Exploring our faith has never been easier

Beth Gravert
St. Joseph Catholic School-DeWitt teacher Demi Franck helps seventh-grader Dylan Stewart with work on apostrophes in class. Franck took an online formation program through the University of Notre Dame thanks to the Diocese of Davenport’s Office of Faith Formation.

By Rosina Hendrickson
For The Catholic Messenger

Demi Franck, a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt, said she gained insight and a better understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings in an online formation program offered through the University of Notre Dame.

Franck, who teaches middle school reading and language arts, is among adults in the Diocese of Davenport who have benefited from the online formation classes of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute. She took the course, part of the Basic Formation process for the diocese, in conjunction with her teaching responsibilities.  Online learning has been discussed often in recent months, especially with respect to children and teens as schools transitioned learning in this time of COVID-19. The STEP courses through the McGrath Institute offer quality options for adults seeking to deepen their faith.

The McGrath Institute sponsors a series of courses for adult learners throughout the year. Courses in English are offered six times a year, while the Spanish courses run four times a year. These short, six-week courses require a computer/tablet and internet connection. Participants do not need a microphone or webcam. Courses offer the opportunity to read (or watch) and digest the content on one’s own, reflect on it in written form and participate in a “real-time” conversation with fellow classmates. A trained facilitator helps to guide the discussions and conversation.


Deb Molitor, the K-6 coordinator for faith formation at St. Mary Parish in Grinnell, is quickly settling into a routine as she participates in her first STEP course. She shares that she is learning with participants from all over the world and engages with them in a weekly chat and online discussions. She explains that the readings are “quite comprehensive and have provided great, doctrine-based information about the teachings of the church, but are not overwhelming.” 

The next series of courses begin Oct. 12. Topics range from an Introduction to Catholicism (which participants describe as thorough) to the Book of Revelation. Other courses include Catholic Social Teaching, Theology of the Body and exploration of ethical dilemmas. The complete course catalog covers more than 50 topics in the areas of Catholic doctrine, Christian life, church history, Scripture and liturgy. 

Linda Niedergeses, a parishioner of Ss. Mary & Mathias in Muscatine, recently completed a course entitled “Faith and Science: A Catholic Approach,” which she took for personal enrichment. She said that she “read about and discussed the history leading to the discord that exists today between science and Christian faith.”  Through the study it became apparent “how science in answering the ‘how’ questions and faith in answering the ‘why’ questions.” The two need to work together, she said.

The Diocese of Davenport’s Office of Faith Formation has partnered with the McGrath Institute to offer all parishioners the opportunity to take advantage of the STEP courses and resources. Individuals in the diocese who enroll in a STEP course through the McGrath Institute receive a 25% discount on tuition, which normally runs $99/course. The Office of Faith Formation has additional scholarship funds available for this year and will be able to cover 25% of the course costs for participants who inquire about the scholarship, bringing the cost of a course to $49.50.

Demi Franck said the STEP course she took led to her discovery of “great analogies and explanations that would be applicable in the middle school setting.” She believes that will transform how she shares the Catholic faith with her students.

To learn more about this formation opportunity, visit the diocesan website at http://www.davenportdiocese.org/ff-step, the McGrath Institute’s website at https://mcgrath.nd.edu/online-courses/ or contact Rosina Hendrickson in the Office of Faith Formation at (563) 888-4244 or hendrickson@davenportdiocese.org).

Upcoming courses

The next series of online formation classes for adults offered through the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute begin Oct. 12. The offerings:
American Catholicism Since Vatican II:  The Challenges of Change
Apocalypse Then — Apocalypse Now:  Reading the Book of Revelation
Catholic Faith and Tradition for School Teachers (Begins Oct. 5)
Catholic Social Teaching
Core Course:  Introduction to the Catholic Faith
History of Christianity:  The Early Middle Ages
Liturgical Theology
The Art of Catechesis
The Christian Conscience and Ethical Dilemmas:  Guidance from the Catholic Tradition
The Doctrine of Salvation in Jesus Christ
The Gospel of John:  The Book of Signs
Theology of the Body
The Six Tasks of Catechesis
The Theology of the Mass
Contact Rosina Hendrickson in the Office of Faith Formation at (563) 888-4244 or hendrickson@davenportdiocese.org) for more information.

(Rosina Hendrickson is the diocesan Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation Coordinator.)

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