Catechetical leaders reminded learning faith a ‘lifetime process’

By: By Jennifer Willems

Spread the word: There is no graduation when it comes to learning about the faith.

Dr. Vincent McClean, director of the diocesan Office of Catechetics, asked the 135 people who attended the 2013 Catechetical Leadership Conference to take that message back to their parishes and schools around the Diocese of Peoria.

“We have a huge challenge because we’re trying to teach a faith that is complicated,” he told those gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on Aug. 3. “You cannot possibly teach everything in that one and a half or two hours. We can’t possibly address all of those issues in RCIA, so what they internalize and do on their own is very important.”

Keep telling them that the journey doesn’t end at confirmation or graduation from eighth grade or even high school, McClean urged them. “It’s a lifetime process.”

It was for Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and keynote speaker Katie Bogner talked to the catechists about how she used his life and teaching to help her fifth-graders at St. Joseph School in Pekin understand that everyone is called to holiness.

During the day they also had an opportunity to share ideas with one another, with discussions led by practicing catechists at each grade level. Sessions in the afternoon covered Hispanic ministry, confirmation preparation, youth ministry, adult formation, and the Christendom Catechetical program. Workshops were also designed to help new directors of religious education, and explore the topic of human dignity.

The catechists were sent back to their parishes with ideas about classroom prayer from Bob Temme, a representative from the Pflaum Publishing Group.

Bogner said she became convinced that her students needed to know about Fulton Sheen because what he taught and his messages to the people who heard him on radio or watched him on television are still relevant and accessible.

“The things he taught are the things we teach our kids,” she said. “He loved Mary. He loved prayer. He loved the sacraments. All of those things are the things we cover in our curriculum anyway.”

Instead of reading a book about prayer, for example, Bogner talked to the students about how the El Paso native made a daily Holy Hour.

“The kids just could not fathom that. Our once-a-month Holy Hour is a stretch for them sometimes,” she acknowledged. “We used that to talk about why he made that decision and why prayer was so important for him.”

As part of that discussion they made a monstrance and talked about how to pray, using ACTS as a guide: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. They also made a journal they could take with them to adoration to prepare for and enhance the experience.

“Something about Fulton Sheen resonated with them, that we are all called to holiness,” Bogner said. “You can be born in Pekin or El Paso or in Peoria and you are called to holiness; God has a unique plan and mission for your life,” she said. “That was the overwhelming message we kept coming back to.”

She said some sitting in the room might think, “That’s fine for you, Katie. You teach in a Catholic school. I don’t have time to do this,” but asked them to try it.

“Learn something about Fulton Sheen — more than you know now. Pick up one of his books or watch one of his YouTube videos. Find some of his talks to listen to on your iPad on the way to work,” Bogner said.

“The more we know as catechists and the more we feed ourselves, the better influence we’ll be on our students. I think that’s the message Fulton Sheen would want us to hear today,” she said, encouraging them to take one little project and tie him into it.

“How often is it that we can say, ‘When I was 12 a man from my diocese was canonized’? That’s not going to happen very often and I would love for the kids of this generation to be able to say that as they grow up and tell their grandchildren someday,” Bogner said. “Maybe just take one thing you have to teach and connect Fulton Sheen to it.”

To help them — and anyone else who would like to do that — she has made her materials available on her blog,, and has established a Fulton Sheen Pinterest page.

Temme, who has served as a pastoral associate, taught in a Catholic high school, and worked as a catechist and director of religious education, said it can be easy to fall into the habit of saying opening and closing prayers with students and calling it good. He challenged them to move beyond that, however.

“God does not need our prayer,” he told them. “We pray because it brings us closer to God. . . . We pray to change our hearts, to re-form ourselves.”
Prayer keeps us humble, grounded and real and students need to know that, Temme explained.

He invited them to try different forms of prayer in their own lives and said children need that variety, too. While it’s good to plan, some of the most meaningful prayer comes out of what is happening around them or in class, he said.

Prayer that incorporates movement, such as Stations of the Cross, help young people connect with the words and can satisfy their natural need to actively engage in what they’re studying.

One concrete way of involving the students is to encourage them to add patron saints that are important to them and their interests in a Litany of the Saints. St. Philomena, for example, is the patron saint of students, while St. Luigi is the patron saint of soccer players.

In central Illinois an obvious choice is St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, who is the patroness of the Diocese of Peoria, he reminded them.

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