December 17, 2021

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Ken Ogorek

No offense, but ‘Family Catechesis’ can be a copout

Ken OgorekI don’t mean to offend people; I’m just really good at it.

In past columns, I’ve risked rubbing folks the wrong way by tackling topics that can be emotionally charged. At the risk of upsetting the group I serve most directly—your hard-working parish catechetical leaders—I offer a few clarifying thoughts on a trend known as “Family Catechesis.”

Mom, apple pie and America

On one side of this equation, who would be against an approach to catechesis that acknowledges parents as primary educators of their children, seeking to support moms and dads in leading the domestic Church? Not me.

But “family catechesis” is defined differently by different people. Sometimes calling an approach “family catechesis” inadvertently throws the baby out with the bathwater.

The “classroom” model

“We’ve got to get rid of the classroom model. It’s a failure.” So goes the rhetoric shared by some would-be architects of catechesis.

Effective faith formation, though, is less about rooms and more about what unfolds within them. An enormous challenge for parish catechetical leaders is orchestrating catechetical sessions with tremendous potential for positive impact on young people, yet that admittedly fall short at times.

Recruitment, retention, renewal

It’s hard to recruit catechists. It’s hard convincing them to study the faith and how to teach it fruitfully. It’s difficult preventing the classroom from descending to a place where unengaging methods meet school-fatigued kids in a yawn-laden cocktail of apathy and alienation.

It’s very beneficial, though, for parishes to complement what’s happening at home by getting kids together with peers in the presence of a religious educator who’s not the mom or dad of a participant. The powerful witness that parish community-based catechesis provides is an important ingredient in broadening a young person’s sense of Church.

First, but not only…

In well-intended efforts to support parents in fulfilling their educational—catechetical—role, some parish catechetical leaders have essentially done away with peer-group sessions led by those answering God’s long-standing call to the ministry of catechist. And pandemic-induced reliance on

parents to serve as exclusive (beyond primary) catechists has exacerbated already-challenging circumstances.

Granted, not all family-based catechetical efforts are created equal; some incorporate parish catechist-led sessions to a greater or lesser degree. But again—recruiting, onboarding and supervising catechists (including a basic certification and ongoing renewal of that credential) are among the hardest tasks of a parish catechetical leader’s work.

The great, Catholic both/and

Except for moral absolutes, very few aspects of our faith (and life, for that matter!) are 100% either/or proposals. Parishes don’t have to choose between supporting parents in various ways and employing the time-tested role of catechist.

Classrooms don’t have to be places where either ineffective catechesis occurs, or where no catechesis at all happens. Parish catechetical leaders can encourage parents as disciples of Jesus—living that relationship in full communion with his body, the Church—and provide formation experiences for children that help them benefit from the witness of catechists as well as peers.

It’s hard work. And parish catechetical leaders themselves deserve encouragement and support from pastors, parishioners and archdiocesan leaders.

Is God calling you to collaborate with fellow parishioners in evangelization, discipleship and catechetical outreach to parents, families and the broader community? Ask him, please; then act on his loving guidance.

(Ken Ogorek is catechetical director within the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization. He can be reached at:

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