August 21, 2015

Evangelization Supplement

RCIA catechists gain resources, knowledge, network of support at ‘invaluable’ conference

The catechists from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who attended the St. John Bosco catechetical conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, pose on July 16, the last day of the four-day gathering. Kneeling are Lisa Whitaker, left, Manuela Johnson and Erin Jeffries. Standing are Connie Sandlin, left, Mary Wagner, Jeffrey Earl, Sandra Hartlieb, Kim Sprague, Lynelle Chamberlain, Brad Macke, Paulette Davis, Quanah Jeffries, Charlene Phillips and Gabriela Carrero. Not pictured: Denise Dubois.

The catechists from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who attended the St. John Bosco catechetical conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, pose on July 16, the last day of the four-day gathering. Kneeling are Lisa Whitaker, left, Manuela Johnson and Erin Jeffries. Standing are Connie Sandlin, left, Mary Wagner, Jeffrey Earl, Sandra Hartlieb, Kim Sprague, Lynelle Chamberlain, Brad Macke, Paulette Davis, Quanah Jeffries, Charlene Phillips and Gabriela Carrero. Not pictured: Denise Dubois.

By Natalie Hoefer

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—As Mary Wagner, a volunteer catechist at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, walked the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville during the St. John Bosco catechetical conference, she enjoyed seeing familiar faces, and being recognized by others as well.

“I didn’t know what to expect last year,” said Wagner, who attended the St. John Bosco catechetical conference for the first time in 2014.

She was so impressed and found the conference so helpful that she not only returned this year, but plans to attend for the next three years as well.

Her goal: to earn a certification from Franciscan University in instructing Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes. The certification is earned by attending the RCIA track at the St. John Bosco conference for five years.

“I think those credentials are well-respected,” she said. “I’d like to be a director of religious education one day, but even if I never do anything else [besides volunteer], I can’t lose, because the education and the information and the resources I’ve been exposed to are just incredible.

“I don’t know of any opportunity anywhere else to have this kind of access to this kind of knowledge.”

And not all of the information comes from the speakers, she pointed out.

“I now have a whole new network of friends,” both from within and outside of the archdiocese. “Three of us [from the archdiocese] are going to meet once a month for lunch, and another [who lives farther away] and I plan to share e-mails and texts.

It’s more than just the “head” side of the conference that draws Wagner, however—it’s the “heart” side, too.

“It’s not only educational, but spiritual and reaffirming,” she said. “It’s a retreat-like environment, so you get fed on all aspects. It’s like the [Mastercard] commercials: Cost of St. John Bosco conference—$500-$600. Benefits—priceless.”

Wagner was joined on the RCIA track at the conference this year by two other archdiocesan catechists: Sandra Hartlieb, administrator of adult faith formation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, and Manuela Johnson, who begins her first year serving as a RCIA team leader for SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood this fall.

It was the first time attending the conference for both, but they hope to return for the next four years to earn their RCIA certification from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Hartlieb, who has been involved in catechetical ministry for more than 25 years.

Hartlieb said she not only received “top notch” information, but witnessed from the speakers how to best deliver that information.

“The keynote speakers spoke with their whole bodies,” she said. “It wasn’t just someone standing at a podium telling. It was someone who was engaged and passionate about their message. That excited me, so I know that that’s the way to witness—to be engaged with every part of yourself.”

Hartlieb feels it’s “really important that our catechists and I have an opportunity to come [to the conference].

“We are guiding people in something that is going to affect their eternity,” she explained. “Our job is to introduce these people to Jesus and to have a relationship, and if we do that right, they’ll see that the best place to have a relationship with Christ is in the Catholic Church.”

Johnson agreed, and commented on another important relationship developed during the RCIA process—the relationship between the candidate or catechumen and their sponsor, which was the focus of one session at the conference.

As result of the conference, she said she hopes to “recruit parish sponsors in advance of RCIA, starting to give them time to learn about their role and the importance of their role in building disciples.”

Jeffery Earl, RCIA director at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Danville, also walked away from the conference with a respect for the role of sponsors in developing disciples.

“I don’t have the time to spend [time] one-on-one with each candidate,” said Earl, who, like Wagner and Johnson, ministers in catechesis while working full time. “But when we find people in the parish who are strong in their faith and can share their faith, they can develop those relationships.”

One of the biggest messages Earl walked away with from the conference was also about relationships—his with God.

“What this conference drove home is that I can’t make this be ‘my’ [RCIA] program—that’s not going to work. It has to be God’s program.”

Earl, who has a master’s degree in theology and more than 10 years of experience in catechetical ministry, found the conference to be “amazing.”

“It’s not always someone with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree [who leads catechetical ministry in a parish],” he said. “It’s a person who wants to do their best, knows their limitations, and is struggling because they don’t have the formation they need.

“This type of thing where you come for four days and get this almost miniature semester of course work packed into four days is invaluable.

“And then the other side of it is you get the spiritual formation. It connects you to Christ again personally, and it renews your own prayer life and spiritual life.

“I don’t think you could spend your money any better than sending [catechists] to training like this.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!