Parish catechetical leaders from throughout the Diocese, concerned with meeting the needs of the children and families they serve, gathered for a day of study on various models of catechetical formation for parishes.
“We have to remember that the makeup of families today is different,” Laurel Marchesini, keynote speaker, told the 60 parish catechetical ministers and other heads of parish ministries at the annual convocation of catechetical leaders Sept. 7 at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown.
PHOTO GALLERY: Catechetical Convocation 2023
“The traditional family model is no longer the norm,” she said, referring to two-parent families; some families have one parent, divorced parents, or are blended.
Families of today have many different schedules and commitments and “we have to be flexible” when it comes to offering different options for families to pursue children’s catechetical instruction, Marchesini said.
“We have to meet families where they are, not where we think they should be.”
Time for Prayer
The convocation, hosted by the diocesan Department of Catechesis and sponsored by William H. Sadlier, Inc., and the diocesan Annual Catholic Appeal, began with Mass celebrated by Father Martin O’Reilly, pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish and episcopal vicar of Burlington County.
Focusing his homily on that day’s Gospel, which told of Jesus gathering with his disciples and preparing them for his passion, death and resurrection, Father O’Reilly said, “Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy.”
Father O’Reilly urged the catechetical leaders to follow Jesus’ example. He said that, throughout his public ministry, Jesus always met people where they were in their lives and always approached them with love.
“If we approach our families with unconditional love, you are touching hearts, you are making a difference, you are touching God’s people,” he said.
After Mass, Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of pastoral life and mission, and staff from the Department of Catechesis -- Denise Contino, director, and Michelle Angelo-Santoro, associate director -- presented the annual Chick McGinty Award to Jessica Donohue, parish catechetical leader in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton. Each year, the department presents the award in recognition of an outstanding parish catechetical leader who is designated by the ministry.
“Jessica is well deserving of the award,” Contino said, noting that Donohue was nominated by her colleagues. “She is one of the most dedicated people I know in ministry.”
Before working at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Donohue was the parish catechetical leader at Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly. She holds two master’s degrees: one in religious education from Felician University, Lodi, and one in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, Connecticut. She is applying for the doctoral program in liturgical catechesis at The Catholic University of America, Washington. Donohue is president of “TRED,” Trenton Religious Education Directors; an instructor for the Diocese’s Art of Catechesis formation program; a columnist for the Diocese; and a freelance reporter for The Monitor Magazine/TrentonMonitor.com.
In her keynote, Marchesini, a Sadlier representative, reviewed five types of catechetical formation: the traditional weekly model; the family-centered model; the year-round model; the liturgical model; and the homeschool model. She gave pointers to keep in mind when implementing programs, such as having families create their own events or having parishes offer fun family events.
“You are the bridge between the families and the parish,” she said. She reminded her audience to remember that regardless of which model is used, “class should not feel like school. ... Think outside the box, make lessons interactive, know your students and ask yourselves, ‘Are you engaging your families enough that they want to become involved in the Church?'”
Parish catechetical leaders and instructors from throughout the Diocese rounded out the day with breakout sessions on a variety of topics relating to models of formation.
In his breakout, Mark Russoniello, parish catechetical leader in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, explored various ways to engage families within each model of formation but admitted that there is “no magic bullet” when doing so. “What works in one parish might not work in another,” he said, but there are many possibilities for creating a model that suits a particular parish’s needs.
“It is important to offer a variety of learning models for our families,” said Mary Mykityshyn, parish catechetical leader in St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, which has 200 students in the traditional fall program and 700 students in the summer intensive program.
“The PCL must know their community and what will work for our families. One size does not fit all. It is imperative to listen to a family’s story and do our best to find a fit,” she said.
Denise Contino, director of the Department of Catechesis, leads a breakout session on "Providing a Pathway for the Unbaptized and out-of-Sequence Youth. Mary Stadnyk photo