Dear high school graduates of the class of 2018

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
Looks like you made it! Congratulations on a job well done. Many of you will be off to college or community college in the fall. The next few months will be filled with a whirlwind of preparation between orientation to dorm shopping (yes, guys do this too). For our college-bound graduates, you are joining the most studied demographic in the U.S. Social scientists and student affairs personnel make careers out of studying who you are, what makes you successful, and how colleges and universities can best serve you. Over the past decade the trends in higher education have been greatly influenced by these studies. Everything from Service Learning Communities to farmto-table options at the cafeteria have emerged based on what students expect to experience in college.
The excitement builds as move-in day gets closer and closer. Will you go through rush and join a fraternity or sorority? Do you already know your roommate? Are you going to join any clubs or campus organizations? There’s so much to think of: class schedules, getting to know your way around campus, understanding the shuttle routes, finding the cool coffee shops and places to shop to name a few. It’s easy to see in a world that quickly becomes filled with things that are so unfamiliar it is easy to forget the things that are very familiar. One important familiar part of your life that you need to stay connected with is your faith. Study after study affirms two things 1) an estimated 60-percent of college students are not affiliated with their faith tradition or any faith tradition while in school; and 2) students who do stay affiliated with their faith tradition or a faith tradition in college do better academically and have higher graduation rates. Now, I am not trying to tell you that just by going to Mass will guarantee that you will be academically successful in college. What I am saying is that staying involved with the Church and nurturing your spiritual life helps, a lot! I spent quite a few years in campus ministry. I saw a very diverse group of young people pass through the Church doors in my tenure. It is from that wisdom that I offer my top five helpful tips for staying Catholic in college.
1) If you do not already have a practicing Catholic friend at your school, make friends with a Catholic in your dorm to go to Mass with. This sounds obvious, but many young people are intimidated to attend Mass alone. You don’t have to make an evening of it, but simply having someone to go to Mass with makes going a lot easier.
2) You do not have to be 24/7 over the top Catholic (insert jazz hands) to be involved with campus ministry. Think of your college experience in the same way you see your parents witness faith. As adults, your parents go to Mass on Sunday. Your Mom may be a member of a book club or serve on pastoral council. Your Dad might be a member of the Knights of Columbus or work at the food pantry. By no means do your parents attend every meeting or participate in every activity. They choose the activities that are life-giving and spiritually fulfilling. Do the same. Make an effort to be part of the life of campus ministry but recognize you do not have to “do it all.”
3) Kick peer pressure to the curb. Look, I get it, we all want to be liked and accepted. But please do not lose your sense of self or self-worth in your quest for peer acceptance. I remember it feeling like a tribal battle cry, “Come on Franny, it will be fun!” And with those six little words I ended up in situations that I dare say were not my finest moments. You will find as you age that the opinion of those who encouraged you to make unhealthy choices no longer really matter. In fairness, my girlfriends from high school and college who chanted the “fun” refrain did not lead me to abandon my moral convictions. But, my GPA did suffer from not enough study time and too much social time.
4) Pray daily. Learn to be still. Learn to listen. God is not Santa Claus nor is he a vending machine. Grow in your prayer life that you are in tune with God’s will for you, not the other way around.
5) You are a Confirmed adult in your faith, but it does not mean you know everything. Ask questions. Read. Take ownership of your faith journey.
I have one word for the parents of these bright and beautiful young people: relax. Your job as a parent really never ends, but trust that you have given your son/daughter the two things necessary for a successful life: roots, that they may always know where they came from; and wings to fly. Let them fly.

