Office of Catholic Formation Director Peggy Schoenfuss presents classroom management tips to catechists attending the regional workshop in Woodruff Sept. 11. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Catechetical Sunday is celebrated in parishes across the nation in mid-September. However, by then, the diocesan Office for Catholic Formation and parish catechetical leaders had already been hard at work for weeks behind the scenes.

Catechetical year kicks off

A conference was offered at the AmeriVu Inn in Rice Lake from Aug. 19-21 with keynote presenter Ryan O’Hara of St. Paul’s Outreach in West St. Paul. More than 40 men and women, both parish staff and volunteers, gathered to kick off the 2018-19 catechetical year. The main focus was O’Hara’s information, inspiration and resources for the basics of evangelization and the proclamation of the Gospel.

With a mix of teaching and engagement sessions, content centered on the concept and process of “kerygma,” which is defined by O’Hara as “the nugget form of the Good News – the kernelized, condensed, simplest form of evangelization.”

Introducing three proclamation tools — Scripture, illustrations and personal testimony — the speaker exemplified the need to have and know how to use the right tools. He said that even a good quality hammer will not work to put a screw in place just as a screwdriver will not effectively secure a nail.

O’Hara said his goal was “to give tools that can actually help get the job done, to initiate the transformation in a young person’s spiritual life so that they’re disposed and ready and eager – and even excited and enthused – about what it is we want to lead them into.”

This content was then presented at five regional workshops by the Office of Catholic Formation’s director, Peggy Schoenfuss, and assistant director, Chris Hurtubise. Events traveled in September to Ashland, Woodruff, Hudson, Cameron and Merrill; almost 200 catechists attended in total.

Hurtubise themed the workshops “From Disengaged to Discipleship” and said the focus on discipleship during the prior year had put the cart before the horse.

He said, “Discipleship is the lifelong process of coming to follow Christ – more and more intentionally, more and more intimately, more and more completely. But it starts with evangelization – hearing the Good News, being invited to follow Christ in some way and then choosing to do that.

“Listening to DREs, we realized we know how to disciple young people better, but how do we get them to the point where they would like to be discipled?” he added.

Hurtubise clarified that programming and catechizing are being done well, and an abundance of excellent resources are available. He quoted St. John Paul II’s document on catechesis, Catechesi Tradendae, saying that both young and old are showing up for catechesis, but without “any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ.”

Using St. Paul’s race analogy from 1 Corinthians 9, Hurtubise expounded, “We’re trying to teach kids how to run, particular form, encouraging them to keep running – but a lot of them haven’t started the race … a lot of kids are just milling around the starting point.

“They’re disengaged – and if we try and catechize them and give them instruction in the faith at that point, it’s not terribly productive.”

His proposal was “to be more intentional as a church about evangelizing, acknowledging the reality of where kids are and meeting them where they are … in the analogy of the race, we want to get the kids running.”

After presenting the current catechetical challenges, Hurtubise continued by sharing a vision of moving from maintenance to mission, of engaging youth and adults to the point where they are “on fire about wanting to be Catholic.”

With illustrations he showed the process where Christ starts on the outskirts of influence in a person’s life, through a conversion to Christianity as a part of life, to Jesus and the faith being the core of who a person is.

“It’s very important to say right from the outset that we can’t do those things. We can help facilitate, but those things happen through grace and prayer.”

Then talking about evangelistic moments or encounters – “hinge moments” – that can take place both in-house and offsite, Hurtubise said, “The content of faith is critically important, especially in an age as confused as ours is, but we can’t pass on the contents of the faith without first arousing the faith, opening the heart, converting and helping prepare for a total adherence to Jesus Christ.”

The three practical tools O’Hara suggested were presented with one addition, the sacraments.

Hurtubise also said it was critical to include proclamation of Scripture, invitation and response that should be integrated into each tool used.

“The goal is to be moving each and every one of our students, and really ourselves, towards a deeper and deeper commitment with Christ,” he concluded.

New initiatives implemented

The fall regional workshops were revived from past years adding locations to facilitate participation. Besides Hurtubise’s general presentation, training was offered for classroom management and small group dynamics.

Another resource to benefit the catechetical leaders themselves are cenacle groups. The previous year Hurtubise had put together one group as a trial run. The members of that cenacle group – no more than five person with like mindset and ministry – shared their experience at the August conference.

“These are my people,” said youth minister Kendra Mitchell of Immaculate Conception in New Richmond. The others affirmed how fruitful the group had been. With the goal of fostering mutual discipleship and personal and professional growth, the structure consists of a weekly hourlong meeting online that includes prayer, a content topic, goal setting and accountability. The members communicate more frequently via a group text and gathered in person twice a semester.

The academic year started off with a total of four active cenacle groups.

For the regional youth rallies, the diocese has teamed up with Partnership for Youth, delegating the organizational planning to them in order to free up local catechetical leaders to be present with their youth for the experience. The Twin Cities-based group is also behind the regional Steubenville summer conferences. More information about these “Ignite” rallies is available at

For the January 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., the diocese will organize their own group; in the past, attendees from the Superior diocese have joined with the Minneapolis/St. Paul group.

Participants will be encouraged to register by parish, so students don’t “just march,” but, along with mentors, learn to defend life in their home communities. It was noted that pro-life events and initiatives engage a different pool of youth than many of the other parish and diocesan events.

Hurtubise shared that the Extreme Faith Camp, held in June, has reached maximum capacity at both the east- and west-side locations, a challenge he is happy to deal with. Discernment is taking place regarding possible options and next steps.

The High School Discipleship Weekends are offered for those who will be Extreme Faith Camp leaders with two separate weekends for the west and east sides of the diocese. A development for these leadership retreats is the cooperation with the Missionaries of the Word, a new order for women religious from the Green Bay diocese.

The fruits of youths’ contact with seminarians and young priests has been noted, as well the lack of opportunities for contact with young women religious and the discerning. Hurtubise looks forward to this partnership and exposure for diocesan youth as another avenue for fostering vocations, as the weekend and weeklong spiritual encounters for youth have proven influential.

One other initiative that is expanding are the overnight retreat opportunities for men and women. The Office for Catholic Formation-sponsored men’s retreat last winter was a notable success. Hoping for 15 participants, Hurtubise was blown away when 36 men attended at Crosswoods Camp in Mason.

A one-night retreat is being added for women in early 2019. Targeting the ages of 25-55, the retreats seek to help retreatants encounter Christ and learn from each other about balancing faith, family and work.