remember the first time it happened. We were six weeks into our new catechetical
year, and I was beginning to start each day with that sigh of relief that comes
with a job well-done. Classes were up and running; orientations and new-teacher
trainings were behind us; and I looked forward to another faith-filled year of
working with the community in our shared catechetical mission. Then it
arrived at work one Monday morning to receive an e-mail, a phone call, and a
short written message from three different volunteers all saying that they were
in crisis mode and were rethinking their relatively new ministry commitments. They
thought that perhaps being catechists was not their calling after all.
losing a catechist is perhaps every DRE’s nightmare. But losing a brand new
volunteer calls for introspection. This is what I learned since that incident.
take time. DREs have a responsibility to try and get to know the people who
come forth as catechists. Most parishes require basic biographical paper work
to be completed and attendance at some training sessions. Some dioceses require
background checks and additional training outside of the parish.
often use personal interviews and/or one-on-one exchanges to further deepen
their understanding of who their volunteers are. However, these early
encounters will provide only a rudimentary and limited knowledge of these
people who have come forth to serve.
creating a Personal Profile form that you ask new volunteers to complete. The
form might include: How do you prefer being contacted (e-mail, cell phone, home
phone, etc.)? In what area do you feel you might need the most help as you
begin your ministry as a catechist (discipline, prayer aides, craft ideas, etc.)?
Develop a variety of specific questions that will help you know more about the
person completing the form so that you are better equipped to build your new
nothing takes the place of time spent with a new catechist. Depending on the
size of your program, arrange for social encounters with catechists to help build
a more balanced perspective. Meeting for a cup of coffee, scheduling a drop-in
week at your office, even planned home visits can invite a more relaxed getting-to-know-you
experience during which you and a new catechist can begin to learn about each
that your new volunteer is the mother of five, works part-time, and volunteers
at school provides insight into her reluctance to be called on for support at
the last minute—unlike her predecessor, who was a retired teacher and relished
filling in as needed.
you cannot be expected to know the details of every volunteer’s life, nor will
you always recognize when someone needs assistance. Regardless of the size of
your team, strive to build a community that is mindful of its responsibilities
to one another.
for experienced catechists to be grade-level coordinators, mentor teachers, or
partners with other catechists helps new teachers feel supported on many
levels. As different issues or circumstances arise, struggling volunteers feel
they can turn to more than one person for support.
with each other will reap great rewards. It establishes friendships. It helps
ground deeper catechetical commitments. It assures less of a turnover from year
How’s It Going?
all the training meetings and new-catechist orientation gatherings—and once the
learning year has progressed for three or four weeks—I schedule a “How’s it
going?” get-together. This invaluable opportunity brings everyone together to share
how they feel things are going and to bring forth issues that are causing
than opening prayer, plan no agenda for the first hour other than listening to
each other. Do not respond to concerns expressed or issues that arise so that everyone
has a chance to speak. Invite a person of the parish not associated with the
program to take notes and list concerns.
following a break that includes a special treat, come back together and engage
in a super-brainstorming session. With all areas of concern posted, people
imagine together all the different ways a given concern or issue can be
approached. New and seasoned catechists benefit from the group’s ideas.
this meeting, I send each person a copy of the concerns and issues that were raised
and the solutions the group discussed. I also review program procedures and
class lists to see if I can make small and immediate changes based on the
discussions from that gathering.
can be difficult. It certainly is not meant to be a lone activity. Parishes
need to offer volunteers a strong core of support: people who are willing to
help them, offer prayerful guidance, and provide clear direction—especially
when one is floundering. Early intervention can renew and perhaps even save a person’s
commitment to the ministry of catechesis.
Sweeney, M.Ed., MA, is a Certified Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of
Chicago. Marlene is a writer and poet whose works have appeared in numerous
books and periodicals. E-mail Marlene at email@example.com.