September offers new start for catechists

Kneading Faith
By Fran Levelle
There is so much to celebrate in September, kids are back in school, it’s football season, cooler temperatures return, and formation programs in our parishes get re-energized. For those of us in formational ministries (RCIA, adult faith formation, religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry) we have spent the summer planning for the new academic year. And, like the first college football game of the season, we too memorialize the return to formation programs in our own special way.
In 1971, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) designated the third Sunday of September to call forth and commission catechists in our parishes. The Church in the U.S. has been celebrating Catechetical Sunday ever since. As part of the recognition of the role of catechist in the life of the Church the USCCB also develops a theme and other useful materials. This year’s theme is, “Living as Missionary Disciples.”


No doubt, the Holy Spirit guided the bishop in their discernment of this year’s theme. I can’t imagine a more timely and needed reminder of our call to live the good news of the Gospel. If you are like me I am certain this poignant message was not lost on you as images of East Texas filled the airwaves witnessing neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. In a catastrophic event like the massive flooding in Houston creed, color, gender, age and economic status are not factors in who gets spared by a storm or who gets saved. I am reminded that we can preach by our actions much more effectively than we can preach with mere words alone. Our response should be immediate and as generous as possible.
In the same way, our response to our call to live our lives as missionary disciples should be immediate (as in every day) and generous (as in not counting the cost). Our missionary discipleship should not be the best kept secret at our schools, our parishes or our homes. Our missionary call to lead, to teach, to proclaim and to live as disciples of Christ should be manifested in a way that others want to experience the joy we possess.
As your catechist are called forth to be commissioned and blessed this year, I encourage you to ask yourself what it is you can do in your own way to help them fulfill their role as catechist, RCIA team members, youth ministers, campus ministers, and directors and coordinators of religious education. No one is asked to do everything, but we can all do something.
My hope is that the USCCB’s catechetical theme becomes much more than merely a theme this year. My hope is that we can all see the many and varied ways we are called to live out our missionary discipleship.
In that spirit, the diocese invites everyone involved in faith formation to a day of spiritual and educational enrichment modeled after the new Pastoral Priorities. Faith Formation Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 30, at Madison St. Joseph School from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Keynote presenters include Jim Schellman, former Director at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, who will speak on inspiring discipleship and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL will speak on diversity. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will round out the day with the closing talk on serving others.
During breakout sessions, Father. Jason Johnston, will present a session on youth liturgy; Jessica McMillan is offering a breakout called creative catechesis; Wes Williams, is set to speak on adult faith formation; Father. Joseph Brown will present, ”Plenty Good Room: Thoughts on Hospitality, Diversity and Being Catholic!;” and, Jim Schellman will present, “Evangelization the Mission, Initiation the Job Description.” A $10 registration fee includes lunch. To register or get more information, contact Fran Lavelle at 601-960-8473 or fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org
One of my favorite 45 records from my youth was “See You in September,” by the Happenings. I am certain I lifted it from my older brother’s collection. The lyrics express the hopes of a young man, who, facing separation from his girlfriend for the summer, reminds her that he’ll see her in September unless he loses her to a summer love. For sure, it is a love song, but the lyrics always made me think of the other reunions I looked forward to going back to school.
September, like January, can be a hard reset for activities and routines that we want to be more intentional about. It can be a time to recommit ourselves to living our faith in a more profound way. You may have taken a break from “active ministry” or you may be a pew jockey that comes to Mass on Sunday but has little involvement in the life of the Church. It’s not too late to see where your call to living missionary discipleship leads you. Wherever you find yourself, rest assured, we in formational ministries are looking forward to seeing you in September.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)

