Elizabeth Duffy “Kicking Catechesis Out of the Classroom”

From Elizabeth Duffy, a fine plan to get catechesis out of the classroom…

“If I were designing an ideal Catechetical program for families I’d start, not with classrooms and catechists– but rather, with a meal– Mass followed by a Parish-wide dinner occurring at least monthly (but each week would be better).

The meal is a primary school of our faith. Jesus taught at the dinner table–it’s where he gave us the Eucharist. A meal draws families into the social life of the Church in order to share responsibility for it’s planning and clean-up, and create a cultural tradition that is founded on common faith. We learn charity around the dinner table, patience, temperance, generosity, and affability. Introverts learn to stretch at the dinner table. Extroverts learn to withhold. Children get to bask in the attention of loving adults, and adults get camaraderie with other men and women of faith. Plus, if you feed them, they will come.

At the dinner, the priest or a catechist would address everyone on one simple but critical teaching of our faith and then tables could talk about that teaching and how it’s lived while they eat. Families that have a stronger foundation in the faith would help families with a more timorous grasp. They could take under their wing the “orphan” children whose parents cannot or don’t wish to attend.

Dinner would be followed by a guided meditation for the whole Parish in front of the Blessed Sacrament with a bit of silence for individual dialogue. Here, the community would be catechized in how to pray, and they would have time to build their own relationship with God that would take them through the next week.

For additional support I’d create small groups among the adults, separated by sex, and led by at least one knowledgeable catechist that would meet in homes for study and prayer. From these groups, individuals would delve deeper into the teachings of the Church, and meet service opportunities in the parish and the community–at crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, or for families in need within the Parish, etc.”

Fantastic. Anyone have experience with a parish-wide plan like this?


7 thoughts on “Elizabeth Duffy “Kicking Catechesis Out of the Classroom”

  1. When I was serving as the DRE at a large suburban parish, my predecessor implemented Generations of Faith by John Roberto, (You can read a summary of what Roberto refers to as Lifelong Faith Formation
    here. Bill Huebsch also writes along the same lines in Whole Community Catechesis.)

    I think it goes without saying that undertaking a program of this magnitude is SUPER labor-intensive, and unfortunately, while she (my predecessor) poured her heart into trying to make the program work, I believe only 20 families (out of 3600 registered families!) came on a regular basis, and eventually attendance fizzled out after two years of trying to make it work.

    While it’s tempting to hold up great ideas like Elizabeth Duffy’s as something to aim for with our existing catechetical programs (especially for those of us who have devoted our careers/lives to catechetical ministry and are passionate about such things!), I don’t know if it matches up with reality (i.e., I’m pretty sure programs like these will only exist in the beatific vision).

    I’m more inclined to favor positions like those held in Rebuilt, which point to a more systemic issue of consumer culture, where most parishioners view the services of the church as commodities to be consumed, and who are perfectly content with the existing system that says, if you, the parishioner, play by the rules (i.e., bring your children to religious education), then you will in turn have an all-access pass to the sacraments and the church building whenever you have future sacramental needs.

    By proposing the “ideal catechetical program for families,” I feel like there’s an implicit assumption that if the program is dynamic and engaging enough, then more people will come (or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this).I feel like the more important question that needs to be raised is, Why aren’t families choosing to fully participate in catechizing their children in the first place? Is it a more deeper-seated issue than, ‘Our religious ed. programs aren’t good enough’?


  2. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. In all the talk about the parlous state of catechesis, I would rather read about how to improve the current system, than about some new system. Look at this: “SUPER labor-intensive…poured her heart into trying to make the program work…20 families out of 3600…attendance fizzled out after two years of trying to make it work.” To me this is a classic solution-by-management fiasco, leaving everyone worse off than if nothing had been tried. If a fragment of that effort and spirit had been expended on getting one intentional disciple (or the nearest thing to it) into each Rel Ed / Adult Ed classroom, and sticking with the system long enough to give the kids 12 years of live Catholic witness, we’d see a different church in less than a generation. Flush every management idea down the toilet, and focus on a cadre of individuals who can start making a difference now. If that’s a cadre of one, start with one.



    • Very much agree. I don’t think there is ever a one-size fits all solution in ministry. And, any plan/program/system/initiative/framework/structure (whatever one calls it…) that is helpful someplace, may not work in another place. I recently read this over at the Evangelical Catholic blog (a ministry that helps facilitate/empower small groups, among other things):

      “Programs, small groups or any other, do not make disciples. People make disciples. Even though small groups create a beautiful time and place to encounter the living and breathing God-Man, it is not the “program” that shares love of Jesus. For a group to work, