Faith formation: Parish catechists are invited to spring classes

By Sharon Perkins
Guest Columnist

Whether large or small, urban or rural, the parish is where most Catholics learn who Jesus Christ is and how to become his followers. It’s where people primarily encounter the Lord through the Mass and the sacraments. The parish is also a primary setting for catechesis, which is “the act of handing on the Word of God” that has been “transmitted by the Apostles to the Church” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). Catechesis is never a one-time only project. Whether it occurs in families or in religious education classes, in sacramental preparation or through Bible studies, with adults or with adolescents and children, catechesis is a lifelong process of spiritual transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to thriving faith communities, the importance of a vibrant, healthy ministry of catechesis cannot be overstated.
The parish pastor is appointed by the local bishop to ensure that parish catechetical programs are successful in the work of helping the baptized of all ages fall in love with Christ and develop a positive and fruitful relationship with his church. Most pastors in turn delegate much of that catechetical responsibility to hard-working, dedicated directors of Religious Education and volunteer catechists — who, in addition to their good will and enthusiasm for sharing their faith, need adequate preparation and guidance. 
In order to better serve these parish leaders, the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life (previously known as the Office of Religious Education and Faith Formation) is devoting this spring to providing essential tools for catechetical ministry. Not only do catechists need a suitable understanding of what the church teaches, but they also need to become familiar with sound instructional methods while learning how to use all the helpful materials and resources at their disposal. Simply handing an untrained volunteer a religion teacher’s guide and expecting them to successfully “teach a religion class” is usually a recipe for discouragement and frustration, no matter how well-written the publication. Different ages of students respond best to different, age-appropriate methods. Good catechists need good mentors and the encouragement of their pastor and their peers.
This spring we will provide workshops, conferences and training sessions for acquiring formal certification at three progressive levels of competency. We know that training must be continuous and often repeated to meet the needs of new catechists and enliven the skills of veterans. For example, the Basic Catholic Teachings courses offered continually in multiple locations in English and Spanish help participants acquire a proper grasp of the theological foundations of our faith. The spring 2017 series of methodology workshops and training sessions will focus on approaches to instruction or pedagogy. In these sessions, parish DREs, catechists and Catholic school teachers can meet with representatives of the major religion publishers for more extended periods of time, benefit from their insights and product knowledge, and communicate recommendations and specific needs to the publishers as well as sharing best practices with their peers. Catechists and parish coordinators of religious education are encouraged to attend any of the sessions, regardless of the published curriculum currently used in their parish. 
In addition, the diocesan office will host two days (spring and fall) dedicated to working with students with special learning needs. These sessions will build on the previous one-day conference entitled “Made in the Image of God,” which raised awareness and highlighted available resources for religious education. Participants will share best practices and create plans of action for how we can better respond to children, adults and their families who are typically underserved in our parish religious education and sacramental preparation programs.
Finally, a portion of the requirements for Level I catechetical certification will have a new option for fulfillment. Author Joe Paprocki’ s Catechetical Toolbox, published by Loyola Press, will provide an alternative to the learning modules provided in RCL-Benziger’s Echoes of Faith, which has long been in use in many parishes. While the Paprocki program provides some additional and up-to-date online resources, either of these two programs — along with the Basic Teachings of the Catholic Faith courses — will satisfy the requirements for Level I certification. 
To learn more about catechist training and certification, the calendar of spring 2017 workshops, or other course offerings through the Office of Evangelization, Catechesis, and Family Life, go to www.austindiocese.org/aff2017 or call the office at (512) 949-2492.