Letters to a bishop inspire Confirmation program

KNEADING FAITH
By Fran Lavelle

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

I recognized early on in my role at the chancery that I was not a typical diocesan director for formation and religious education. I have been a catechist, but never directed a religious education program. For certain, there were many things that I didn’t know and committed myself to learning. What I did know, having spent many years in youth and college ministry, was that we are witnessing a paradigm shift in how young people articulate and witness their faith. One piece of wisdom I have gained over the years is the importance of listening to people to understand where they are. I truly believe young people are speaking their truth to us in the Church, but we have not been great at “hearing” what they are telling us.
Out of pure curiosity or perhaps a prompting of the Holy Spirit, I asked Bishop Kopacz if he would share the letters he received from the confirmadi as I was interested in “listening” to what our young people of faith are telling us. What became apparent regardless of demographics of the parish or what program the parish used is that our young people are struggling to reconcile the faith they have been taught with the world they live in. Reading over the letters I was struck by their honesty and sincerity.
For the most part, the tone of the letters are casual as if they are writing a good friend. Many express their doubts, fears and inadequacies. Even those with the greatest doubt in God or themselves ask for the sacrament. After reading their letters, I felt a deep desire to do something that would help allay theirs fears and create a conversation about, if not normalize, their doubt. I realized I was being called to write a confirmation preparation program based on the letters and using the curriculum for Confirmation in The Catechist Companion, a curriculum guide for catechesis and religious education.
The program takes its name from the genesis of this work, Letters to a Bishop: The Journey to Confirmation. What became abundantly clear with the prompting of the Holy Spirit is that the work of catechesis is organic. We are all being lead to think, reflect and respond to the Spirit in our ever-changing world. Development of the Confirmation preparation program is a candid reminder to always and in all ways, be open to what the Spirit is calling us to.
The word confirmation is from the Latin confirmare which means “to strengthen” or “to establish.” What is strengthened in the sacrament are the graces we received at Baptism through the Holy Spirit. There are, in fact, very few requirements laid out in Canon Law that speak to what is necessary for the sacrament to be administered.
The primary requirement is that the individual, free from impediments that would prevent reception of the sacrament, asks for the sacrament. The secondary requirement is that the pastor and others have the responsibility to worthily prepare those who ask for the sacrament.
Can. 843 §1 Sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.
§2 According to their respective offices in the Church, both pastors of souls and all other members of Christ’s faithful have a duty to ensure that those who ask for the sacraments are prepared for their reception. This should be done through proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, in accordance with the norms laid down by the competent authority.
It is in the latter requirement that we find the greatest variance in sacramental preparation. Our diocesan sacramental preparation directives in the Catechist Companion communicate the nine areas that should be included in the curriculum. The first area is scripture which does not have specific curriculum guidelines. In developing the confirmation program for our diocese, I chose to insert scripture in the lesson plan for each session.
A session on human dignity was added bringing our total of sessions to nine. I felt strongly that a foundational understanding of our creation in God’s likeness and image was an important prerequisite. The remaining eight areas from the curriculum of the Catechist Companion are: tradition; the church as the faith community; morality: forming a Christian lifestyle; the reality of sin and the need for redemption; missionary initiation/service; the nature of the Paschal mystery; prayer; and liturgy and worship.
There is no requirement to use the confirmation program. If you currently have a confirmation preparation program that you love, keep using it. If, however, you would like to investigate trying something new, I encourage you to look at the program. I am hoping that some parishes will use it and provide feedback as to how it worked and what adjustments should be made to improve the program. A copy of the program is available to download from the diocesan website, www.jacksondiocese.org. If you are interested in implementing all or part of the program and would like to meet with me before the academic year gets underway, please contact me at: fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

 

