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The September Stimulus Package
by Marlene Sweeney
DRE Data brings you concrete suggestions and up-to-date information and insight about parish catechetical leadership.
In recent months we have all become acquainted with the government stimulus package.

A sum of $787 billion was offered to our flailing economy to boost financial initiatives and help programs and projects to move forward. One interesting term used by the media that has captured my imagination has been the idea of being “shovel ready.” In order to qualify for this government money, states or municipalities needed to deem themselves prepared and ready to initiate their projects.

As catechetical leaders we unfortunately do not qualify for stimulus funds. But for the sake of creative planning, we can ask ourselves what dreams and visions we have “shovel ready” as we face this new year. If time and budgets did not constrain our ministry, what might we begin to build this year? What plans are ready to execute when we meet with catechists for the first session this fall? How are we laying the foundation to build a better, more Christ-centered program for the families in our parish?

The Blueprint

Starting anew regularly generates enthusiasm. Whether this is your first year as a catechetical leader or you are returning for a repeat performance, we all enjoy new beginnings. For most of us, immersing ourselves into sharing our faith with others is our calling—and few of us need much stimulus. But who of us doesn’t dream of what our formation programs might look like if we were given all the resources and support we need? Now is the time to develop a blueprint and claim that help!

Woodrow Wilson said, “I use not only the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” Engaging as many parishioners as you can into the catechetical ministry will help build a strong support base. For example, not every person who volunteers may feel comfortable working directly with children or families. Thus, be sure to develop an inclusive list of the many different ways people can minister in your programs (office help, hall monitors, parking-lot patrol, working from home on craft projects, phone calls). Try to delegate as many operational responsibilities as possible. 

Also consider having families minister to each other in the week–to-week running of your catechetical programs. This helps parents and families experience ownership and belonging. Many seasoned DREs share stories of how the timid first-time volunteer grew into a longtime catechist as a result of new experiences and a welcoming environment. Allowing people of all ages to come together and take up the work of passing on our faith and traditions is an important part of our ministry.

The Groundwork

There is no part of a program that needs to be more “shovel ready” than the formation of catechists. As a director, you will have limited time with groups, but catechists will regularly meet with children and families as they accept the responsibility of the Church’s teaching ministry. It is your job to help all volunteers acquire the skills and habits they need to be effective teachers—thus giving them the groundwork they need to succeed.

From the first time you meet, it helps to set forth clear expectations of schedules, plans, and commitments for the coming year. Listen to the concerns and questions so that you may incorporate new ideas and suggestions. Show catechists how they might prepare and evaluate their weekly lessons. Supply a variety of enrichment materials to enhance lessons and promote additional activities. Allow experienced catechists to share how they structure their time, handle discipline issues, and develop their individual styles. One director of religious education told me, “Each year I call upon a seasoned catechist to prepare a witness of his/her own calling to this ministry: what it was like at the beginning; what was helpful, what wasn’t. I allow these stories to be the narrative of the group, and we have a discussion about the individual journey of a catechist.”

People appreciate the honest sharing of another who has walked the path. Most new teachers subsequently enjoy being assigned a partner or grade-level mentor they can team with for support and advice as the year unfolds.

Christ the Center Point

Regardless of the size of your programs and the number of catechists on your team, plan time to socialize, study, and pray together. The relationships that are formed within the faith community truly become the foundation of your work together. Solid programs are built when parishioners have a clear vision of the importance of their catechetical ministry and embrace openness to deepen their own baptismal commitment. Together the Christian community builds a faith life that forms the next generation.

The central focus of our catechetical ministry is clear. The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us: “It is the task of catechesis to show who Jesus Christ is, his life and ministry, and to present the Christian faith as the following of his person…. The fact that Jesus Christ is the fullness of Revelation is the foundation for the ‘Christocentricity’ of catechesis: the mystery of Christ, in the revealed message, is not another element alongside others, it is rather the center from which all other elements are structured and illuminated” (n. 41). In other words, Christ is the center point of catechetical ministry.

Happy building!

Marlene Sweeney, Med, 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

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