This past summer at the St. John Bosco Conference I picked up a copy of Sr. M. Johanna Paruch’s new book, Mentors for the New Evangelization: Catechetical Saints of North America (Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University, 2013). I’m glad I did — the books is a treasure trove of inspiring stories from the saints of North America who evangelized and catechized the continent.
The book focuses both on familiar names (St. Juan Diego, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Ven. Fr. Michael McGiveny) and lesser-known saints (St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, Bl. Marie of the Incarnation).
Each chapter focuses on one or two saints and includes a biographical sketch, a reflection based on the life of the saints, questions for further reflection, and a prayer. The biographies are straight-forward if leaning towards hagiography. The reflections and prayers would be ideal for use in a small group setting or retreat for catechists; I can imagine a catechetical leader presenting information on each saint and then leading a period of reflection based on the material.
Mentors for the New Evangelization is an ideal resource for those who wish to know more about the history and persons behind catechesis in North America. It would make a great addition to any catechetical library.
Earlier this month we had our first diocesan board of education meeting of the year. In the course of the meeting we split into groups to discuss various issues affecting catechesis and education in our diocese; I sat with the Catholic Identity group. A good portion of our conversation centered on parents and helping them claim their role as the primary catechists of their children — which led, naturally, to the question of why parents aren’t comfortable catechizing their children.
A Catholic school teacher in our group offered an explanation that I had not considered before: that, due to many of the changes since the Second Vatican Council, many parents no longer feel like they know the “correct version” of the content of the faith anymore. The example she gave was prayer: many of the prayers we say now have so many variants that parents fear teaching them to their children in case they wind up teaching them the “wrong version.” This is exacerbated if their Catholic school or PSR program tests children on the prayers.
While the idea of giving tests based on the “correct” version of a prayer baffles me (do we really need to worry about whether kids are using “thou” or “you” in the Hail Mary?!) the unease it may generate for parents is understandable. Are parents who learned the Rosary before 2002 going to be comfortable teaching the Luminous Mysteries to their children? Will converts bristle when catechists don’t teach the doxology to the Our Father? Will parents want to teach their children the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel if the version used in the parish is different from the version they learned as children?
Of course, prayers are just one example. Because of the sheer number of catechetical texts and curriculum out there, it sometimes seems like we’ve lost a common language of faith; words or phrases once commonly known and taught are now considered “old fashioned” or relegated to certain circles within the Church. As a result, parents may not even recognize definitions in catechetical texts! How can we expect them to participate in the catechesis of their children with such shifting sands beneath them?
For our diocese, as part of our develop of religion curriculum guidelines for schools and PSRs, we will be developing resources for parents to help them understand what materials will be covered each year, what prayers, Bible stories, and doctrines will be covered, and how they can help their children (and maybe themselves!) to practice the faith and make it their own. Hopefully this will help us to re-integrate the language and embolden parents to reclaim their role as catechists to their children — even if we don’t all say our prayers exactly the same.