By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Parishes wanting to build strong Catholic families should send a team to the Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth initiative that kicks off Oct. 7-8 at St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville.
This initiative partners parishes and parents. Together they work to help families place faith at the center of family life, to assist and support parents in forming a strong Catholic family, and engage parents and families more deeply in parish life and mission. The Diocese of Davenport’s Office of Faith Formation, Multicultural Ministry Office and Superintendent’s Office are collaborating on the initiative.
Strong Catholic Families is not a program, but a process that requires a willingness to bring about change, says Don Boucher, director of the Office of Faith Formation. “It gives parishes the tools and a process to re-examine and change their relationships with parents, to move them from being recipients of services to partners and to really assist parents in their primary role as formers of faith for their families.”
St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville, which has more than 400 families (about 100 with children), is the first parish on board for the Strong Catholic Families initiative and serves as host for the two-day kickoff. Linda Moses, a national trainer for the initiative, will present two programs. The first one, Oct. 7 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., targets the parish’s parents as the primary audience, but the presentation also provides a preview for ministry leaders. The Oct. 8 program, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., targets parish/school leaders and identifies the new vision, models, roles and relationships required to strengthen the Catholic faith of the next generation. Boucher sees St. Anthony’s as the pacesetter.
“It’s an intense process, but it’s absolutely necessary,” says Father Jake Greiner, St. Anthony’s pastor. “We’re doing what Pope Francis is asking us to do. To engage our families, we need to meet them where they are at and minister to them…. I want families to come and participate in their Catholic faith and feel they have a home at St. Anthony’s.”
“The way we do things needs to change if we want our kids to have a vibrant, lifelong Catholic faith,” adds Laura Hollinrake, the parish’s faith formation director. “Many research studies have shown, and the church has long proclaimed, that parents are the first and primary educators of the faith for their children, but for decades now — through our Catholic schools and parish programs — we’ve given the message to parents that we can educate and form their children in faith better than they can. For the most part, all we’ve really expected of parents is to pay their fees, drop their kids off, and show up for meetings or help when requested. Instead of our Catholic schools and parish programs being a supplement and support to the faith development taking place in the home, they became primary. We really haven’t challenged and supported parents in taking their role seriously, and it is serious — our children’s faith lives and the future of the Church are at stake.”
Strong Catholic Families’ four-step process is designed to foster faith growth in families and the entire faith community. Parishes entering the Initiative do so for a three-year period, allowing for a sustained long-term effort to begin building a different relationship with their parents. The parishes won’t be doing this alone. A diocesan consultant from the Office of Faith Formation will assist each parish in assessing its readiness to begin building strong Catholic families, in naming the implications this will have on current programs and structures, and assisting the parish in discovering the resources needed to respond to families’ specific needs. In addition, the parishes involved in the initiative will convene periodically throughout the three years to share their journey and resources with each other.
“I don’t think it’s about adding programs. If certain things have to be discontinued, fine. If we have to change Mass schedules, fine. If we need to revisit how we provide religious education, fine. It’s about having a dialogue,” Fr. Greiner said. If the number of funerals outnumbers the number of baptisms because of changing demographics, that’s one thing. “But if we’re not reaching out to families who should have their children baptized,” he added, that’s a problem. “I think Strong Catholic Families gives us the best opportunity to find out what the problems are and to address them in our parish and our community. As a parish, we’re not just concerned about ourselves, but also the community we live in.”
Strong Catholic Families is about “how to help parents ‘bring home the faith,’” Hollinrake said. “It’s about how we can help and support parents in integrating faith into every aspect of their family life. It’s about helping families learn to share their faith stories with each other, make faith-based decisions, pray together, serve together in the parish and the community and share the Good News with others.”
“I want to do this hard work so that the priest who comes after me can grow something, rather than agonize over the way things are,” Fr. Greiner said. “I hope that’s my legacy.”
Timeframe for program
The National Study on Youth and Religion conducted in 2003 provided the impetus for Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth. The national groups that collaborated to create the initiative are National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and National Catholic Education Association.
There are two timeframes for joining the Strong Catholic Families initiative in the Davenport Diocese. Before Oct. 1, request an initial meeting in your parish with a diocesan consultant. Attend the initiative kickoff on Oct. 7-8 at St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville. After Oct. 1, a team of people from your parish should attend the initiative kickoff in Knoxville and then request a meeting in your parish with a diocesan consultant.
Contact Don Boucher by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (563) 888-4243 for more information. To learn more about Strong Catholic Families, go to this link: http://www.strongcatholicfamilies.org/
A transliterated version of the Strong Catholic Families process is available to meet the unique family needs and cultural needs of Hispanic parents and the parishes in ministry to them. View the online link: http://www.strongcatholicfamilies.org/training/fortaleciendo.htm.