September 9, 2011

Religious Education Supplement

Association supports catechetical leaders across archdiocese

Parish catechetical leaders from across central and southern Indiana pose on Sept. 23, 2010, at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus during the annual Fall Day meeting of the Association of Parish Administrators of Religious Education. (Submitted photo)

Parish catechetical leaders from across central and southern Indiana pose on Sept. 23, 2010, at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus during the annual Fall Day meeting of the Association of Parish Administrators of Religious Education. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

When Mary Jo Thomas Day began her work in 1977 as the director of religious education at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, lay catechetical leadership in parishes was a fairly new phenomenon.

To find guidance in charting a course into this new ministry, Thomas Day leaned on the support of her fellow catechetical leaders in central and southern Indiana, most of whom were also new to the field.

Together, they founded the Association of Parish Administrators of Religious Education (APARE) in 1977 to give that help in an organized way.

“It was, more or less, a support for the small group that we were at that time,” said Thomas Day. “We couldn’t talk to the principals. They didn’t know what we did. The priests were even unsure what we were supposed to do.”

A generation later, parish administrators of religious education have been around in most archdiocesan parishes for decades. Their roles and responsibilities are much better understood than they were in 1977.

And APARE is still going strong, giving ongoing formation to catechetical veterans like Thomas Day and crucial support to newcomers in the ministry.

Kara Tsuleff was one such newcomer when she began her ministry as director of religious education at St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg in July 2009.

APARE, as it has for many years now, worked with the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education to set up a mentoring relationship for Tsuleff, pairing her with Kim Sprague, longtime director of religious education and youth minister at nearby St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Parish in Bright.

Tsuleff described her mentoring relationship as a “pretty good lifeline” during her first year of leading all of the catechetical programs in her Batesville Deanery parish.

“I had someone who was very open to any questions that I had,” Tsuleff said. “We would meet for lunch or breakfast. And I had her cell phone number and her e-mail address. That first year, especially, we were in communication quite a bit.”

Bill Unruh was in a similar position when he became director of religious education in 1991 at St. Michael Parish in Bradford in the New Albany Deanery.

At the time, Unruh was transitioning into full-time catechetical ministry from a career in banking. So learning the ropes from a veteran parish administrator of religious education was key for him.

As the current APARE president, Unruh also appreciates other ways beyond the mentoring program that the organization supports parish catechetical leaders across the archdiocese.

Each year, APARE sponsors workshops where presentations on catechesis are offered as well as an annual retreat for parish administrators of religious education.

“It’s not so much nuts and bolts on how to run a parish religious education program,” said Unruh. “The spiritual aspect is also very important. Prayer with fellow directors of religious education is very important.”

For the past five years, Unruh has ministered as director of religious education at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County.

APARE keeps parish catechetical leaders across central and southern Indiana connected through its quarterly meetings and gatherings that often happen more frequently at the deanery level.

Each deanery has an APARE representative that meets regularly with the organization’s overall leadership.

These people, in turn, meet regularly with Ken Ogorek, director of catechesis in the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education.

“If APARE didn’t exist, I would make something like it,” Ogorek said. “It’s very helpful to have a structure like theirs in place with deanery representation and that line of two-way communication.”

Although APARE is independent of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ogorek knows that working with it is important to further catechesis in parishes across central and southern Indiana.

“I feel blessed to have what I think is a great relationship with APARE,” he said. “We work in solidarity with each other.”

Thomas Day also feels blessed by having been a member of APARE since its earliest days. She knows that the ministry she provides for members of St. Monica Parish has been enhanced by her participation in APARE.

“APARE can affect directors of religious education, who can then, in turn, affect their parish,” Thomas Day said. “I’ve learned so much through the professional in-service meetings I’ve been to through APARE and the retreats. And I can share that with the parish. They can see what I have learned by my teaching it to them.”

(For more information on the Association of Parish Administrators of Religious Education, log on to http://aparearchindy.com.)

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