Brother inspires missionary discipleship

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

The catechetical theme for the upcoming academic year,“Living as Missionary Disciples,” is a theme that closely echoes the diocesan pastoral priorities currently being implemented our parishes and schools, especially our priority to facilitate life-long formation of intentional disciples.  
We all know that mission statements, masterplans and envisioning processes are only as successful as their implementation. Often, we get caught up in the language of a plan and lose sight of the overall goal. Every plan – be it architectural, business or master, cannot be realized without action. People enact plans. When I think of “Living as Missionary Disciples,” many images come to mind.  I think of people like St. Patrick who was relentless in his pursuit of the hearts and minds of the Irish people. I think of modern day missionaries like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who literally loved people to death.  
The Diocese of Jackson has been blessed for decades by those who came before us from “somewhere else” to live the gospel and share God’s love with the people of Mississippi. One such soul passed from this world earlier this spring. Brother Terry O’Rourke died on March 10 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served as a Glenmary Missioner for 58 years including service in Mississippi.  
I served as a Lay Missioner for the Glenmary Sisters in the late 1990s in Western Kentucky. Coming to Mississippi I was excited to find so many Glenmary priests, brothers and lay missioners living in our diocese. I felt like it was a family reunion of sorts whenever I got to visit with the Glenmary lay missioners, brothers and priests. Fathers Bob Dalton, Tim Murphy and Steve Pawelk; Brothers Joe Steen, and Terry were among my favorites.
Brother Terry spent the majority of his ministry as a champion for social justice. His true love was building and providing safe and affordable housing for the poor.He spent 15 years working with the Brothers’ Building Crew, a group of Glenmary Brothers who did construction work. He also advocated for Legal Aide for the poor, AIDS funding and ending the death penalty. He was a tremendous supporter for lay ministry, especially with women in leadership.  
In addition to putting a plan into action, Brother Terry was a lifelong learner. Just when some folks start getting comfortable with the idea of a remote control and an easy chair, He was pursuing higher education goals. When he was in his mid-60s, he earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago. Missionary disciples never stop learning. Never.
There is a saying in Glenmary that the most important thing one might do all day is go to the post office. We really never know where or when we will encounter people in need of God’s love. All the doing of Brother Terry’s life served as a witness to his commitment to those who live on the margins. However, it was never really about the doing; it was always about being present. He understood the ministry of presence.  
Brother Terry had a very special place in the hearts and minds of those he served. For me, it might have been his Irish wit or his quick smile. It could have been his quiet, gentle way. Whatever it was, my heart was enlarged every time I sat down with him and his dog, Obie. Sometimes we would communicate by using words. But words, with Brother Terry and reportedly St. Francis, were not always necessary to preach the gospel. There was comfort in knowing that we did not have to have a conversation in order to have a visit. It was in those silent spaces that gratitude flourished. The aged face of Brother Terry, his sparking Irish eyes and monk-esque beard are forever imprinted in my memory. When I think of missionary disciples or I think of life-long formation, I think of Brother Terry. Gently, carefully and lovingly living discipleship. His faithfulness illuminated the path for so many others to find their way.  
So, like I mentioned earlier, people enact plans. And people give witness when they live as missionary disciples. We, “the people” all have a role in bringing our pastoral priorities to fruition in our homes, schools and parishes. I encourage all of us to really think about how we can make a contribution. How can we find our way, define our charism of discipleship, nurture our thirst for life-long formation?  
“I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives”–Tracy Chapman. BrotherTerry, your example of discipleship remains an inspiration.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Catechist Companion updated, improved

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The diocesan Department of Faith Formation has begun distributing the new edition of The Catechist Companion to parishes and schools. The companion is a curriculum guide for catechesis from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Each section of the book contains expectations for teachers of what students should grasp at the end of each year. There is also a section with the Catholic High School curriculum in it.
“We recognized the need to have this document updated and published as it is a vital tool for making sure our young people are learning about their faith in an age appropriate, consistent manner,” said Fran Lavelle, director of faith formation for the diocese. “We also recognize however, that there are many nuances in a diocese like ours with both rural and urban populations. The book should be used as a tool that aides in creating benchmarks for catechist.”
Lavelle worked with Contyna McNealy, coordinator for creative services for the diocese, to reformat the companion. It was printed in sections in a three-ring binder to make it easy for directors/coordinators of religious education to make copies for catechists by grade.
“We listened to the DRE/CREs and delivered a product that best suited their needs. A large review and editing committee worked very hard to get the document revised,” said Lavelle.
The books will be distributed to parishes and schools during the coming weeks and will also be available online on the Faith Formation page of the diocesan website, www.jacksondiocese.org for download.

Pastoral Ministries’ workshop offers new opportunity for ‘easy listening’

