Faith Formation Conference: ‘Go forth that all may be one’

By Fran Lavelle
KENNER, Louisiana – his year the Go! Conference (Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference), offered a well-balanced and intentional diversity of subjects and speakers focused on the theme, “That All May Be One.” The Conference planners, including the diocesan directors of the region, work to reach as many ministries within parishes and schools as possible while remaining focused on religious formation. We are constantly looking at relevant topics that are spiritually nourishing as well as practical and hands on.
The first day of the Conference this year was quite different from years past. We offered three unique experiences: Liturgy and Music Workshop sponsored by WLP, a panel on the Interface Between Science and Religion sponsored by the University Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute and Leadership Thursday for catechist and formational ministry sponsored by Sadlier. Participants from the three cohorts began their day with Mass at 9:00 a.m. Each of the major workshops reached out to different constituents from STREAM teachers and administrators in Catholic Schools to parish catechists to musicians and liturgists. Hopefully the participants found, in their own niche, great insights and inspiration to bring home.
Karla Luke, Associate Superintendent, Office Catholic Education, a participant in the McGrath Institute’s session on science and religion, is a former teacher of both middle school science and religion. “This event was not only enlightening but also affirming. It gives ‘permission’ to Catholic school teachers to freely incorporate both Science and Religion into the other’s classes,” said Luke. She went on to say, “Furthermore, it clarified that acceptance of scientific theories and laws do not negate one’s faith; but, consequently may enhance it. The workshop not only confirmed my belief in God the Creator but confirmed the love God has for all creation.”

The idea that science and religion are mutually exclusive was addressed head on. Participants were given the examples of Kepler, Galileo, Boyle and Newton, all devoutly religious scientist who saw themselves as uncovering God’s majestic work through scientific reason. Dr. Chris Baglow, of the University of Notre Dame, shared with the group an analogy from Minicius Felix:
If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world. Minucius Felix (ca.200 AD)
On Saturday, the keynote speaker, Dr. JoAnn Paradise addressed the cultural roadblocks to creating unity over division. She talked about brain science and development of empathy from the womb. She stated that we are programmed in our DNA, on a cellular level, to learn behaviors through visual perception at a very young age — 0-3 months. Our addiction to digital media, in our culture, has worked to the detriment of developing appropriate human responses. God, she contends, planted in our brains a developmental need for an interconnectedness that technology cannot replicate or replace. One of the human responses not being developed is empathy. As we become less empathetic, we can quickly vilify others who look, think, pray and live differently because we see them as different. She showed a picture of three chicken eggs, one white, one light brown and one dark brown. In the following picture, the three eggs had been cracked and were in a frying pan next to one another. They all looked the same. She used the photos to illustrate that it is now more than ever the important work of the Church to proclaim the gospel, to end division and fully live out Catholic social teaching.
This is a rapidly changing cultural and technological world. Understanding current challenges and opportunities in ministry is essential if ministers, catechists and church members are to continue to share the faith. Creating awareness and strategies to deal with these changes is imperative. Mission accomplished for this year’s conference. We had great liturgies, enjoyed good conversations, met inspiring people, reunited with old friends and learned a lot. Save the date for next year’s Conference, “20/20: His Vision — Our Call” January 9-11, 2020.
“I thank thee, Lord God our Creator, that thou allowest me to see the beauty in thy work of creation.” Kepler.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Faith Formation conference registration open

All those involved in leading formational ministries are invited to attend the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference to be held in New Orleans, January 10-12, 2019. The theme for this year’s regional conference is “Go Forth: That All May Be One”. This conference is for anyone involved with religious education, adult formation, RCIA, youth ministry, music ministry, liturgy or Catholic schools. Featured keynote presenters include Jason Angelette and Dr. Joann Paradise as well as multiple breakout sessions covering a variety of topics and disciplines. Please visit the event website for registration information and conference schedule –

Reclaiming call to lives of service for laity

Guest Column
By Cathy Hayden
Catholics these days are fortunate in that we have many resources available to us to strengthen our faith. My favorite resource is Give Us This Day Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholics published by Liturgical Press.
One of the features I always enjoy reading is the daily “Blessed Among Us” column written by Robert Ellsberg featuring a saint, church father, martyr or even politician, activist or civic leader whose life offers inspiration. If you read these over time, you can see it’s an eclectic group of people, many Catholic but also some of other faiths.
Their lives are inspiring, but one frustrating thing for me is that their accomplishments are often so lofty they seem out of reach for me. Many of them do big and great things in leading people to Jesus, often being martyred for their actions. Some of their lives and accomplishments are so long ago, and often foreign in their significance, that I can’t relate. Where are the praiseworthy people whose lives more closely mirror mine?
That’s why the presentation of Dr. Tom Neal, academic dean and professor of spiritual theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, made me sit up and take notice. He was a speaker in the very last breakout session of a pithy three-day Go! Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference for catechists on Jan. 11-13.
Neal’s talk was called “Saints for the World: Discovering Anew the Secular Mission of the Laity.” Among his points were that “the call to holiness is lived out in the secular world” and “the laity is not the second shift.”
Church employees, he said, are not the primary workers in God’s vineyard. Instead, “the role of the church is to support the laity.”
“Be a secular genius,” he said. Change the culture where you are. In other words, bloom where you are planted.
Neal wrote about the talk the next day in his regular blog called “Neal Obstate Theological Opining”:
In Catholic Culture, deeply influenced by the hostility of atheistic secularism to theistic secularism, we tend to think of “secular” as a pejorative, i.e. as hopelessly tainted, of less importance than the “spiritual,” as intrinsically alienating from God, or maybe at best as just neutral “stuff” we have to endure or use as we make our way toward the eternity of heaven, which is obviously not secular. So devout Catholics tend to say things like, “I don’t get involved in secular things like I used to,” or “I used to be totally secular but now I am much more spiritual.” So when Vatican II says that “what is peculiar to the laity is their secular genius” and that their path to holiness is found in “secular professions,” it all seems so, well, wrong.
If we re-claim the Catholic sense of secular, we realize that such negative statements are misguided …
I think this is an exciting reminder for those of us whose livelihood and daily lives exist in the secular world. Oh, sure, we know this in some ways already, right? But Neal’s talk reminded me that my work in being the leaven in the secular world is needed and is important. It’s not just an afterthought. I can’t leave the work of Jesus to my pastor on Sundays. After all, I’m the one in the trenches during the typical workday in an environment where not everyone follows, or even knows, Jesus. It is up to me to show them who he is with my love.
Perhaps that is why this part of the conclusion to “Everyone’s Way of the Cross” has always appealed to me so strongly. I always savor this with extra conviction:
So seek me not in far-off places.
I am close at hand.
Your workbench, office, kitchen,
These are altars
Where you offer love.
And I am with you there.
Especially as we head into the Lenten season, that is my call to action. And yours too!

(Cathy Hayden, a member of the RCIA team at St. Jude in Pearl, received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Spring Hill College in May 2017. She is director of Public Relations at Hinds Community College.)

Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference builds hope, encourages catechists

By Cathy Hayden
KENNER, La. – The Diocese of Jackson was well-represented among about 1,200 Catholics who attended the Jan. 11-13 Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference in Kenner, La.
Among the parishes sending catechetical leaders to the “Go! Build a Future of Hope” conference were Pearl St. Jude, Natchez St. Mary, Yazoo City St. Mary and Jackson Holy Family. Most of those attending the 36th annual conference were lay ministers to children, youth and adults in dioceses throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
“For the Diocese of Jackson, we are fortunate to have such a first-rate conference that is very reasonably priced and offers such great quality speakers, workshops and vendors. I love seeing our folks there,” said Fran Lavelle, director of the Office of Faith Formation and Religious Education for the Diocese of Jackson.
Lavelle, a member of the planning committee, said the theme of “hope” was discerned in 2016 and was “truly the work of the Holy Spirit … A huge part of the success of the conference (is) that we really trust the Holy Spirit and one another.”
Over the three days, participants were challenged to withstand today’s cultural storms and were rejuvenated with talks centering around hope inspired by Pope Francis’ recently published “On Hope.”
“The conference was very enjoyable, with sessions that pertained to a variety of ministries and some that simply nourished the soul,” said Margaret Riordan of St. Jude. “In addition to the talks that included information on music and liturgy, I especially enjoyed the session on ‘Praying Our Lives: Hope for the Restless Heart,’ which introduced the Ignatian Examen.”
Gladys Russell of Jackson Holy Family Parish goes to the conference every chance she can get. “Each time I have been able to attend the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference, I have left with information on new ways to meet the Faith Formation needs of our parishioners,” said Russell. “Information shared at this years conference, from research done on ‘why young people leave the church,’ was especially helpful. I hope we at Holy Family, will be able to use the information to keep our young people involved in parish life,” she added.