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

New Year offers chance to dedicate time to service

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I got a text from our great nephew Drew the other day inquiring, “How would I request Billy Graham as a saint?” He is 11 years old and a cradle Catholic. But growing up in Mississippi he has had his fair share of friends of all faith traditions. His simple question really stirred my thinking.
I have avowed for many years that young people are telling us their truth. We saw it recently with the school walk out. The question is as adults, catechists, teachers, pastors and parents are we able to hear them? In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I think of the young people in my life. I think about how they are yearning for authenticity, meaning and purpose.
All generations are a product of the family and the culture. As catechists and adults responsible for the faith formation of our young people, we are called to engage and inspire our youth to live the Gospel. Hopefully they are being shaped and formed to reflect the love of God on Earth. It baffles me that adults make generalizations about an entire generation without reflecting on their own youth. Sometimes we speak of young people like they were delivered by an alien spaceship and we don’t quite know what to make of them. Or they attribute these generalizations to the “culture.” Guess what folks, we formed these young people and we are part of the culture.
That takes me back to our great nephew Drew. Drew is all boy. He goes 100-miles an hour and stops for air, food and sleep only when necessary. He loves visiting his grandparents in the country. He loves fishing, playing sports and hanging out with his family. But he is also very deeply introspective, funny, thoughtful, and smart.
A few years ago, before he made his First Communion, we were at the family pool and I asked him to tell his Opa what the epiclesis is. Without skipping a beat, he placed his hands in the proper posture and said, “It’s when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into Jesus.” He was very matter of fact about it. But, in his casual reply you could tell that he not only knew this intellectually, he perceived with the eyes and heart of faith.
To his parents’ credit all three children are bright, kind, caring and faith filled young people. It is obvious that somewhere in their day they find time to think about important questions, have thoughtful conversations and are present to one another. After all, he was inquiring if I knew how one goes about getting Billy Graham canonized. This kind of thoughtfulness comes from a place where questions and inquiry are encouraged. He has not grown up in a place where everyone he meets is Catholic, far from it. And, because of that, it is entirely possible for him to see people of other faith traditions as good, holy, and virtuous examples of faith.
In my response to Drew I told him that the formal process of canonization took quite a long time and is a very detailed process. While a non-Catholic has not been formally recognized as a saint it is far from me to say it could never happen. What is most telling about his inquiry is that Drew did not question if a Southern Baptist preacher could be a saint, he wanted to know how we could go about making it happen. I assured him that the Church recognizes countless people who are uncanonized saints, those faithful Christians who have entered into the presence of God for all eternity. We see this clearly referred to in Revelation 7:9, as the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” We have reason to hope that we know a lot of souls in the canon of saints. I think of my Dad and my grandparents as saints. Billy Graham too.
Drew, as well as his siblings and parents, remain in my prayers of thanksgiving. They remind me that we are not lost as long as we keep seeking God in all things, asking good questions, and looking for truth with the eyes of faith and love. “Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.” — Pope Francis, July 27, 2013 Youth Prayer Vigil at Rio. Keep asking good questions, Drew. It’s one of the best ways to stay immersed in the reality of life.

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

Turning the tide on apathy

Kneading faith

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

By Fran Lavelle
If you are like me, you are not only fatigued by the endless cycle of retail-driven holiday hysteria (yes, I said it, it is unnatural to see Easter bunnies before Epiphany) but I am also fatigued by the endless political news cycle that slings and flings divisive prose faster than a moth to a light bulb at night. I must admit I have not always felt this way about politics. It’s time for confession, well not exactly confession rather an exercise in transparency.
My first love was politics. From an early age I showed great interest in politics and the political process. When it came time to declare a major in college I had several fields that interested me, but I chose political science because, well, it was my first love after all. My political career was off to a great start. By the age of 26 I was working in Washington D.C. as a lobbyist for the American Association of Port Authorities and handled issues of international transportation and trade. Going to Capitol Hill to sit in on hearings, contributing testimony that resides at the Library of Congress, and watching our democracy live up to the ideals of our founding fathers was a wonderful experience.
In 1993, my Dad had a fatal heart attack and in the months and few years after that defining event I started searching for greater meaning in my life. In 1996, I launched my official entrance into ministry, leaving behind the force that had driven my life up until that time.
I have kept a reasonable interest in politics over the years, as all citizens should. I recognize that my passion for democratic governance – not necessarily partisan politics – will be something that I will always value. I credit my years in Washington for helping form the passion that I now have for ministry. But let’s face it folks, the political landscape as we now know it is less than ideal and even less effective. If you find yourself wanting to shy away from anything that looks like the political process, I completely understand. There’s an old saying that laws are like sausages, it is better not to see either of them being made. Regrettably, turning away from the problem does not make it go away.
Apathy is a lot like a cozy comforter. When enough of us get wrapped up in it, we normalize it. As Catholics we cannot allow apathy to get in the way of effectively living out our faith and proclaiming the gospel values set forth by Jesus. These are not liberal values or conservative values; they are rooted in our faith of both the Old and New Testament and have been affirmed and promoted for centuries.
As Catholics we are called to advocate for the seven principals of Catholic Social Teaching. They are:
Life and dignity of the human person —”The good Samaritan recognized the dignity in the other and cared for his life.” Luke 10:25-37;
Call to family, community and participation — “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12-17;
Rights and responsibilities –“Just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” Matthew 25: 31-46;
Option for the poor and vulnerable — “True worship is to work for justice and care for the poor and oppressed.” Isaiah 58:5-7;
Dignity of work and the rights of workers — “All workers should be paid a just and living wage” Matthew 20:1-16;
Solidarity — “Above all, clothe yourself with love and let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Colossians 3:9-17;
Care for God’s creation — “God made the heavens and the earth, and it was good.” Genesis 1:1-31.
It is easy to say that our voice does not matter. It is easy to think that we alone cannot make a difference. It is not just about writing letters or visiting our representatives in local, state or national offices. There are many ways to convey Catholic social teaching in our public discourse (including social media), by our actions and how we pass those values along to the next generation. One way to exercise our concern for the people of Mississippi is joining Catholics from around the state for the Catholic Day at the Capitol on January 17th. This year our focus is on the tragic and unnecessary mental health crisis in Mississippi and the urgent need to enact legislation that will bring about needed change. Please consider registering for this important event. For more info or to register contact: Sue Allen, coordinator of social justice ministry, Catholic Charities Jackson or email 601-383-3849.

