August 22, 2014

Appeal funds help catechists ‘nourish their efforts to teach the faith’

Catechists Mary Wagner, left, of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, and Lynell Chamberlain of St. Joseph Parish in Clark County pause for a conversation near the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi on July 15 on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. Wagner and Chamberlain were attending the St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators offered every summer at the university.  (Submitted photo)

Catechists Mary Wagner, left, of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, and Lynell Chamberlain of St. Joseph Parish in Clark County pause for a conversation near the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi on July 15 on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. Wagner and Chamberlain were attending the St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators offered every summer at the university. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

An often heard cliché proposes that you can’t give what you don’t have.

In the case of catechesis, “You can’t give who you don’t have,” said Ken Ogorek, director of catechesis in the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

As one who is “here to help Archbishop [Joseph W.] Tobin carry out his vision for faith formation in the archdiocese,” Ogorek encourages archdiocesan catechetical leaders to attend the annual four-day St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, to receive both the what and the who that they need to give in their ministry.

But at a cost of about $500 per person to cover the conference, meals and housing, attending can be difficult.

Thanks to donor gifts to the “United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope (UCA),” several catechists from across central and southern Indiana were able to attend this year’s conference on July 14-17 who might otherwise not have been able to do so.

“Unlike priests, who receive free registration, it costs us about $500 to get a person to the conference by the time you add the sessions, housing and meals.”

With the appeal funds, several of the eight attendees received financial aid to help cover the costs.

Ogorek prefers the St. John Bosco conference over similar gatherings because “it’s the best catechetical conference in North America,” he said.

“The presenters are always careful to distinguish between when they’re presenting the teaching of the Church on the one hand, and when they’re venturing into the area of prudential judgment or personal opinion on the other. Catechists find that very helpful because we need to know the teaching of the Church.”

But there’s more to the conference than four days of presentations, said Ogorek.

“A lot of people who participate in this conference comment on the experience being a combination of learning and almost a retreat-like experience,” he said.

“In addition to great talks and practical sessions—some more nuts and bolts, some more theological—there is daily Mass, opportunities to celebrate the sacrament of penance, prayer. So really in that way, too, the catechists are developing that closeness with Jesus. A catechist needs to have a sacramental prayer life to help that relationship.”

Another part of the experience, said Ogorek, is the journey to and from the conference.

“It’s a great blessing that the conference is just a little over a drive of five easy hours away. Part of the experience of taking catechetical leaders, and in some cases catechists, to the conference is the journey itself. It’s wonderful to have that time in the car to share our faith, anticipate the conference on the way out, and on the way home to really assess it and digest it and bask in the experience a little bit.

“We offer that for anyone who goes, even those who aren’t receiving financial help. It’s just good stewardship.”

Ogorek said parish or Catholic school catechetical leaders who have never attended the conference have first priority for receiving funds.

But, he said, “The conference is really about teaching the faith in a variety of settings. We had at least one person who, in addition to being the parish administrator of religious education, is also the youth minister in her parish. We also had two high school religion teachers experience the conference.

“I would like to see people representing different groups under the auspices of the Office of Catholic Education umbrella enjoy the conference and participate in it.”

Tim Boyle, a teacher of freshman and sophomore theology at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, enjoyed the conference.

“It was valuable,” he said. “It was good to get away and to hear some good talks and focus on fine-tuning your craft outside of your daily routine of being in school.

“Some of the talks were more academic in nature, while others were more inspirational.

“And part of the opportunity of being able to get away there is to take advantage of Mass every day, and there are different prayer opportunities that are programmed into the conference. It’s a good mix.”

Christine Beiriger, director of faith formation at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, was able to attend the conference through the help of appeal funds, as well as financial support from her parish.

“I learned so much,” she said. “I learned how to do my job from people who’ve been doing it 20, 30 years, the best in the business.”

One of the most impactful workshops for her, she said, was one on the basics.

“The workshop was on how to recruit, form and train catechists. I can’t believe I didn’t know how to do that or think to do that other than to say, ‘Here’s the book.’ ”

Beiriger, a graduate of Franciscan University, was reminded of words that her professors there “drilled into our heads.”

“Kids, especially teens, and people in general, don’t listen to teachers. They listen to witnesses. Kids only listen to teachers when they’re first witnesses. It’s important for catechists to have a personal relationship with the Lord, so they can witness that to kids.”

Thanks to the help of United Catholic Appeal funds, several catechists are now better able to “dive into the program where God has them, whether it’s in a parish or a school or youth ministry,” said Ogorek.

“These folks are not only growing closer to Jesus, they’re also forming bonds of prayer and fellowship with each other that will help nourish their efforts to help teach the faith in the years to come.”

Beiriger agreed.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity.”
 

(For more information about the United Catholic Appeal, log on to www.archindy.org/uca or call the Office of Stewardship and Development at 317-236-1425 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1425. For more information on the St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators, contact Ken Ogorek at 317-236-1446 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1446, or by e-mail at kogorek@archindy.org.)

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