A Confirmation Boot Camp Model

One parish's success story

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For quite a few years, I heard complaints about how confirmation classes were required and there was no way to get out of them, barring serious illness or death. But recently it seems there are more excuses for not attending confirmation classes—like a required sports practice or a pile of homework as big as your refrigerator. The discussion often tends toward the ridiculous and stops right before large objects are thrown.

In order to build up attendance, our pastor, Father Patrick Toner, decided to try something new. Maybe it was his military background that inspired the idea of a “boot camp” theme. As he says, it is “basic training for soldiers for Christ.”

“I like it because it requires a commitment from the confirmandi,” Father Toner says, pointing out that, combined with the mandatory retreat, “it is a balanced approach.”

The first year we offered Confirmation Boot Camp, there were a number of differences from our past struggle with parents and students over required attendance. For one thing, no one missed any classes. No one. Even though we are a very small parish, this was no small feat.

Father Toner says he’s “heard nothing but good things: It’s convenient, practical, meaningful, and well-adapted to busy schedules.” And again, it is no small feat for a pastor to hear only positive feedback.

Confirmation Boot Camp

During the week of Confirmation Boot Camp, the kids arrive around 8:30 in the morning and leave around 1:00 in the afternoon. We have them bring snacks and goodies to share (and we provide some, too) and, though it’s an intense week, it also gives us the chance to bond.

We don’t use a regular textbook. We couldn’t get away from the conviction that these kids should be able to use a Bible and maneuver the Catechism. So that’s what we use with one addition: the YOUCAT youth catechism promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day 2011.

Woven throughout our lessons are opportunities for engagement. We use YouTube videos, interactive games, team builders, and tactile experiences. We also open every day and each of the day’s four sessions (each 45-minute session is followed by a 10- to 15-minute break) with a decade of the Rosary.

Invite them to meet Jesus

It’s a tough time to be a teen. Our kids are facing challenges unlike what we faced at their age, and they have a desire for truth. These kids don’t want watered-down messages. They don’t want easy answers. They know life isn’t easy and that faith shouldn’t be either. They want to engage and to invest.

Our invitation to them, through our Confirmation Boot Camp and through the other parts of our confirmation program, is to meet Jesus. We want them to know the gospel and understand that the Catholic Church can stand up to any questions they have.

“It works,” says Father Toner, “because it is an adult-to-adult approach.” We challenge these young adults to bring their concerns and their questions. We point them to resources, offer ourselves, and put a great deal of time and effort into confirmation preparation. Together with the parents and sponsors, the catechists and parish support are all in this adventure together.

And “together” is the final key to our program. As we grow and learn ourselves what it means to form confirmandi, we find that the greater support we give parents and the more we rely on them—and even share what we’re teaching and learning with them—the closer we feel to success.


Sarah Reinhard can be found online at SnoringScholar.com.

This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist January 2014.

image: FatCamera, istock

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