An Overview of Catechesis

By Mulhall, Daniel S. | National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

An Overview of Catechesis


Mulhall, Daniel S., National Catholic Reporter


There's great vitality, but not always enough adults to fill spots

Last year as part of its annual Catholic educational issue, NCR invited Dr. Leonard DeFiore, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, to contribute a guest perspective. This year NCR invited Daniel Mulhall representative for Catechesis and Multicultural Concerns for the U.S. bishops, to offer his views on the state of American catechesis.

To understand catechetical ministry today, one need look no further than to the regional, diocesan or national catechetical congresses held each year in the United States. Be it 50 catechists in a rural diocese coming together for an in-service or the more than 20,000 folks who gather each year from around the nation for three days of talks, worship and fellowship at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, each group offers insight into the state of the enterprise.

The first thing that strikes people meeting with cathechists is their vitality. They're eager to learn about their faith, hungry for opportunities to grow spiritually and delighted to be with other catechists.

Unfortunately, there are not enough of them. Even the best catechetical programs today are handicapped by one essential missing element: adults willing to catechize.

Rare is the parish program whose director of religious education does not have at least one missing children's catechist come Labor Day -- the weekend before most classes begin.

Reasons abound to explain the shortage: Both Parents working outside the home, the pressure on Single-parent families and a general lack of adult education in the parish are a few of the reasons most often mentioned. (These same factors affect when and where catechetical sessions are held, leading to more family-centered lessons and summer-camp type activities.)

Catholic schools are similarly challenged to place well-formed catechists in the classroom; the growth in the school-age population and the increasing demand for teachers by the public school sector only exacerbate the current problem.

Parishes often are forced to settle for having a willing adolescent teach younger age groups, or for having a "drafted" parent struggle to teach the class. In the case of the adolescent, there is enthusiasm but possibly little experience or training. With the "drafted" adult, there is often experience without either enthusiasm or formation. Neither situation is conducive to evangelization.

Catechetical formation programs also face the immediate challenge of a rapidly growing school-age population. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are more children in grades K-12 today than at any other time in U.S. history -- more even than in the "baby boom" generation. These numbers are expected to rise for the next 20 years.

Cathechists needed for all groups

As a result, parishes will need even more well-prepared catechists to care for the children who will enroll in the programs for the first time. (The demand for competent catechists prepared to work with adolescents and adults will continue to grow just as quickly.)

In addition, this population growth is spurred by a wave of immigrants who speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Polish and Portuguese, to name just a few. Catechists will have to be found and prepared to work with these people in their own languages and cultures.

The next thing one notices at a catechetical conference is that most of the participants are women. Across the country, at least 85 percent of all catechists are female. Most parish and diocesan directors of religious education are also female. While most catechists are between the ages of 30 and 50, there are a surprising number of older and younger catechists.

That being said, it's important to add that there is a growing concern about the next wave of catechetical leaders. Most parish and diocesan directors of religious education have been in the ministry for more than 15 years, and only a few new people enter the field each year. …

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