Shirley Plaag named director of Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation

Shirley Plaag

In today’s fast-paced, changing culture, the best method of leading souls to heaven remains the one demonstrated by Jesus 2,000 years ago.

“The beauty of it is we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Shirley Plaag, the Diocese of Peoria’s new Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation.

Jesus made disciples, said Plaag, by proclaiming the Good News to them, calling them to conversion, walking with them on their journey, and then sending them to repeat the process with others.

“This is Christ’s method and it’s timeless,” said Plaag, a native of Peoria who has been on the diocesan staff since late 2014, including the last two years coordinating evangelization and faith formation efforts in the diocese such as the annual youth rally, Diocesan Institute, and Valentine Date Night.

Making disciples is even woven into Plaag’s job description.

“This office assists both the clergy and lay faithful in the task of making disciples,” according to the diocesan announcement of Plaag’s new role.  The office will provide resources to parishes and schools to help form Catholic men and women in outreach and catechetical work in many areas: marriage and family life, youth and young adult ministry, parish catechesis, and leadership training.


“A lot of parishes struggle to have enough people who are committed and qualified and feel capable of the task of evangelization,” said Plaag, a 2005 graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in theology and catechetics from Franciscan University in Steubenville.

“So one of the goals of this office is leadership formation and development,” she told The Catholic Post, “especially of the lay leaders in our parishes, to be able to equip them with the tools to be able to make disciples within the parish.”

A disciple, Plaag explained, is someone who has encountered Christ, has a relationship with him, and allowed that relationship to transform his or her life.

Discipleship, then, is when that person leads others — maybe only one or two at a time — to encounter and fall in love with the Lord.

“Everything we already do in the parish is set up to do this,” said Plaag. But an emphasis of what St. John Paul II called the “new evangelization” is personal witness. And that applies not only to individuals but catechists who may have a classroom full of children.

More than just teaching doctrine, “it takes a genuine witness of faith of how Christ has transformed their own lives in order to attract others to want to know what they have,” said Plaag. “That’s where the leadership formation is important. “


After earning her college degree, Plaag’s own leadership formation has included a year as a house mother for women in crisis pregnancies at St. Gianna’s Maternity Home in North Dakota; work at the Lagron-Miller religious supply company in Peoria; and service as a religion teacher at St. Mary School in Kickapoo and later as a director of religious education at Corpus Christi and St. Patrick parishes in Galesburg and Sacred Heart in Abingdon.

She will be assisted in the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation by Karley Bates, who joined the staff as programs coordinator earlier this month.  (See related story.)

Plaag and Bates are studying how best to respond to the needs of parishes.

“A lot is still in formation,” said Plaag. “There are so many different age groups and different areas to minister to that right now we’re very carefully discerning how to create that structure.”

Plans already in place include shifting the diocesan youth rally from November to the spring starting next year. A three-day, eucharistic-centered youth retreat called “Abide in Me” will be offered this fall at Corpus Christi School in Bloomington.

The Diocesan Institute will also be changing dates. Traditionally held in June, it will be moved to August in 2018, just before the start of school and parish religious education classes.

The Valentine Date Night will be expanded with an optional marriage enrichment program prior to the Mass with Bishop Jenky. Marriage preparation will continue to take place regionally.

Plaag hopes to meet with pastors and directors of religious education in the coming months to assess needs.

“We have such a geographically diverse diocese that the need of a parish in one area is not the need in another,” said Plaag, a member of St. Philomena Parish in Peoria. “What are some things that are universal, and what are things we can help motivate the parishes to do on their own?”


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