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Every year lay pastoral leaders gather for a week-long series of retreats and classes offered by the diocesan Department of Faith Formation. Most of them are going through a five-year certification program for catechists in the diocese, but this year, the Pastoral Ministries Workshop is open to anyone who wants to attend one of the classes, even if that person does not wish to enroll in the certification program at this time.
While the classes were never formally closed to other students, Fran Lavelle, director of Faith Formation, wanted to make it especially clear this year that all are welcome.
“We heard at the listening sessions that people are hungry for good faith formation opportunities. We have some wonderful presenters and we want people who are interested in these topics to feel welcome,” said Lavelle.  Bishop Joseph Kopacz hosted a series of Listening Sessions in February to start the process of pastoral planning for the diocese. While the final results are still being processed, some departments are able to address some common themes that emerged immediately.
The workshop is at Lake Tia O’Kahata in Louisville, is June 6-9. Classes this year include:
– Effective communications in ministry taught by Leo Trahan, director of religious education for the Diocese of Biloxi.
– Developing, maintaining and balancing programs taught by Janet Masline, associate director of religious education for the Archdiocese of Mobile.
– Ministry and Canon Law, taught by Father Kevin Slattery, Vicar General for the Diocese of Jackson.
– Spiritual and Prayer Leadership in a Parish taught by Father John Bohn, pastor of Jackson St. Richard Parish.
– Lay Reflecting from a Prayerful Heart taught by Sheila Przesmicki, lay ecclesial minister of Booneville St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
The cost for the week-long workshop is $500, which includes a room, meals and materials. Those who wish to commute can pay $200 for meals and  materials. Scholarships to pay for a third of the cost are available to anyone who is in the diocesan lay ministry formation program.
In addition to classes, the Pastoral Ministries Workshop offers retreat opportunities for catechists. The Pastoral Ministries Retreat starts Sunday, June 5, at 3 p.m.  and ends Monday, June 6, after lunch. The cost is $120 for this guided retreat. This covers three meals, one night lodging, and program expense.
An extended retreat which begins Monday, June 6, after lunch will run through Thursday, June 9, after lunch.  Retreatants will meet as a group for guided reflections on the 2016 catechetical theme, “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.” Every year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) selects a different catechetical theme which parishes, schools and individuals can embrace and explore.
The cost for just this extended retreat is $400. This covers three nights lodging, 10 meals, and program expense. Participants may combine the Sunday/Monday retreat with the extended retreat for a reduced combo rate of $485. The retreat portion of this week is intended for catechists and those in the lay formation program.
Registrations for all classes are due May 23. To request a registration form, email Lavelle at Fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org or call her at 601-960-8473.

Faith Formation revises catechist guidelines

By Maureen Smith
Jackson – Among the projects in the works in the diocesan Department of Faith Formation this year: reinvigorate youth ministry with a new director, plans for diocesan gatherings and new energy; train and certify more lay catechists than ever; find a new director of family ministry; and revise the catechist companion, the book used as a guide for catechists in parishes and schools throughout the diocese.
Fran Lavelle is the head of faith formation. She works with diocesan coordinators and parish employees and volunteers to make sure Catholics can deepen their knowledge and faith at every stage of their lives. This means ensuring children in religious education are reaching certain milestones as they mature, offering rich faith opportunities to young adults and college students, preparing couples for marriage and supporting them in family life and making opportunities available for adults to explore church teachings and spirituality.041516catechistcompanion
A cornerstone in ensuring that we are setting young Catholics on a path of life-long learning and a love of their faith is good catechesis.  One of the major aid in this work is the Catechist Companion, a guidebook for teachers guiding students in religious education and preparing young people and their families for the sacraments of initiation. As Bishop Joseph Kopacz writes in his letter of introduction, “The most important work of the church is in passing the faith on to subsequent generations.”
“We want to respect each community’s approach to preparing their children for sacraments, but we also need to set some expectations of what they will know when they approach the altar,” said Lavelle. The book is a guideline, but different parish and school communities will offer the lessons in the way best suited to their students.
She and many others spent weeks going through the material to update and streamline it and hopes to set up a regular review schedule to keep it up-to-date all the time. Lavelle appreciates the assistance she has had in updating and revising the document. “It would have been an impossible task without the peer review group that reviewed the guide for continuity and having excellent colleagues at the chancery to help with layout and proofing,”  Lavelle said.
The book is divided up by age-group and by sacrament. It contains not only the concepts students should grasp by the end of the grade or by the time they receive a given sacrament, but it also has suggestions on presenting the material to students and their families, including scripture readings families can use for reflection and prayers.
“It is through teaching these beliefs that we aid those entrusted to us to deepen their relationship with God. Moreover, we hope to inspire a love for learning, growing and loving our faith in a way that is life-long,” wrote Bishop Kopacz.
The revised book will be finished mid-summer and will be distributed in printed form to catechists. An online version will be posted to the diocesan website so anyone can download and use it.
Lavelle’s office also offers a full complement of classes to help catechists earn certification and exchange best practices so they can better serve their students as well as gatherings and workshops for catechists and pastoral leaders to share best practices and resources.
The Catholic Service Appeal (CSA) directly supports the department of faith formation. Your pledge to CSA supports the work Lavelle and her staff are doing to offer faith formation opportunities to everyone in the diocese. Donate through your parish office or online at http://csa.jacksondiocese.org/.