KENNER, La., Mary Birmingham presents “Catechesis and the Catechumenate” at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. Helen Benson, director of religious education for Vicksburg St. Michael is visible in the red sweater. (Photo by Rhonda Bowden)

Keynote speakers included an opening day tag team presentation by Dr. Veronica Rayas, director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of El Paso Texas, and Dr. Joe Paprocki, a national consultant for faith formation at Loyola Press. The two of them laid the groundwork for the rest of the conference. With families no longer living in a Catholic “bubble,” they declared the current catechesis delivery “broken” and in need of repair.
“We have a new reality. The answer is not in the past,” he said.
Among Paprocki’s suggestions to repair were 1. Instigating faith instead of indoctrinating, 2. Forming small faith groups, 3. Empowering parents to be primary catechists and 4. Empowering adults to share their faith with one another.
Adding to that, Rayas emphasized that, especially with young people, the most powerful catechetical pathways are community, prayer and service.
On day two, psychologist Dr. Tim Hogan used humor in describing today’s “cultural hurricane” with revolutionary changes in technology, economic, information, relationships and religion disrupting the patterns of life we once knew. He described the result as an opportunity for responding by “priming ourselves for gratitude” instead of negativity.
Wrapping up the third day was Brian Butler, executive director of Dumb Ox Ministries, who inspired with stories of hope coming from often dark circumstances. “We have to choose to hope,” he said.
Breakout sessions appealed to a variety of church ministries, all targeting how to bring hope through catechesis to children, youth and adults.
“One could not leave “Go! Build a Future of Hope” without feeling renewed HOPE,” said Joyce Brasfield Adams, coordinator of Faith Formation at Jackson Holy Family Parish. “Each keynote speaker and each concurrent session leader gave concrete examples and practical ways to continue to hope. The session that touched me most deeply was, ‘Making Hope Real,’ led by Becky Eldredge. She led us into prayer with the acronym HOPE (Hark, Open, Pray and Encounter) based on Mark 2: 1-12. The session was not just a presentation, but a spiritual experience.”
(Cathy Hayden, a member of the RCIA team at St. Jude in Pearl, received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Spring Hill College in May 2017. She is director of Public Relations at Hinds Community College. See her related column on page 12.)

Fall Faith Formation Day offers framework for diocesan vision

By Maureen Smith
MADISON – One hundred thirty catechists from across the diocese attended a day-long gathering at St. Joseph School on Saturday, Sept. 30. Fall Faith Formation Day took the Diocese of Jackson’s Pastoral Priorities as its inspiration, offering as its theme: inspire, embrace, serve. When the diocese launched a new set of priorities last year, Bishop Kopacz and his team framed them around a new vision statement to Inspire Disciples, Embrace Diversity and Serve Others.
Fran Lavelle, director of Faith Formation for the diocese, has been anxious to offer catechists an opportunity to get together. “We wanted to make sure everybody in the formational ministries had a chance to be part of a day that maximized our opportunity to bring in some good speakers and it has given us some great ideas for what we want to do next year,” she added.

MADISON – Jessica McMillian spoke about creative catechesis at Faith Formation Day at St. Joseph High School. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

MADISON – Raquel Escobar of Tupelo St. James, and Stacy Wolf and Kathleen Edwards of Pearl St. Jude Parish listen to Father Joseph Brown speak.

