Since starting last August as associate director for faith formation for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Christine Pinto has been meeting with parish directors of religious education.
Her goal is to visit every parish to learn what they are doing, what programs they are using and what she can do to help them.
“In this new position, I wanted to make sure that I had an opportunity to hear from them what they wanted instead of me telling them what I was going to do for them,” she said.
What she has been hearing during these visits is that there is a disconnect. Families are sending their children to faith formation or Catholic school but are not coming to Mass or otherwise participating in parish life. Parishes recognize the situation but aren’t sure how to address it, she said.
All of this, along with findings from the diocesan level of the worldwide synod process, was the motivation for Catholic Education Ministries’ Caregiver Survey, which was created in December and directed to parents and caregivers to get their perspectives on faith formation and youth ministry in their parishes.
What the CEM staff learned from parents who participated in the synod and the survey was that they don’t feel prepared or equipped to engage in religious education with their children.
As Pinto and David Fremo, director of Catholic Education Ministries for the diocese, looked at the information they gathered, they decided that something needed to change.
We can’t just pretend that we can keep doing things the way we’ve always been doing them in the parishes and assume that, all of a sudden, things are just going to turn around,” Pinto said.
During the pandemic, the CEM office received a sample box from Faith and Family Life Catholic Ministries, an organization that creates resources to support and form parents in their role as primary educators of the faith.
CEM staff members looked at the resource box, which was part of the organization’s Pathways for Family Faith Formation program. They agreed it was a promising way to approach at-home family faith formation, Fremo said.
The program is an “integrated and family-centered formation suite designed to facilitate a personal encounter with the Trinity and sustain a lifelong development of faith within the family,” according to the organization’s website.
Families participate in a combination of at-home projects, at-church sessions and at-church mini-retreats. Parents receive a box of activities with instructions for each topic. There are boxes for sacramental preparation — baptism, first Communion, first reconciliation, confirmation — and ongoing formation.
Some of the materials are also available in Spanish and more will be coming soon, Pinto said.
Each box has a name that relates to its topic, like “Claim” for baptism and “Zeal” for confirmation. For ongoing formation there are boxes like “Wonder,” a family experience about storytelling and the parables of Jesus, and “Quest,” a family experience about the adventure of prayer.
“It was very similar to the projects we had developed for our ‘Family Together’ weekly activities and our online Vacation Bible School program [during the pandemic],” he said.
In the process of researching approaches to support Christian parenting as part of a grant application, Fremo reached out to the founder of Faith and Family Life Catholic Ministries, Father Tim Donovan, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California.
“Over several emails and phone conversations, we discovered that our ministries have much in common in seeking to provide more direct support for families,” Fremo said. “Father Tim’s vision and framework is grounded in the path of the catechumenate, aimed at providing flexibility to meet parents, children and adults where they are as the best place to invite them to go deeper.
“We are excited and optimistic about how this partnership can support growth in our parish and [Area Catholic Community] faith formation efforts,” he said.
Pinto describes the current state of faith formation in the diocese as being like a “drive-through.” Too often, families stop, order what they want, get to the window, pay, get their order and then drive off, she said.
For example, if parents want their child baptized, they say that’s what they want, they participate in a class, they come and receive the sacrament, and then they drive off and parishes see them again when it’s time for first reconciliation, she said.
“That’s the way that our traditional structures are set up, though we’re not intending it to be that way,” she said.
“Father Tim’s way of approaching it is looking at it like we have all of these opportunities for on-ramps on a highway,” Pinto said. “So how are we providing an opportunity for an on-ramp of faith, this freeway of faith and formation? You would never just drop somebody into the middle of a freeway to be part of that. It’s a slow progression up and into the flow of traffic.”
An event for the Pathways program is being offered in May (see box) to introduce the program to pastors and directors of religious education. Father Tim Donovan will speak along with Pam Hurwitz, Faith and Family Life Catholic Ministries’ creative director.
“It’s really meant to follow that catechumenal process of, let’s just start you with finding your own self-worth, developing a relationship with Jesus, an encounter with God, an encounter with a community. That then leads you to deeper desire to learn more about the faith; as opposed to starting with, ‘Here’s everything you need to know,’” Pinto said.
- What: Pathways for Family Faith Formation workshop
- When: May 19, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Where: St. John’s University, Collegeville
- Cost: Free for participants, limited to 100. Lunch is included.
This bilingual event is open to pastors, DREs, catechists and volunteers in religious education. Join the staff of Catholic Education Ministries for this workshop focusing on the process and commitment of family faith formation. For more information and to register, visit: stcdio.org/event/pathways-for-family-faith-formation. Learn more about Faith and Family Life Catholic Ministries at