Diocese welcomes Lavelle as faith formation director

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Fran Lavelle, former director of the Office of Campus Ministry, will move into the Office of Faith Formation as director this fall. She replaces Jeanne Howard who left fulltime ministry this July. This is just one of a couple of changes that started in February of 2014 when that office added Libby Antici and Melissa Smalley to lavellethe staff to help coordinate programs in different deaneries.
“What we wanted to do is go to more of a team model,” explained Catherine Cook, director of the Department of Formational Ministries for the diocese. “We wanted to make sure parishes in all the deaneries were represented and getting the attention they need for the ministry of faith formation,” she added.
To that end, Antici was brought on board to focus on the needs of the northwest area, Deaneries 3 and 4. Melissa Smalley to focus on the central-southwest area, Deaneries 1 & 2.  Lavelle, in addition to overseeing the Office of Faith Formation, will give attention to the needs of the northeast-east central area, Deaneries 5 and 6.  Fabvienen Taylor completes the team as the administrative assistant. Howard continues to teach online classes from her home in Kentucky.
Lavelle comes to the diocesan office from Starkville where she has served as campus minister to the Catholic Student Association at Mississippi State University. In Starkville, she has been involved in parish ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church since 1999.  Additionally, for the past six years she has served as the diocesan director of campus ministry for the colleges and universities across the state. Fran will surrender her duties as campus minister for MSU effective October 1 and become the Director of Faith Formation.
Lavelle, an Ohio native, came to Mississippi in 1999 after a stint as a lay Glenmary missioner. She said in an email to Mississippi Catholic that ending up in Mississippi is something of a surprise for her. She started her career in politics with a BA in Political Science from Ohio University. She worked her way from the state to the national level when her life suddenly changed.
“In 1993, my dad died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. The ensuing few years gave me an opportunity to reflect, pray and discern where God was leading me. While I would never trade those years in politics, I recognize God was calling me to more fully live my faith as my vocation,” she said.
In 1996 she took a job as a lay missioner with the Glenmary Sisters in Western Kentucky. “Glenmary was a great opportunity to shed the frantic pace of life in the nation’s capital and open myself to God’s will. The first three months of ministry experience involved what I fondly referred to as ‘Glenmary boot camp.’  The formation program was set up to prepare me for working in mission ministry,” explained Lavelle. “It was deeply rooted and centered in fully living the gospel among God’s people.  My formation was very Christ-centered as we were called to serve the poor without judgment or discrimination. There is a saying in Glenmary that the most important thing you might do in any given day is go to the post office.  What they were referring to is the ‘ministry of presence.’  It is a gift and challenge to keep oneself in the present moment.  I hope to never lose my awareness of its importance,” she went on to say.
After three years with the Glenmary Sisters, Father Mike O’Brien invited Lavelle to come to Mississippi to serve the students at Mississippi State University as a campus minister.  In 2008, Bishop Joseph Latino appointed Lavelle to serve as the diocesan Director of Campus Ministry in a part time capacity.  “Working at the diocesan level has given me the opportunity to collaborate with the priests and campus ministers who serve at other colleges and universities,” said Lavelle.
That ministry, according to Cook, is one of the greatest assets Lavelle brings to her new position. “She can really enhance our ministry to young people, who we know are the future of the church” said Cook. The Office of Faith Formation will continue to operate the current catechist and lay ministry training programs in place and Cook said she is proud of the team currently involved in that training on every level.
“The opportunity to serve the diocese in this new capacity is challenging and exciting.  I am eager to carry on the legacy of service to all of the parishes of our Diocese.  It was not ‘my plan’ all those years ago to come to Mississippi and make it my forever home. What has transpired both in ministry and my personal life has been a blessing and an amazing gift. I pray that I may continue to serve with the same gratitude and love that has brought me this far,” said Lavelle.