez, the parish went from no online presence to a robust online presence in the matter of a week, due mainly to the determination and efforts of the parish’s catechists. Martinez explains that the idea of doing virtual lessons came from catechists, who proposed doing online experiences for families on Saturdays, at the time when faith formation sessions customarily met. The first session attracted 40 families but quickly increased to 100 families by the time they wrapped up their program at the end of April. Martinez was disappointed that this still represented only 50% of the families enrolled in the parish religious education program. However, given the speed with which things changed and the fact that the parish had no previous online presence, the response is impressive.

Using Zoom technology, the catechists worked as a team to deliver the sessions, which consisted of a greeting, opening prayer, ice-breaker, teaching moment, question and answer, acknowledgment of birthdays, announcements, closing prayer, and dismissal of the children, after which they had a conversation with the parents about sacraments and various concerns.

Looking ahead to the fall, Martinez envisions training catechists to deliver online lessons for individual classes until such time that in-person classes can resume.

I salute people like Arnoldo Martinez and his catechists for mobilizing the parish to reach families in a way they never before imagined—and to pull it off in one week’s time!

I’d love to hear from more of you! How did you finish the catechetical year when the pandemic struck? What are your plans for the fall? Please share your stories through the comments feature below.

About Joe Paprocki 2478 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.

7 Comments on Creating an Online Presence in One Week: A Tale of One Chicago Parish

  1. We actually sent packets home to the children through a pick up service in our school lot. Many of the parents did not come to pick up their information, so that was disappointing. However, now looking forward to Fall, I’m interested to find out how to get on line for our classes if necessary. Thank you for sharing and great job!

    • Thanks, Sharon…indeed, it is frustrating when parents don’t respond as we hope. See Michele’s comment on this thread in which catechists delivered packets to mailboxes. If they won’t come to us, we can bring it to them!

  2. As a volunteer catechist, we dropped off the materials in our students’ mailboxes at home. We sent weekly at-home lessons, sent some video texts for scavenger hunts (create a prayer table, altar table, write a prayer to say before dinner) and had 2 Zoom meetings to play Bingo as a review of the materials. Plan for at-home learning for the first half of the year (as of now).

  3. We ended up doing Zoom chats with the various grades. The foremat was similar to Arnoldo’s. Some nights attendence was very good, some night not great. We ended up going through Pentecost which was really nice since we are never in session during this time. Many of the kids were really disappointed when we stopped. The catchist for a GR5&Gr.6 was doing the rosary on line and from that we will be starting a children’s rosary group during the summer asked for by some of her children.

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