Survey prompts bishop to focus on religious education

The Diocesan Pastoral Council met Nov. 5 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Elrosa where Bishop Donald Kettler shared troubling statistics about young people leaving the church. The research came from two national studies conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Kettler particularly noted the results that 1 in 5 former Catholics interviewed said they left the church partly because they no longer believed in God. Also surprising, he said, was that some of the same individuals interviewed reported they made the decision by the age of just 13. Sixty-three percent of those interviewed said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17.

“That really struck me,” Bishop Kettler said. “This might be one of the biggest things I’m going to have to do — to make sure we have a strong religious education program and at least give these kids a chance that they will believe in God, that they might stay Catholic.”

At a previous meeting, Bishop Kettler called on the DPC, which is a consultative body to the bishop, to talk with parishes and individuals in their representative deaneries or groups about best practices and challenges in providing youth religious education.

Members reported a wide spectrum of reactions from parishes — some looking for more direction from the diocese in their religious education programs; to those who feel that a shift from focusing on youth to adult faith formation is necessary; to robust programs that have so many students they can’t find enough teachers. Others reported success in intergenerational learning sessions.

Monica Segura-Schwartz, who represents the Hispanic/Latino communities in the diocese, said she feels youth need more opportunities to get involved in areas of parish ministry outside of faith formation and youth groups.

“Millennials tend to say that they are spiritual rather than affiliated with any specific religion. I don’t think it is just the issue of faith formation that we need to discuss. It’s about creating a place of belonging. That’s the part I don’t think we are working on,” she said.

DPC chair Darrell Welle added that he has heard that young parents with students want educational opportunities themselves because they don’t know how to teach their children.

“I think we, speaking of my generation, we failed a couple generations of young adults in our religious education programs,” Welle said. “They don’t know the faith well enough that they can pass it on to their children. They want education.”

Abigail La Londe, one of two youth representative to the DPC, said she asked her peers what they wanted in a religious education program.

“They said they wanted more small group discussions,” she said. “They like doing it as separate genders — a [female] teacher with the girls and a [male] teacher with the boys. They feel like it is more relevant and they learn more in smaller groups.”

Bishop Kettler intends to keep studying these areas of growth and has requested the council to return again to parishes and individuals and ask them to share successes and challenges with adult faith formation. Members are expected to report their findings to Bishop Kettler at the council’s next meeting Jan. 21 in St. Cloud.

In other business, the DPC also continued to review the council’s by-laws and hopes to finalize them at the next meeting. As part of the review process, the decision was made to publish a list of DPC members and their area of representation each fall (see below).

Diocesan Pastoral Council members

• Bishop Donald Kettler
• Bishop’s liaison: Colleen Haider
• Executive secretary: Patricia Loxtercamp

Deanery representatives
Alexandria/Morris: Pending
Cold Spring: Chad Middendorf
Fergus Falls/Wadena: Pending
Sauk Centre/Melrose: Jane Salzl
Foley/Princeton: Carol Brunn
Little Falls: Darrell Welle
St. Cloud/St. Joseph: Jason Stock

Youth representatives
St. Cloud/St. Joseph, Foley/Princeton, Little Falls and Cold Spring: Abigail La Londe
Alexandria/Morris, Fergus Falls/Wadena and Melrose/Sauk Centre: Miranda Petrich

Presbyteral Council representative: Father Glenn Krystosek

Men religious representative: Benedictine Father Greg Miller

Women religious representative: Franciscan Sister Loretta Denfeld

Diaconate representative: Deacon Jerry Theis

Diocesan Council of Catholic Women representative: Eva Koep

Hispanic/Latino community representative: Monica Segura-Schwartz

Author: Kristi Anderson

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