With the start of the new catechetical year on Sept. 19, which is observed as Catechetical Sunday, nine parish catechetical leaders will begin new ministry assignments, overseeing faith formation activities including religious education programs. Following are profiles on the new leaders.

St. Anthony Parish has new post for Father Dolan

By EmmaLee Italia, Contributing Editor

A priest of the Red Bank Oratory of St. Philip Neri at St. Anthony of Padua Parish has added religious education to his arsenal of youth-oriented ministries.

Father Nicholas Dolan has accepted the role of director of religious education at the Red Bank parish – a program that currently has around 400 students and counting.

The parish offers religious education over the summer and during the year for those students entering first grade through senior year in high school. St. Anthony Parish also has an extensive RCIA program and faith formation classes for adults in English and Spanish.

“In all of our faith formation programs, we strive to present the intellectual beauty of the Catholic faith,” Father Dolan noted, “and the tradition of the Church’s prayer and spirituality, so that all of those in our programs may live as faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus.”

Father Dolan attended Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft. Feeling called to the priesthood in high school, he attended college at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, earning a bachelor of arts in philosophy; St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., where earned a masters in divinity degree.

The Red Bank Oratory of St. Philip Neri – a community which Father Dolan joined as a seminarian and served as brother, transitional deacon and priest – began in 2013 as members worked in the parish community and awaited the official Canonical Decree, given by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in March 2016. With that, the Oratory-in-Formation was established. Father Dolan was ordained a priest by Bishop O’Connell in June 2018. As an Oratorian, Father Dolan lives and prays with his fellow priests and brothers, as the Oratory is the community’s permanent residence.

“It is a gift and privilege to be able to serve as the Director of Religious Education,” said Father Dolan, “because through the Church’s catechesis we continue the proclamation of the Gospel and hand on the treasure of our Catholic faith to each and every generation.”

One of Father Dolan’s main goals since coming to the Oratory years ago has been working with the Youth Oratory – a group of eighth through 12th-graders which meets multiple times per month for fellowship, service and religious activities.

“Part of this experience is seeing how one of the roles of priests is to help people pray,” he said in an interview just prior to his ordination. “Prayer can be daunting, especially when you just begin doing it.”

Experienced PCL joins St. Joan of Arc team

By Lois Rogers, Correspondent

As Jessica Donohue begins her journey as the new parish catechetical leader in Marlton’s St. Joan of Arc Parish, she’s looking forward to “getting to know the children, families and parishioners who have all been so very kind and welcoming” since she arrived in July.

The St. Joan of Arc religious education program serves 800 children from first through eighth grades, said Donohue, who came to St. Joan of Arc with 12 years of experience in religious education. As recovery from the pandemic continues, there will be a mix of live and virtual attendance with first, second and seventh grades attending in person and grades three through six attending virtually, said Donohue.

The ministry, she said, “plays a primary role in strengthening the connection families have to the Church and their faith and I find that in accompanying them, my faith is often renewed and enriched too.”

Members of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, Donohue and her husband, Michael, are the parents of two sons, Jake and Owen. Her attachment to catechetical ministry began in 2009 when the boys were enrolled in the parish school and she was helping out in the parish.

“I was asked by the new DRE at the time, Dr. Eileen Hoefling, to be her assistant when she began her tenure in the parish. Aside from having gone to ‘CCD’ myself, I had very little experience with our religious education program before that.”

Shortly thereafter, she went through the Diocesan Catechetical Leadership program and realized “that I felt I was being called to the ministry as a career. Dr. Hoefling was a great mentor to me during our time together and my pastor, Father John Czahur, was and still is a wonderful mentor to me as well,” said Donohue, who served the program at Sacred Heart until coming to St. Joan of Arc.

Donohue, who holds a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in religious education from Felician University, Lodi, is currently halfway through a master’s in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, CT. Donohue calls “working with families, children and volunteers” in catechetical ministry, “simply one of the greatest blessings of my life. I consider it an incredible privilege when parents come to the parish for support in raising their children in the Church.”

Love of God, love of nature drives new catechist

By Christina Leslie, Correspondent

Barbara Kane’s love of nature and love of God will prove to be a winning combination in her new role as parish catechetical leader in Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly.

