Special to The Dialog
Office for Religious Education helps parish programs educate 10,000 students with aid from the Appeal
Every Sunday morning during the school year, about 85 children cross the parking lot of St. Bernadette Church in Harrington to attend religious education classes.
Some 50 miles north in Middletown, St. Joseph’s religious ed program has more catechists for its 700 children than St. Bernadette has religious ed students.
While the needs of the two programs differ greatly, their goal is the same. Each strives to pass along to their children “specific aspects and tenets of the Catholic faith in their overall religious education instruction,” as Bishop Malooly put it last summer.
That’s where the Diocese of Wilmington’s Office for Religious Education comes in. The office supports parish religious ed programs in many ways, including a curriculum of what students are expected to learn at each grade level and training for the many volunteer catechists who lead the parish-based classes.
The Annual Catholic Appeal helps the Office for Religious Education support parishes in their effort to spiritually form children. The office is one of more than 35 diocesan ministries and offices funded by the appeal.
This year’s appeal goal is $4,347,000. Catholics will be asked to commit to the Annual Catholic Appeal on Commitment Weekend, April 18-19.
“He Reveals Himself … in the Breaking of the Bread,” taken from the Gospel of Luke 24:35-38, is the theme of this year’s campaign.
The diocese’s work to provide children in parish religious education programs a competent understanding of the faith is understood through diocesan statistics.
More than 10,500 students are enrolled in parish religious education programs, according to the diocesan website. That’s almost 50 percent of the young people receiving formal religious education in the diocese. About 12,000 others receive religious instruction at the Catholic schools they attend.
The Office for Religious Education’s goal in parish religious education programs is to help parishes help parents in the faith formation of their children.
Lou De Angelo, superintendent of Catholic schools and interim director of the Office for Religious Education, called parish-based religious education for children one of three target areas for the religious ed office. It also assists parishes in youth ministry and in ongoing adult faith formation.
Much of the office’s work, however, concerns religious education programs for children.
Mary Kirk, head of St. Joseph in Middletown’s religious education program, and Dawn Curtis, who heads religious ed at St. Bernadette, have varied needs for their programs.
For example, St. Bernadette can accommodate all its elementary school students in a single weekly session.
St. Joseph’s has had to be creative in scheduling religious ed for its students. Kirk said 200 students attend two-and-one-half hour classes every other Sunday, with grades one to four meeting one Sunday and grades five through eight the next Sunday, because of a lack of classroom space.
The remaining 500 students attend one of four summer sessions, which run three hours a day for 10 days, Kirk said. Those students return for additional instruction at Advent and at Lent.
“We offer six different schedules now, she said, but we will have to be looking at additional alternatives as early as next year,” given the growing number of students.
Curtis, meanwhile, is considering ways “to grow the program” at St. Bernadette. The need is easily seen at the high school level, which now has about 15 students beyond the 85 in the elementary program.
Demographically, she said Harrington is strongly Methodist. About 300 high school students meet at a Methodist church near St. Bernadette every Friday. “I know some of our kids go over there,” but St. Bernadette does not have the budget to offer similar programming.
But the Harrington parish’s small program carries its own advantages. “Everybody knows each other. It’s like a family,” Curtis said. “We will check on each other if someone isn’t here on a Sunday.”
Despite those differences, the Harrington and Middletown programs rely on the Office for Religious Education for support. Before the diocesan curriculum guidelines were developed in 2006, Ed Gordon, then head of the Office for Religious Education, designed catechist training called Echoes of Faith that is still used.
When the diocese developed “For the Sake of God’s Children” in 2003 to ensure the safety of children when they are at church functions, all those who come in contact with children as a representative of the parish had to go through background checks, which continues to be a requirement today. The Office for Religious Education helps parish religious education programs through that process.
“Our efforts are supported by the diocesan Office for Religious Education,” Kirk said. “In addition to providing the diocesan curriculum and the ‘For the Sake of God’s Children’ curriculum, they provide on-going support with catechist background checks and catechist certification.”
The Annual Catholic Appeal gives Catholics in the pew an opportunity to support the Office of Religious Education in its efforts to help the parish religious education programs.