Tips for Starting A New Program Year

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“In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1:1)

The start of any new educational program is filled with words: names, room assignments, textbooks, lesson plans, and so on. A grace of religious education and faith formation is the Word—Jesus Christ—who is also present as a new season of learning begins.

Here are a few tips for starting out with the excitement and joy of the Word and keeping Him present to you and those you serve throughout the year.

Create a pictorial directory of catechists

Take a picture of each catechist when he or she picks up materials. Put the photos together in a “Witness to Christ” directory to help you and anyone else helping out to become familiar with the names and faces of those serving in the program.

You can also add a birthday, favorite hobby, or patron saint to the information with each picture. This can help build a community despite the busy schedules of the catechists.

Schedule a spiritual retreat 

Taking the cue from Martha and Mary, balance work with time to listen at the feet of the Master. Schedule a retreat for yourself and your catechists on the program calendar at the outset as a witness to learners, families, and the whole parish.

Distribute session invitations 

Observing sessions in process is an important support a DRE can give to the learners as well as the catechists. Create a simple invitation form to give each catechist. Ask each catechist to suggest two possible dates he or she would like to invite you to visit a session.

Once you have all of the invitations, coordinate and distribute a common calendar–and then enjoy your visits! This could also be a good time for the parish priests to visit classes.

Plan at least two “pauses”

Most of us begin something new with particular goals and assumptions in mind. Within the first month of beginning the program, take one hour to reflect on how the program is flowing. Do people feel they have the information they need to be actively involved in the program? Is there anything that needs adjustments to help the sessions flow more smoothly?

Halfway into the schedule, take another hour to pause. This would be a good time to gauge how learners are responding to the planned program. What is the general atmosphere when students are gathered with catechists? When can parents or guardians contact you to offer support or concern?

Identify a support network 

Joy-filled leadership in sharing the gospel gets challenging at times. Jesus understood this when he sent out the disciples two by two. Before you begin your first session, reach out to connect with at least on parish catechetical leader from another community.

Resources available to you might involve a neighboring DRE, a diocesan group of faith formation leaders, and national catechetical organizations. If the local parish also sponsors a Catholic school, be sure to include the principal in your network so you can support each other.

As you begin another year, keep yourself and all involved in conversation with the Word of God to sustain the joy that is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work.


Lori Dahlhoff, EdDhas been a catechist and catechetical leader for more than 20 years.

This article was originally published in RTJ/Creative Catechist, September 2014.

Image Credit: Cat Act Art / Shutter Stock 704168836

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