Advice from a Master Catechist: Beginning Family-Based Catechesis in a Parish

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Question: “I’m trying to help our parish move to family-based catechesis, yet I have no experience with this kind of model. What are the keys to success in laying the groundwork?”


We talk to priests and DREs from across the country and frequently hear this concern: “If kids aren’t getting the faith at home, how are we supposed to make a difference?”

Parents are always teaching their children about the faith, intentionally or not. Their children watch their decisions, how they treat others, how they live out their marriage, whether they pray, go to Mass, open a Bible, or ever say the name of Jesus. Whether they do these things well or poorly, recent studies are finding that:

It is in the home that, amidst a world of vast ideological and religious pluralism, of unlimited consumer choices and lifestyles, children receive a definitive orientation to the world and specific values for navigating it. … The home is the crucible where religious identity is primarily cultivated, or neglected. (“A Report on American Catholic Religious Parenting,” Justin Bartkus and Christian Smith, University of Notre Dame, 2017)

This confirms what the Church teaches — that the role of parents is of such importance
that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute (see CCC, 2221). The obvious
question arises: Are the parents in your parish equipped for this responsibility? No doubt, many may not be. This is where family catechesis provides a great good.

If you start investigating the subject of family catechesis, you will find a wide range of methods — everything from sending home a workbook page for parents to sign and return the following week to handing over the reins entirely. In our work with family catechesis, we have found that in fully equipping parents as the primary educators, kids are getting the faith at home, and it becomes very fruitful in transforming the whole family.

Reclaiming faith-filled generations

Effective parish leaders recognize that we have lost a generation or two of Catholics; thus, our work must reach parents as well as children. Effective programs must focus on celebrating family life with the joy of the gospel and the transformative experience of growing in the faith together. And effective methods must recognize that parents often feel inadequate for the job. Setting a firm foundation for making the transition to this programming is critical.

Here are some suggestions based on our experience:

1. Pray. The starting point for any program, especially a program contemplating changes, is prayer. Pray — and enlist others to pray — for direction from the Holy Spirit and for hearts to be open to this new way of living and teaching. Gather the “prayer warriors” in your parish — at daily Mass, rosaries, wherever you find them! — to ask for discernment on how to best minister to families. Be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

2. Let go of preconceived expectations. As professionals, we must sometimes have the faith to let go. It has been the widespread practice to pass on the faith in a classroom model when, in reality, parents are the primary educators of the faith (see Gravissimum Educationis, 3). Acknowledging that family life provides the natural environment for teaching and reinforcing the faith enables us to support families with the tools they need. Those teachable moments that naturally occur in family life provide fertile soil for faith to grow.

Knowing that, how can we support parents in their role and responsibility? Not only by providing the materials, but by the attitude of parish leaders and catechists. Will it be a difficult transition to hand over the reins to parents? Often, yes. It begins with educating parents on their role and the graces they have been given, giving them the confidence to bring their children to Christ and assuring them that you will walk alongside them every step of the way.

3. Empower and equip parents. Often parents feel they do not know the faith well enough to teach it. With family catechesis, parish leaders meet parents where they are in their faith and invite them to go deeper. We must provide engaging presentations and materials that lead to deeper conversion, as well as solid teaching that is faithful to the magisterium of the Church.

Celebrate little steps of growth. Assure parents that it’s OK if their child asks a question they can’t answer. They will quickly learn where to look for answers; their children will see that it’s OK to ask questions and that we never stop learning about our faith. Having family conversations around faith topics and praying together when children are young pave the way for open dialogue as they enter their teens.

Families are so busy, and time spent together is rare. Instead of caving in to the culture and assuming that families won’t take time to do it, parish leaders can help parents fight against the tide, encouraging ways to carve out quality time.

Family catechesis does not build perfect families, but it does develop stronger families. Have the courage to let go of what you think catechesis looks like and let families “become what [they] are” by supporting and equipping parents in their mission (see Familiaris Consortio, 17). Have confidence in the graces parents have been given, and trust that the Lord will work through them to transform their family.


Laurie Mueller, Sue Klejeski, and Deb Lindahl are members of the Family Formation team at the Church of St. Paul, Ham Lake, Minnesota. All have personal experience as parents using this family model with their children and can attest that it has transformed their lives. They are passionate about walking alongside others wishing to embrace the model. See for more information.

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, March 2019

Photo: monkeybusinessimages, istock

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