Catechesis: Beyond Information (Guest post by William O’Leary)

William O’Leary always has an interesting take on evangelization and catechiesis. I’m consistently impressed by the work he does in his parish and this guest post on transformative catechesis shows why he’s one of the next generation of catechetical leaders to keep on eye on!


A long long time ago in a land far far away (or maybe not so far away) the average catechist thought that if they could just get their students to “learn the material”(i.e. the content) they would be ready to go live their faith in the world. Yes, like I said, that was a long time ago. Today catechesis must be understood to be about helping form and transform people into mature disciples of the Lord Jesus. Each student comes to a catechetical program not as a number or as one who needs to be taught the information. It is absolutely true that they need to know what we believe, for how can one love that which she/he does not know. On the other hand, our goal in catechesis (meaning to echo, to hand on) is to draw us into greater intimacy with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae #5).

Many catechists find it challenging to “get through the necessary material” in the time they have in a given session (not to mention the whole year). This is a valid concern. The material, however, is at the service of drawing each person into a deeper encounter with God. Fostering a catechesis that leads students to growth, renewal and further conversion is essential if the faith is going to flourish in an individual’s life.

Below are 3 ways to help foster transformational catechetical sessions:

  1. Know your students. Not just their names, but also get to know them – their likes and hobbies. Having a rapport with your students is a significant way to open the door to your catechesis being transformational.
  2. Use your gifts to make class engaging. Your gift may be humor or getting your students to engage in skits, or storytelling to convey the material. Using your gifts to lead your students closer to Christ is essential to your success. Don’t try to be like this or that person if that is not you – be yourself and use the talents you have to share the faith.
  3. Prepare for the time you spend with your students. Taking time not only to look at the chapter you are going to be covering but also to plan on how you will share the material in an engaging manner. Also, during your preparation it’s important to pray for the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak to the hearts of your students.

Today, there is a great need to help those we catechize become more deeply transformed by Christ and the Good News of Salvation. Together, let us strive to be the instruments Christ desires us to be!

William O’Leary ( is the Director of Religious Formation at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kansas. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville where he received degrees in theology with a specialization in catechetics.

Meet a Young Catechetical Leader: William O’Leary

One of the great joys of my job is meeting other young catechetical leaders in the Church. There’s not a lot of us, but I can already see the impact many of these “next generation:” leaders are making.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be featuring some of these young catachetical leaders on my blog. Today’s interview is with William O’Leary, the Director of Faith Formation at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kansas, and a blogger at Catechesis in the Third Millennium and Amazing Catechists.

How were you called to the ministry of catechesis?
Ever since college I’ve had the desire to share the Gospel with others and teach others about the Catholic Faith. I decided when I was a junior to major in theology so I could prepare for work in a parish.

What is the best part of your job?
The people. I see that each day is an opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet to those who come into our office or the kids I see in the hallways or the phone calls I receive.

What gifts do you think young Catholics bring to the Church in general and catechesis in particular?
In general young Catholics bring their witness of their love for Christ. They want to see what is good and true in the lives around them and are eager to identify what is right and good. In particular young people have a unique opportunity to echo their faith in a way that is more accepted than with older adults. When young people share about their faith it is often received with more openness than when adults talk about their faith. I think young Catholics, or as I like to say our “young parishioners” have a unique opportunity to proclaim their Catholic Faith to those around them.

What is one misconception people have about young catechetical leaders?
If by young you mean catechetical leaders that are in their 20’s then I’d say that a misconception is that they don’t have the credibility they often times deserve. Of course we’ve all seen situations where when we are young we go about things a little differently than when we have learned from those same situations and mistakes along the way. But there are many young catechetical leaders that have such credibility because of the love of the Faith and desire to serve.

How do you balanace your work in catechesis with the other roles you play in life?
Being a husband and a father of 3 young children it can be challenging to be present at every ministry function that I’d like to be at. I often have to remember that being a husband and father is my primary vocation. I love being a catechetical leader but I have a “higher calling” in the home than I do at the parish.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing catechetical leaders today?
Where do I begin? I don’t know if I’m prepared to name the biggest but a huge challenge today is how parents have their children in so many activities that often a child’s religious education gets the short end of the stick. There multiple reasons for this but it remains a great challenge.