Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

 

Taking what had been the heart of the catechist certification program in the Diocese of Richmond, fortifying it and then making it accessible anytime, anywhere has resulted in the development and presentation of Pathways: Delivered.

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the diocese’s Office of Christian Formation launched the online program through which those who provide faith formation through parish religious education programs and in Catholic schools, RCIA, adult education and youth ministry can receive certification.

The development of the program, according to Megan Cottam, an associate director in the Office of Christian Formation, was a response to those doing formation who wanted a more flexible program than that which the in-person Pathways training provided.

“We had catechists who wanted the training, but they could not find a way to make it to what we had to offer,” she said. “So we were looking for an online opportunity to do this — one that wasn’t just a rigid set of courses, but something that we could tailor to the specific needs of our diocese.”

Convenient, engaging

Michele Kresge, coordinator of Ministry to Youth and Children at St. John the Evangelist, Waynesboro, was among participants in a pilot version of the program this spring. She welcomed the convenience of it.

“With Pathways: Delivered, being able to complete exercises on your own time is a huge benefit for myself and for those who want to take on catechesis,” she said, noting the “tremendous commitment” catechists make, while also having full-time jobs and other responsibilities. “With (Pathways: Delivered) we have a unified message, and they’re able to engage in it, listen to it and to feel they’re also included in it.”

Based upon feedback from pilot program participants, Cottam said that the first tier of the program can be completed in about five hours, but noted it is designed for self-pacing.

“You can start and stop. If you start after the kids are in bed at 9 and at 10 your brain is shutting down, then you shut down and come back another time,” she said. “That’s another aspect of the flexibility in this that is so beneficial to the individual.”

Donna Waymouth, a pilot participant who teaches religion, language arts and social studies at Sacred Heart School, Danville, and who attended previous Pathways formation sessions, said, “This is so much nicer to do a program like this as opposed to sitting in a room for four to six hours.”

Michael School, director of the diocesan Office for Evangelization, said the flexibility Pathways: Delivered provides is important.

“Even outside COVID, what we know is a lot of our catechists and those who are youth ministers, those who help educate our youth are parents, and as parents it is very hard for them to give up a whole Saturday to commit to doing this work,” he said, referring to the sessions catechists had been required to attend for certification.

Calling the program “super accessible,” School continued, “Especially as a result of the pandemic, people are not as unwilling to go out and try to engage through technology.”

Vocation, Scripture, tradition

The first tier of Pathways: Delivered focuses on the vocation of the catechist, Scripture and Catholic tradition. Cottam likened it to taking prerequisites before embarking upon electives in a college major.

“Our foundation is starting from where our catechists have been called because it’s not just about knowledge, but it’s a calling from God to be a catechist,” Cottam said.

That section also includes a video featuring Bishop Robert D. Barron speaking about the vocation of a catechist. It includes reflection questions where participants need to stop and write.

Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic Institute, is featured in videos throughout the section on Scripture.

“I love Matthew Kelly,” said Waymouth. “He’s wonderful for teacher formation and on becoming a better version of yourself. We love listening to him.”

Describing herself as a “huge Matthew Kelly fan,” Wendy Sellers, who teaches first reconciliation and Eucharist at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Richmond, and first grade at the parish school, liked the way he presented different parts of the Bible.

“He talks at our level,” she said. “I loved the way he presented the Gospels. He showed a different way to look at them and how you can talk about them in the classroom.”

Isaac Jackson, youth minister at St. Thomas More, Lynchburg, knows how he will apply what he learned during the Scripture portion of the pilot.

“I hope to take the knowledge I got from that and apply it to get the youth more involved in Scripture because one thing people struggle with, especially youth, is the Old Testament readings: How does this apply to today? Why are we reading this? What’s the point of this?” he said. “This can help us dive into Scripture.”

The section on Catholic tradition was written and narrated by Patricia Clement, who holds a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Ind., and is coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Ann, Colonial Heights. Among topics covered were the Creed, papacy and councils and the Magisterium.

The second and third tiers are being developed and are scheduled to launch in September 2021 and 2022, respectively. The second tier will focus on catechetical skills in a specific area, e.g., adults, youth, elementary, etc. The third tier will address a variety of subjects relevant to each area of catechesis.

Accountability key

Another factor in developing Pathways: Delivered was making sure there was a measurable way of gauging what participants had learned.

According to Emily Filippi, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation, while the in-person Pathways sessions sought feedback from participants, the new version takes it further.

“It was important to us to find a way of incorporating measures within the actual course that could actually help the catechist,” she said, adding that if a catechist needed help in a specific area, e.g., the Beatitudes, pastors or parish formation leaders would be aware of that through the message boards that are part of the program. “This is really a step up from that engagement that is beneficial to the individual catechist where they need it.”

The course structures in Pathways: Delivered were original to the Pathways program and vetted through diocesan clergy, according to Filippi, but taken to another level in the new version.

“With the advantage of online learning, we were able to put a little more flesh on the bones, and it wasn’t just handouts or paper. That’s the creativity of this online program,” she said. “You engage the individual learner in a variety of ways, knowing and integrating and then embracing or remembering specific things that were new to them.”

Filippi said Pathways: Delivered is designed to set the catechist up for success.

“If they’re having difficulty in one area, then there’s opportunity for a leader to intervene and sit down with them, help them so they are successful,” she said, adding that it provides participants with information about how to build their own faith and how they can pass it on to others.

Answering the call

Kresge recalled that she got involved in faith formation when her now 29-year-old daughter was preschool age, and the parish director of religious education announced in church that there would not be a preschool formation program if volunteers did not come forward. She came forward.

“Some of the hesitancy among people is that they’re not trained enough or know enough. I love the phrase ‘God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called,’” she said. “Pathways: Delivered offers some of that affirmation for potential catechists. They are answering a call, a vocation, and that here is support from the Church as well as expectations for how we pass on the faith to others.”

Cottam said everyone is called to life-long faith formation, always needing someone to teach them, but it doesn’t stop there.

“We’re all called by the virtue of our baptism to form one another. We are not Catholics alone. We don’t believe in personal faith; we believe in community,” she said. “As such, we are all called in some way to form each other. Being a catechist is moving from an informal role to taking that step to a more formal role of that formation.”

Editor’s note: Further information about Pathways: Delivered is available by contacting Megan Cottam at mcottam@richmonddiocese.org.