Kane earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management from Rutgers University’s Cook College. She shared that prior to the birth of her two children with husband Ryan, “I combined my love of nature and my love for children by teaching students about the environment, as they are the caretakers of all God’s creation.”

Kane, whose family had been members of the Mount Holly parish since her son Justin’s Baptism in 2001, became involved with the religious education program when her daughter, Madelyn, began first grade.

“I loved seeing her excitement as she talked about learning about Jesus in class,” Kane remembered. “I wanted to be part of that excitement and started volunteering as a hall monitor and an aide. When they needed a seventh-grade catechist in 2007, I began teaching.”

Ten years of volunteering led to her hire as the program’s administrative assistant in 2018, then her current leadership role in the first through eighth grade program of about 300 students. Religious education summer and fall programs have been supplemented with a family program for remote learning during the pandemic.

“Serving in catechetical ministry means that I’m able to make a difference in the lives of our children, helping them grow in their faith as they journey toward becoming confirmed members of the Catholic Church,” said Kane, who finds the process important and rewarding. “In my new role, I most look forward to seeing the children’s smiles as they listen and learn from their catechists, who I love to work with and also learn from every week. We are excited to help our families learn and grow in their faith.”

Lifelong catechist heads program in Visitation Parish

By Christina Leslie, Correspondent

Joanne Martone is the newest PCL in Visitation Parish, Brick, but her service in educating children in the faith long predates her current position.

“I began volunteering as a catechist when I was in high school,” Martone recalled. “I was an assistant for many years working with multiple grade levels. When it came time to enroll my son in first grade, he asked if I could teach his class. He is now in eighth grade and I have been with my students ever since.”

Martone earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Georgian Court University, Lakewood. She also holds a New Jersey teacher of Spanish certificate, a principal certificate and a supervisor certificate.

She and her husband, Fred, have two children, Giana and Anthony. In addition to her religious education work, Martone also volunteers as a cantor at the Brick parish.

Visitation’s religious education program currently serves about 600 students in grades one through eight. Martone is eagerly awaiting the program to begin this fall, noting, “I am looking forward to developing activities throughout the year for families. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with all leaders, ministries and families within our parish, meeting and working with leaders in other parishes in our Diocese and beyond.”

The call to service is universal, the catechist said.

“We are all called to serve, utilizing our talents to evangelize and become effective apostles for Jesus. Serving in catechetical ministry is a calling to lead others to Jesus and the beauty of our Catholic faith.”

Martone attended her first Mass at the parish in 1976 at the age of three, she said proudly, and has been a parishioner ever since. “My faith journey was planted, rooted and nourished in the parish of Visitation. The experience and opportunities given to me by those in leadership in our parish has not only helped me grow in faith it has also allowed me to help others grow in faith,” she said. “Through prayer and discernment I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Bring my children to me.’ I am answering His call.”

Catechetical ministry the ‘joy of a lifetime’

By Lois Rogers, Correspondent

As Mark Russoniello, the new parish catechetical leader in Freehold’s St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral tells it, serving in this ministry is the joy of a lifetime.”

He became the Co-Cathedral’s parish catechetical leader June 21, taking on full responsibility of the program for 975 youngsters from grades one through eight, following the retirement of Lisa Clark.

“In what other job would I be able to spend my day thinking and talking about God,” asks Russoniello, who freely admits it took him 50 years to come to this reality after a varied career that ran the gamut from working on Wall Street and then in municipal government in Jersey City to 15 years in social services to reach this point.

He said it was like a “proverbial lightning bolt” struck when he became involved in catechesis. He had been home schooling his son Luke in religious education and when it came time to prepare for Confirmation, the parish policy required in-person instruction.

After careful thought, he began as a volunteer catechist for his son’s class. After Luke was confirmed, he continued volunteering through a period of unemployment and a return to the school for a master’s degree in public administration from Seton Hall University, South Orange.

“As I was completing my degree, I was hired to serve as pastoral associate at St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft,” while continuing to serve as a volunteer catechist, and his dedication to the ministry grew over time. “After several years, I was asked to expand my responsibilities to include the Faith Formation ministry and direct oversight of the religious education program.”

