Speaker: Adolescent catechesis is essential to church growth


By Barb Arland-Fye

IOWA CITY — Adolescent catechesis is a hot topic in the Davenport Diocese and nationwide in an era when the second-largest religious grouping in the United States is said to be former Catholics.

Everyone is talking about adolescent catechesis and how to do it, speaker Ann Marie Eckert said at the diocese’s August Leadership Gathering on Aug. 6 at Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City. The daylong workshop drew catechists, faith formation directors and coordinators, youth ministers, pastors and other interested adults.

Eckert is coordinator for Youth Ministry Services with the Center for Ministry Development, whose mission is to “empower Catholic faith communities and their leaders for effective ministry with adolescents, young adults and families …”

The Iowa City presentation incorporated prayer, song, Scripture reading and reflection, lecturing and brainstorming to guide participants in their exploration of the big picture, promising practices in adolescent catechesis and helping youth learn and grow in faith.


Asked to identify ways in which young people encounter Christ today, participants said: service projects, nature, prayer, gatherings such as the National Catholic Youth Conference, family and peers.

What do you want for youth? Eckert asked. Catholic identity, a relationship with Christ, a desire to pass on the faith, recognition of the importance of the Eucharist, vocations, the participants responded.

One thing Eckert hopes for adolescents is that “they could have a faith life that serves as a compass for them, that grounds them” and that the parish will become “a place of anchoring for them.”

She painted an analogy of a young tree, held in place with supports to protect it from the strong winds.

Julie Agne, religious education director for St. Mary Parish in Solon, appreciates that imagery and visualizes the strong winds as today’s culture buffeting the supports that anchor the tree. The paradigm has changed; today’s youth don’t have the same faith supports in place that previous generations did, she added. 

Eckert said adolescent catechesis should be experience-rich, hands-on, make a connection between personal experiences and experiences of God and also be factual. Adolescents also need to see the members of their parish embracing and living their faith and they need spiritual experiences, such as retreats. If the church hopes to engage adolescents, it needs to do so in the four settings that matter: family, parish, community and peer groups, she added.

Therese Cummiskey, a youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Fairfield, found herself agreeing with suggestions Eckert offered about how the parish can make adolescent catechesis more meaningful and relevant to today’s youth.

Karen Crossland, also involved in faith formation at the Fairfield parish, said the workshop reminded catechists about “the importance of the youth in our parishes. We don’t always include them or use them as resources.” That’s why she’s excited about the Fairfield parish getting the youth involved in cantoring during Mass, for example. “They’re an untapped resource,” she said.

Molly O’Meara Schnell, a member of the Diocesan Board of Education, said the workshop made her realize that youth ministry is challenging. “I want to know what these folks face, what their goals and objectives are so I have a better understanding when I’m drafting policy,” she said.

“I left the workshop with a better perspective of the world that adolescents and young adults navigate in,” said IlaMae Hanisch, the diocese’s coordinator of ministry formation and adult/family formation.

“I was reminded of the importance of the entire faith community in their faith development. I appreciated the discussion regarding the multiple intelligences and varying learning methods,” she continued. “I appreciate the multi-faceted programming for youth which included catechesis, liturgy, experiential learning, service and  community.  A program that doesn’t have all of these offered is much weaker than it could be.”

“I believe that all of us grew in our understanding of a vision for adolescent catechesis,” said Mary Wieser, diocesan director of faith formation/education and superintendent of Catholic schools. “We were affirmed in our collective efforts. It was wonderful to have pastors, school people, DREs and youth ministers all working together for our youngsters. Ann Marie gave us  knowledge and the real world experiences.”

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