By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Bringing an extensive background in religious education and a passion for continuing the mission of educating all generations about the Catholic faith, Denise Contino arrives to the Diocesan Chancery confident in her new role as director of the Department of Catechesis.
“Being appointed as the new director of catechesis is truly an honor,” Contino said. “Following such great leaders who came before me, I will be working hard to bring catechesis to all the faithful in the Diocese. My main goal will be getting to know the parishes and schools and be able to work alongside talented leaders across the Diocese.”
As the new diocesan director, Contino succeeds Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Agnes Ryan, who accepted a new position in St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Bensalem, Pa.
Contino, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing from Baruch College, N.Y., and a master’s degree in theology from Georgian Court University, Lakewood, brings more than 10 years’ experience working in catechetical ministry in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel. There she served as coordinator and then as director of religious education; as a sixth-grade religion teacher in St. Benedict School and, most recently, as parish director of faith formation.
Contino’s background as director of faith formation enabled her to work in adult faith formation, where she was happy to learn “how eager so many of the faithful are to learn more about their faith. The key is listening to the needs of the parish and offering programs that meet their current needs.”
As Contino reflected on her new diocesan post, she noted her goal to enhance catechist training for parish religious education and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs, as well as in schools.
“Our catechists and religion teachers are at the heart of our programs. They are passing on the faith through their encounter with the families and the students,” she said. “Bringing opportunities to catechists, teachers and volunteers who so generously give their time and talent is one of my goals [along with] helping them to grow in their relationship with the Lord.”
Contino has also served on the diocesan Catechist Formation Initiative Committee, and as a course instructor for Evangelium and the Art of Teaching Catechesis – part of the diocesan catechist formation process – and coordinated the Evangelium classes in St. Benedict Parish.
She has furthered her Catholic education through diocesan catechist certification and participation in the former diocesan Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry in which she received 18 months of training and completed the academic portion of the program.
As an example of successes in Holmdel – established to better accommodate families’ busy schedules – Contino shared how the varied parish religious education programs for families helped grow enrollment to 575 students, currently. One of the options, a Summer Academy, invites students in grades one through six to attend catechesis classes for an entire week during the summer. To assist working families, who are asked to attend family catechesis days with their children, before and after care is provided for other children. “Bringing the family together is at the heart of catechesis,” she said.
Another option is a Sunday evening Confirmation program for seventh- and eighth-graders, in which students receive their instruction in two-hour time slots twice a month.
“This seemed to work for that age group,” she said, adding that a youth group model of catechesis is offered. Students meet in small groups and discuss the required topics with assistance from facilitators.
“We are trying to meet this age group in a unique way, offering them an experience to encounter the Holy Spirit through healthy discussions and meaningful prayer experiences.”
Catechesis, Contino said, is also made available for students with disabilities at all grade levels.
“Over the past 10 years, my own faith conversion has occurred and I am in love with Jesus and the Church,” she said, extending appreciation to Father Daniel Swift, former pastor of St. Benedict Parish, and Father Garry Koch, current pastor, for their encouragement and confidence in her leadership skills to work with the people of St. Benedict Parish.
Contino and her husband, John, have two children, Amanda 21, and Joseph, 18.