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

Ordinary time offers opportunity in present tense

Kneading Faith

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

By Fran Lavelle
One of the things that living in the country teaches you to appreciate is daylight. In the summer months long days are a farmer’s greatest asset. My dad used to say, “You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.” This adage reflects the reality that there is an appropriate time to do everything. It is excellent advice for all of us. It reminds me of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “there is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens“.
I’m not sure if it is all environmental, but this time of year, as daylight hours are shorter, I find myself thinking about time. What a beautiful season of harvest, honoring the saints, remembering those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, and giving thanks for our many blessings. The evenings, once filled with a cacophony of sounds coming from insects, frogs, birds and coyotes have been nearly silenced. If one is lucky they can hear the fading sound of crickets.
Crisp fall air, the harvest moon, the smell of burning wood from home chimneys are all welcome reminders that the long hazy hot days of summer have passed. The call to come inside is not just literal. With shorter days and the time change it is as if God is calling us inside to do the interior work faith requires. Unfortunately, in our culture today we are addicted to busyness. We forget the latter part of that agrarian wisdom, “while the sun shines.” We don’t know how to embrace the darkness, the solitude, the quieted moments of life.
In my pursuit to appreciate “time” in a more significant way I found myself inspecting the events of my life. To my surprise, it was not the big events that I ended up focusing on. Rather, I was looking at the nooks and crannies where ordinary life is lived. I told a friend the other day that I wanted to put more living in my life. I was not exactly sure what I meant by this. After some thought, I realized that it is not that I want a more exciting life, a life of glamor or exotic travel. It occurred to me that I want to be more present to the ordinary. This became clear to me one particularly beautiful fall Saturday a few weeks ago I when was mowing the yard. I felt the warm sun on my skin, a gentle breeze was adrift, the smell of fresh cut grass filled the air and I felt so grateful and so alive. My thoughts were uplifted, my heart was full and I found peace in that moment. How could this ordinary event be the source of so much peace? How could I replicate experiences like this more often?
Every day we experience the ordinary. As a matter of fact, I am fixing dinner and have a load of laundry in the washer as I write this. And, no, I’m not floating on a cloud of fresh linens, rosemary or pumpkin spice anything. But it takes work to see gifts in the ordinary. After all, there is a season for everything. My “making hay” tonight looks a lot more like more like fish sandwiches and clean socks but in being present to the task at hand I am anchored in the now. Perhaps that’s the real lesson in this rumination. Perhaps the real challenge is to find ways to be more present, more intentional to the now, not worrying what is to come or what has passed. I recall sharing with a friend a long litany of what was going on in my life. I was focused on who and what needed my attention in the future. He looked at me and said, “I’m here right now.” He was right. I was so focused on what was to come that I did not see what was right before me.
The Church in her wisdom gives us different the seasons of the liturgical year. We follow the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in these seasons. Beautifully mixed between these memorable events of the life of Christ is Ordinary time. The weeks of Ordinary time are nearly over for yet another liturgical year. Our challenge is to recognize that every season, be it in the Church, nature, or our own life that we are not stringing along disjointed segments of living. If we are mindful and living in the present we find the depth and riches in all of it. The long days of summer and quieted days of winter, the abundance of life in the spring, and the bountiful harvest in the fall. Yes, even making fish sandwiches and doing a load of laundry. “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste…” Bonnie Raitt

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

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
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

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, 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 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, 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 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