Jim Schellman, former director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, took on the inspire theme, offering a plenary session called ‘A people on the way.’ Schellman is nationally known for his work in the catechumenate and liturgy. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, used his plenary session to talk about embracing diversity. He wrapped his talk around traditional spirituals, music and storytelling. Slaves, he said, sang because they had faith. He called on the audience to remember “how we were all slaves and strangers in a strange land,” as we are connected to the Israelite tradition.
Father Brown said we have to stop calling groups other than our own ‘them’ and try to find ways to tell and listen to the stories everyone has to tell.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz closed the day with the theme of service. He spoke about his work with Catholic Charities, the most visible direct service arm of the Catholic Church.
Between the plenary sessions, attendees could select breakout sessions, which included: youth liturgy, led by Father Jason Johnston, on faculty at St. Joseph High School; creative catechesis led by Jessica McMillan, coordinator for youth ministry at McComb St. Alphonsus Parish; adult faith formation, offered by Wes Williams, who leads several faith enrichment and formation programs at his parish of Madison St. Francis. Father Brown and Schellman also hosted breakouts.
Carrie Lambert, youth minister at Natchez Basilica of St. Mary, enjoyed creative catechesis. “You need to find God everywhere you are and in everything you do. You need to look for him in ways that you wouldn’t think of necessarily so you can reach your youth – whether it’s the little ones or the teens – you find that kernel in there, find a way to get their attention and make it applicable to them. That’s what I love,” she said.
Gladys Russell, Jackson Holy Family Parish coordinator for youth, attended the breakout on liturgy where Father Jason discussed how understanding the liturgy is key to getting young people really involved. “One of the points we need to get across to our youth is the idea of giving of ourselves as Christ gave of himself for us,” she said.
Arista Evans from Canton Holy Child Jesus echoed that sentiment and appreciated the time she could spend with other youth ministers. “I want to get more ideas and find ways to bring the kids closer to Christ and give them a meaning and a reason for wanting to come to Mass instead of because their Mama is making them. I also wanted to get ideas on how to get the parents more involved with bringing their kids to Mass, because they can’t come to Mass unless their parents bring them,” said Evans.
Several catechists who attended Williams’ breakout session said they enjoyed hearing about different programs he has utilized. “He told his own story which was fascinating to follow. He said about five percent of Catholics are involved. Most come to Mass to put in their time. To get them to be missionary disciples takes a lot of work,” said Sister Lael Niblick, CSA, lay ecclesial minister from Amory St. Helen Parish.
“I was interested in learning ways to attract young professionals, just like the speaker, who had grown up Catholic, but no longer owned their faith. He spoke about living through jarring experiences that call your attention. For him it was the death of his father,” explained Joyce Brasfield-Adams of Jackson Holy Family.
Brasfield-Adams praised the day overall, saying it is good for catechists to share their journey with one another. “It’s important that we have sessions like these where we are able to get together to be fed; where we learn something for ourselves. As catechetical leaders, we try so hard to give something to someone else that I wanted something for me,” she explained.

Cathechist Certification classes for Winter 2017 announced

catechetical-sunday-2016-clip-art-print-07As we continue to focus on the church’s catechetical theme for the year, Prayer, the Faith Prayed, the Office of Faith Formation invites you to participate in the following classes. To register or for more information contact Annette Stevenson at 601-960-8470 or

Onsite classes are offered in a traditional classroom format and are 16 hours in length. The cost is $20 per class plus the cost of books. Depending on the instructor and needs of the students, scheduling of onsite classes is specific to locations as listed above.


Deanery I
Sacraments & Worship:
Celebration of the Christian Mystery
Instructor:  Jill Hisaw
Location:  Pearl, St. Jude Parish
Dates: Jan. 15, 29; Feb. 12, 26; March 12, 19; April 9, 23.
Time:Sundays: 3- 5 p.m.
Text: Doors to the Sacred, Joseph Martos

Sacraments & Worship:
Celebration of the Christian Mystery
Instructor:  Anita Hossley
Location:  Vicksburg St. Michael Parish
Dates: Jan. 24, 31; Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28; March 7, 14, 21
Time:Tuesdays: 7- 9 p.m.
Text: Sacraments: A New Understanding for a New Generation, Ray R. Noll

Mary and the Saints, Companions on the Journey
Instructor: Sister Michele Doyle
Location: Jackson Holy Family Parish
Dates: Jan., 11, 18, 25; Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22; March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12
Time: Wednesdays: 6:15  – 7:30 p.m.
Texts:  All Generations will call me Blessed, McManus; All Saints, Robert Ellsberg

Christology:  Jesus of the Gospels and History
Instructor: Sister Michele Doyle
Location:  Yazoo City St. Mary Parish
Dates: Jan. 5, 12, 19, 26; Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22
Time: Thursdays: 12:45 – 2:45 p.m.
Text:  An Introduction to Christology: In the Gospels & the Early Church, Luttenberger

Deanery II

New Testament:  Revelation in Christ
Instructor: Valencia Hall
Location: Natchez, Holy Family Parish
Dates: Jan., 23, 30;  Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27; March 6, 13
Time: Mondays 5- 7 p.m.
Text: Reading the New Testament, An Introduction Third Edition Revised& Updated, Pheme Perkins


ONLINE classes: Level I

Catholic Understanding of Scripture
Sunday, Jan. 8 – Jan. 29

Faith and Moral Development
Feb. 12 –  March 5

Catechist Certification Introductory and Level I courses are offered online and take 5-8 hours total to complete. Do the coursework at your convenience during the weeks specified for each course.
Level I Courses are FREE.

To register, email your request for a registration form to:

The course facilitator, Fran Lavelle, will communicate with you through email, with information & directions needed to login to the course.

Please register at least one week before the start of the course.

Conference offers dynamic faith experience

It is not too late to sign up for the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference to be held in Kenner, La., on Jan. 12-14, 2017.  While the conference is hosted and sponsored by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, this year the diocesan directors for faith formation from other dioceses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have worked collaboratively to present a truly regional conference.
We are expecting more than 1,000 people – laity, clergy and religious – from the Gulf Coast and throughout the United States attend. In its 35th year, the conference continues its heritage inspired by its previous namesake, Father Johannes Hofinger, SJ, a world-renowned missionary, evangelizer, teacher and catechetical leader.
This year’s theme, “Prayer: Our Faith Prayed and Lived,” will look at our role as Catholic leaders through a lens of prayer and prayerfulness.
We have been mindful to develop a conference that includes a little something for everyone. In addition to excellent catechetical presentations, there is a dedicated liturgy track as well as excellent break-out sessions for youth ministers and Catholic school teachers or administrators.
In short, the conference offers those involved in catechesis and evangelization in the Catholic Church an opportunity to enhance their ministries and to deepen their commitment to Jesus Christ through personal and professional development sessions with leaders in evangelization and catechetical ministry, liturgical celebrations and a variety of prayer experiences, formal and informal networking opportunities and thought-provoking and inspirational presentations.
New this year is Leadership Thursday which will include a presentation by Father David Caron, OP, on spiritual leadership and evangelization; Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome on connection and communion and Paul Sanfrancesco on cultivating a faith-based digital community.
The conference will be buttressed by three keynote speakers who will bring to focus a three-fold action to Pray, Reflect and Witness.
PRAY: Sister Lynn McKenzie became a Benedictine Sister at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Ala., more than 35 years ago. As a Benedictine, she seeks to live a balanced life of prayer and work in keeping with the Benedictine motto of “Ora et Labora.” Her life of prayer in the community of Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery has been vital and life-giving. It is through prayer and community that she is able to live the Rule of St. Benedict. She will share her experience of how prayer helps her as she tries to be a faithful seeker of God in her daily journey, intending and hoping to live a life of fidelity, but realistic about the challenges. Sister Lynn says that “Prayer: Faith Prayed and Lived” is central to her life as a Benedictine Sister.
REFLECT: Dr. Brant Pitre is Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, La. He earned his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame, where he specialized in the study of the New Testament and ancient Judaism. Dr. Pitre will offer his reflections on how we can “Pray the Scriptures.”
WITNESS: Bishop Ferdand Cheri is a Franciscan Friar of the Sacred Heart Province (St. Louis) and has been ordained for 37 years. He is auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Bishop Cheri has served as a member of the liturgical planning committee for the National Black Catholic Congress in Chicago, 2002; the planning committee for Unity Explosion, 1991, in New Orleans; the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Subcommittee on Black Catholic Worship, 1984 to 1990; the National Joint Conference of Black Catholic Religious Planning Committee, 1983-1990; and the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, 1978. He is a revivalist, preaching across the country.
His strength and testimony comes from God’s Word in Scripture, “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.” (2Cor 12:9) You will be inspired as Bishop Cheri encourages us to “Go forth and witness.”
You don’t want to miss the great liturgies, a hallmark of the conference, including the opening Mass with Archbishop Gregory Aymond presiding and the closing Mass on Saturday with Bishop Joseph Kopacz presiding. More than 60 breakout sessions are also included. Sign up today! For more information go to: We hope to see you there!

Focused tracks available:
Conference workshops are loosely organized into specific categories/tracks. Because of content some workshops can be found in more than one category/track.
 Adolescent Catechesis (Lights of Hope): 103, 203, 307, L30, 408, 409, 501, 506, 508, 608
 Adult Catechesis/RCIA: L12, 205, 303, L30, 408, L40, 502, 506, 602, 605
 Catholic Identity: 101, 201, 308, 404
 Discipleship: 102, 203, 204, 307, 402, 404, 407
 Elementary Catechesis: 204, 209, L30, L32, 406, 503, 601, 608
 Evangelization: Thursday-Caron, Keynote/Cheri, 106, 108, L12, L20, 309, 402, 408, 409, L40, 509, 603, 605
 Family Catechesis: 106, 107, 208, 305, 504
 Forms of Prayer: Keynote/Pitre, 104, 206, 209, 301, 302, 405, 406, 503, L52, 601, 606
 Pope Francis: 102, 206, 303, 304, 403, 505
 Special Needs/Disabilities: 202, 604
 Spirituality: Keynote/McKenzie, 105, 207, 301, 306, 309, 401, 603, 607
 Technology:  Thursday-Zsupan-Jerome, Sanfrancesco, 109, 508, 608
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)