Fr. Jim Fenstermaker, C.S.C., in his monthly post for us from Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, Mass., shares with us today about his parish’s unique religious education program. As educating in the faith is at the core of Holy Cross’ mission, Fr. Jim explains how Holy Cross parish seeks to fulfill that mission, forming the hearts and minds of the next generation of Catholics.
All the various programs and activities of Holy Cross Parish are now in full swing. One of the most important, of course, is the faith formation offered the children of our parish community.
Our faith formation program is a hybrid of the traditional religious education classes offered in most parishes and the intergenerational model of faith formation that has become popular in the last several years. We’ve been tweaking this model of faith formation over the past four years and believe we have now found the right balance between these two approaches.
The faith formation program began earlier this month with a two-hour session for children and parents together, which began with prayer and a meal, continued with the catechetical segment, and concluded with prayer. Because of the number of families participating, we offered three meeting times for this first session.
We invited Father Hugh Cleary, C.S.C., the previous superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross who is now working at nearby Stonehill College as director of campus ministry, to do a presentation on the meaning and significance of the Mass. Father Hugh did a fantastic job helping our parishioners to come to a greater appreciation of the Mass and its importance in our lives.
The faith formation program continues throughout the year with each child in grades one through six attending an hour and half class twice a month. The children preparing for first reconciliation and communion participate in an additional program. Our seventh and eighth grade children attend a series of classes each semester right before our Teen Mass on Sunday evening, while our confirmation students do so after the Teen Mass. In January we will offer a retreat afternoon for the parents and children to participate in together, and we’ll end the faith formation program next spring with another session for the families.
As a firm supporter of intergenerational faith formation, I have come to appreciate the significant lesson the children learn from their parents participating with them – namely, that their faith formation is important. Just as their parents bringing them to Sunday Mass tells them of the importance of worship in their lives, so too does participating with them in their religious education tell the children that this, too, is an important part of their lives.
While we strive to teach our parish children the fundamentals of their Christian faith and Catholic religion so that they understand what they are participating in at Church, our most important task is to help them develop a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This ties in well with Blessed Basil Moreau’s pedagogy of educating both the mind and the heart. As they come to know Jesus more fully, they will develop a deeper love for him, and live their lives in service to him. In turn, they will become Christian witnesses who “make God known, loved, and served.”