Teaching Our Faith – What is an archdiocese: Catechesis and the classroom

This series of teaching editorials defines the role of our local Church, the archdiocese, and how it serves from a variety of perspectives.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This directive to the Apostles emphasized how the followers of Jesus were to go out and share with the world the message of the “Good News” — that the Kingdom of God has come and with it the promise of new life rooted in the unconditional love of a heavenly Father who desires to be one with us. This profound message of hope has been passed down from one generation of Christians to the next ever since the days of the early Church. But how does the Archdiocese embrace this mission?

“Catechesis” is one way of answering the question. Our parishes, parish schools, regional schools and Catholic high schools all engage in catechetical ministry. Catechesis is the process of handing down the faith received by the Apostles through Jesus Christ as a way to instruct or catechize others in the ways of our Lord. Catechesis is rooted in Scripture, tradition, liturgy, theology, etc., and it is part of one’s lifelong process of transformation or conversion.

Last year, 14,713 families sent approximately 19,500 children to one of our Catholic elementary or high schools to be educated and formed in the Catholic faith. Our numbers are healthy, but the challenges are many. One challenge that remains is how to witness and pass on the faith to an audience that is bombarded with attractive messages that are contrary to the Gospel.

The Archdiocese of Louisville, through the Office of Faith Formation and the Office of Catholic Schools provides elementary schools with a religion curriculum framework rooted in the six tasks of catechesis: Knowledge of the Faith, Liturgical Education, Learning to Pray, Moral Formation, Education for Community and Life, and Missionary Discipleship. Catholic high schools follow the “Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechetical Materials for Young People of High School Age,” a 2008 document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All students in grades 5, 8 and 11 enrolled in Catholic schools take the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE) annually. ACRE looks at the students’ knowledge of their faith, beliefs, and practices.

The Office of Faith Formation provides catechist formation to over 1,500 teachers in our Catholic schools. Teachers receive formation in core areas such as church history, morality, and Christology. In addition, teachers learn best practices and methodologies in teaching the faith to children and young people. Parish catechists receive similar formation and attend retreats and days of reflection offered by the Archdiocese.

The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF), through annual grants in the areas of religious education and professional learning, supports catechetical ministry programs for all age groups in Catholic parishes and schools. Examples include national youth ministry gatherings for young people, Vacation Bible School programs and adult faith formation experiences. The CEF also supports Catholic school education through its distribution and administration of tuition assistance to families.

The Office of Faith Formation also supports and resources religious education programs in parishes. Once known as CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), parish religious education (RE) programs are another way that catechesis is practiced in the Archdiocese. Many parishes actually have a parish catechetical leader who coordinates the parish religious education program for children not attending a Catholic school. Religious education models vary. Some have a traditional classroom experience; some have the feel of Vacation Bible School. Others are family-focused, which means the parents attend with their children. Whatever the model, the most significant challenge for parishes is the same as the Catholic schools, how do catechesis and conversion take place when there are so many competing voices?

One possible approach has already been adopted by many Catholic schoolteachers and parish catechists. They have taken their cue from recent Popes who have encouraged evangelization and sharing faith from a more personal perspective. All Catholic teachers, not only the ones who teach religion, are encouraged to share faith with their students when the opportunity arises. Imagine the response when a math teacher talks about why Mass is important to her or a science teacher expresses his belief in God while he’s teaching about nature. Imagine the parish catechist telling his students how he practiced forgiveness at work that day.

Christ’s command to share the Good News is at the foundation of our catechetical ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville. It is a reminder to all believers, however, that it is not only the catechist or teacher who is called to share faith; every baptized Catholic is called to do so.

Art Turner is the director of the
Office of Faith Formation and Leisa Schulz is superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

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