Russoniello holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Hamilton College, Utica, N.Y.; a master of pastoral theology from St. Joseph College, Standish, Maine, and is a Doctor of Ministry candidate (2022) from the Graduate Theological Institute, Oklahoma City.

He said it’s exciting to bring the “experience from St. Leo’s to a totally different community and move forward. Noting that the 2021-2022 program will remain primarily remote, Russoniello anticipates “a time when we can return to some degree of in person instruction. … This is a challenging time to take up the ministry in a new community. At the same time, the challenge forces planning for and implementation of new ways of ‘doing’ ministry” that will support “the growth of the entire family in their lives of faith.”

Long-time catechist heads St. Clement Parish religious education program

By Christina Leslie, Correspondent

Some might label Tom Sweeney, the new parish catechetical leader in St. Clement Parish, Matawan, as a problem solver in his own right, but the educator is just following his Master’s example to “work with what you have.”

The long-time catechist began his service to the children of the parish due to a religious sister’s plea from the ambo some 25 years ago, he recalled.

“At Mass, Sister Mary called out to the congregation to help teach religious ed, saying, ‘God will give you the strength and the wisdom,’” he remembered. “I decided to try it, and I loved it from the first moment.”

His rewarding time with the first grade class led to the program director’s request he take on a tougher challenge: instructor of the seventh and eighth grade students as well as leadership in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process for teenagers. Sweeney took multiple courses through the Diocese and set off on the new educational path. The program supports about 400 students in grades one through eight.

“I have loved sharing our faith with our young people, and I especially love and welcome their questions as they grow and seek understanding,” he noted. “I am looking forward to continuing the great work of my predecessor and also helping answer questions especially during these challenging times.

Sweeney believes “The main reason people lose their faith is that they don’t have their questions answered. There are no dumb questions. I love learning about my faith, and I know enough to know that we shouldn’t be embarrassed about what we don’t know. We can find out the answer together.”

Sweeney and his wife, Susan, have three daughters, Allison, Jenna and Samantha; one son, Andrew, and two grandchildren, Nicolette and Douglas.

When asked how he could inspire potential catechists just as Sister Mary had inspired him so many years ago, Sweeney recalled the miracle of Christ feeding the thousands with just a few loaves and fishes.

“When the disciples told Jesus the people were hungry, Jesus didn’t just jump in and solve the problem,” Sweeney said. “He first asked them, ‘Well, what do you have? I will do the rest, I will work with what you have.’”

As PCL, former youth minister hopes to build strong foundation of faith

After 16.5 years in youth ministry in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, Linda T. Xerri sees her new role as parish catechetical leader there as one where she can help young families begin their journeys in religious education with a focus on the great importance of faith.

That’s the message Xerri shared recently when she spoke to families at all parish Masses as she began her ministry with the program where some 400 students in grades one through eight are expected by the time enrollment concludes.

“I am simply there to walk with them and remind them that God loves them,” said Xerri, who has a certificate in youth ministry from the Trenton Diocese. “He sent Jesus as proof of that love and through the Holy Spirit, each of us can be a witness to God’s love in our world by living and loving like Jesus.”

Xerri, who was hired in 2005 as the part-time youth minister for the parish, was responsible for youth activities for children in grades six through eight and helping in the religious education department with Confirmation preparation.

In 2010, she took on full-time responsibilities as the parish youth minister up to and including grade 12. In 2017, she also began serving as the religion coordinator in St. Mary of the Lakes School, helping to plan liturgies and prayer services and also assisted the teachers with their catechist certification process and provided supplemental religion curriculum material to them as needed.

She attended the University of Delaware, majoring in communications and English-journalism, and recently completed courses with Notre Dame Step toward a certificate in theology with a concentration in doctrine, which is expected to be completed in 2022. She and her husband, Sam, are the parents of three children: Grace; Nicholas and Paul.

Reflecting on this new opportunity, Xerri said that “the most important gift we can give our children is the gift of faith. This faith was instilled in me as a child by my parents and grandparents and has helped me through many bumps in the road.

“My hope is to accompany young families as they begin their faith journey with their own children so that they walk through life living and looking through the lens of faith.”

Parish catechetical leaders also beginning new positions are:

• Bonnie Campbell, Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton, in addition to her role as parish catechetical leader in Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro

• Tracy Miller, St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach