Parish catechetical leaders gathered at the Feb. 5 SUMMIT meeting in Hayward to discuss hot topics in their ministry. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

Writer’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on parish faith formation programs. The first covers the SUMMIT organization’s support of faith formation leaders in the diocese. The second will address challenges and opportunities for faith formation in smaller parishes.

How does someone working in faith formation ministry in the expansive Diocese of Superior stay connected with their colleagues and peers? In large part, through the SUperior Mutual Ministry Team, an organization for parish catechetical leaders.

For more than 30 years, SUMMIT has offered its members inspiration, support, formation and growth opportunities. Kay Berg, coordinator of religious education and youth minister for St. Mary’s in Tomahawk, serves as SUMMIT secretary. For her, the purpose of SUMMIT is “to be able to network with people who do what you do, and be supported by them and have an atmosphere of working together to make the entire diocese a better place.”

While technology and the internet allow these catechists to share ideas and communication long-distance, members gather three times annually for specific professional enrichment and mutual support, to celebrate the Eucharist together and share a time of fellowship.

Two of these gatherings feature a specific topic that is covered by a presenter in two sessions. For the second year in a row, the winter session was planned as an opportunity for discussions on hot topics. There were 18 present in Hayward at the Feb. 5 meeting, which was led by SUMMIT facilitator Kim Palmer, who coordinates all faith formation efforts for Immaculate Conception in New Richmond.

Peggy Schoenfuss and Chris Hurtubise, diocesan director and associate director of Catholic Formation, respectively, were present and offered updates on the diocese’s growing youth ministry.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, there will be five fall regional catechetical gatherings – adding one site more than last year – and five youth rallies across the diocese – in River Falls, Superior, Medford, Eagle River and Rice Lake.

Renowned discipleship speaker Ryan O’Hara will be present for the second annual three-day catechetical conference Aug. 19-21 in Rice Lake. And the Diocesan Fall Conference, themed on the Catechism in recognition of the 25th anniversary of its publication, will feature keynote addresses from Diocese of Green Bay Bishop David Ricken and Michelle Nilsson from Madison.

Acknowledging the challenge of working with youth if the faith is not being practiced at home, Berg set the stage for an exchange on how to engage the whole family as part of the catechetical process.

Ideas included offering simultaneous faith formation for parents and inviting parents to sit in on classes with their children. A children’s choir was also suggested as a way to encourage parents’ attendance at Mass, as well as giving parents personal faith experiences as chaperones for youth events.

Anna Richardson, Ashland, said including a family meal in conjunction with the Wednesday faith formation classes has been a successful tool for relationship ministry with parents at Our Lady of the Lake.

Other talking points included encouraging intergenerational connections and offering opportunities for youth to connect positively with non-family faith mentors from within the parish, and using technology resources as a means of communicating. All agreed on the importance of implementing media as teaching tools given the ever-increasing prominence of digital media in the lives of youth.

Making specific faith formation needs known through posted flyers, bulletin announcements and a giving tree were suggested. There was strong support for the idea of building relationships with priests and council members through catechetical leaders’ presence at their meetings and by extending invitations for them to observe classes and see firsthand this work with parish youth.

Adele Svetnicka, the director of faith formation for St. Peter the Fisherman in Eagle River, suggested a guided meditation that can engage the senses and “give an opportunity to experience Jesus in a different way.” Other ideas offered included asking a peer parent to share a sacramental testimony and having an RCIA candidate witness to students, especially those preparing for Confirmation.

Dynamic leadership was discussed from multiple angles – from the need for catechists to have a strong personal experience of spirituality to the challenge of dynamic non-Catholic youth programs that are attracting older students.

Teri Radcliffe, the religious education coordinator for St. Joseph’s in Hayward, recognized the struggle and shared that their pastor, Fr. Gerard Willger, “doesn’t mince words” in sharing the solid truth the youth want to hear. This has helped maintain attendance for their programs, making them “the place to be.”

The leadership youth can have among their peers was discussed as motivation for youth participation in diocesan events like youth rallies and Extreme Faith Camp. Peer-to-peer encouragement is especially effective and happens en masse and teen-to-teen, attendees agreed.

More than one of the adult coordinators present found it took years to grow and build trust within their parish communities.

It can be “hard to be patient” said Rose Klugow, faith formation coordinator for St. Joseph in Osceola. While this is her first year promoting Extreme Faith Camp, she has seven students planning to attend. Her biggest challenge is finding enough chaperones. It was suggested she make her need known to the Knights of Columbus and local young adults.

Richardson shared another fruitful undertaking in Ashland – a Christmas pageant dually organized with Baynet, the local Baptist youth group. Additionally, there are joint social events quarterly, which Richardson said “give a sense of unity without creating rifts,” given the difference in Christian teaching between the two churches.

Hurtubise interjected that ecumenical efforts can be beneficial from a Christian culture standpoint, but he encouraged maintaining a grounding in Catholic doctrine before branching out beyond joint social and service projects.

Safeguarding one’s own Sabbath was the primary concern addressed in the afternoon session – admitting the feeling of guilt that can be present when trying to maintain balance and boundaries in ministry work.