Come July 1, we will be welcoming Rich Scanlon as our new Director of Evangelization & Discipleship Formation. This is a new position for our parish, replacing the position of Director of Faith Formation. Rich’s responsibilities will include implementing our new Religious Education program, developing new Adult Faith Formation programs, supervising our RCIA and Baptismal preparation teams, and eventually developing a plan to reach out to fallen away Catholics and to non-Catholics in our community.
Rich has two master’s degrees; one in theology and the other in sports psychology. He has worked in a variety of ministry settings, including Christendom College, where he was part of the team that revised the “Faith and Life” curriculum which we will be using in Religious Education, and for the past four years he has taught theology and been a dean at a Catholic high school in Ave Maria, FL. He has also been a football coach, and both the high school and college level, for about 20 years.
He is originally from Philadelphia (yes, he is an Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers fan), so this will be something of a homecoming. His wife, Laura, is from St. Cloud, MN. They have four children; Dominic (13), Isaiah (10), Gabriel (7), and Maria (4). I know that we will all offer them a warm welcome, and whatever assistance we can as they settle into our community.
This also means that we will be saying goodbye to Pat Brooks, who has been our Director of Faith Formation for the past 10 years. Pat has put a lot of love, not only into our Religious Education program, but into all of your children. I know that she will miss so many of you, and will be missed. I wish her the best in her future, and thank her for her service to the parish.
Some have asked why are we making these changes in our Religious Education program. The simple truth is that what we have been doing has not been achieving the results we desire. It my desire, and that of the our wonderfully dedicated catechists, to pass on the Catholic Faith to the next generation. The current method has been failing to do that.
Since I have arrived at Resurrection, I asked that we administer the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE) test to our 5th and 8th graders. It is a nationally standardized assessment of both knowledge of the Faith (following the guidelines set up by the USCCB) and religious practices. The ACRE ranks students as “Advanced,” “Proficient,” or “Needs Improvement.” None of our Religious Education students achieved the “Advanced” rank and less than 10% achieved the “Proficient” rank. Over 90% of our students were at the “Needs Improvement.”
As a former college professor, who taught educational assessment, I know that we cannot use just one measure, but there are other indications that we have not been doing a good enough job at teaching the faith to our children. The Bishop told me that the last time he was here to do Confirmations, he was very disappointed in our confirmandi’s knowledge of the Faith.
It would be unfair to lay all the responsibility for this on our catechists. After all, they only work with the students about 4 hours per month. As I said before, our catechists are amazingly dedicated and have the best intentions for passing on the Faith to our children. We now have to give them the tools to do what their hearts desire. The Diocese of Trenton uses the same online service, “My Catholic Faith Delivered,” to provide all the content for Level I Catechist Certification. It costs $90, and it takes about a year, working at one’s own pace, to complete the coursework. After a person successfully completes the work in a year, the Diocese reimburses the person $45, so half the cost. I have decided that the parish will pay the other half of the cost, so we will be encouraging all of our catechists to sign up to take the coursework for the Level I Catechist Certification. We will also host a workshop, run by the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, that teaches more of the practical skills of teaching Religious Education (e.g., classroom management, how to lead discussions and activities, etc.). As we implement this new curriculum and methodology, Mr. Scanlon and I will plan to meet through the year with our catechists to facilitate mutual coaching and the sharing of best practices. So we will be doing what we can to beef up things on this end.
However, parents also have to accept responsibility as well. The Church teachings that parents have the primary responsibility for teaching the Faith to their children. At their child’s baptism, parents promise before God to raise their children in the Faith, and the primary way to do that is by witnessing the Faith by their acts, especially weekly Mass attendance. Attending Mass on Sunday is a serious obligation, and missing Mass on Sunday — without a serious reason — is a mortal sin. I will say it plain; if you die with a mortal sin on your soul, you go to hell.
We average over 30% absenteeism at Religious Education, and even higher than that at Sunday Mass. Our ushers take a count at each Mass, and weekends when there is no Religious Education, the Mass attendance is very low. We will be having a strict attendance policy for Religious Education next year, and we will being using the “Disciple’s Journal” as a way to check on Mass attendance. There will be pre- and post-tests for each chapter, and unit tests, all to measure accountability as well as progress in the material. Just like “reading, writing, and arithmetic” failure in religious education will mean that the material will need to be retaken, and children will have to be properly prepared before they can receive the sacraments of Reconciliation, Communion, and Confirmation.
Very few parents responded to the survey concerning the Religious Education program, and many who did basically said they just want to keep things the same. We cannot keep things the same, not if we take seriously the responsibility to pass on the faith to our children. The most common reason given for keeping it as it is was “it gives us a reason to go to Mass on Sunday.” This is unacceptable. You should be going to Mass every Sunday, no matter when we have Religious Education.
Looking at the other parishes in the area, especially those in our cohort, here is our plan for Religious Education for next year. Students in kindergarten through 4th grade will have Religious Education on Sundays after the 10 AM Mass; from 11:15 AM until 12:30 PM. Students in grades 5-8 will meet on Wednesdays, from 6:45 PM until 8 PM. Please note; this will be EVERY WEEK.
The parishes in Cohort 1(Corpus Christi, Jesus the Good Shepherd, and Resurrection) have agreed to accept students from any of the Cohort parishes. Corpus Christi has their Religious Education on Tuesdays from 6 PM to 7:15 PM. Jesus the Good Shepherd has their older children (I think it is also 5th – 8th grade) on Mondays from 7:15 PM to 8:45 PM, and their younger children on Tuesdays from 4:15 PM to 5:45 PM.
I anticipate complaints. That’s all right. I appreciate the fact that families are busy; I am one of four children, all within 6 years of each other, so my family was also very busy growing up (both of my parents also worked outside the home). However, Religious Education was a priority in my family, and it must be a priority in all our families. Sports, scouting, theater, cheerleading, dance and all the other activities that children are involved in are great and help build strong characters and values. However, none of those things lead to Eternal Life. Only Jesus Christ leads to Eternal Life. To share in that Eternal Life we must know, love and serve Christ Jesus in this life, and in that order. Everything else is passing away.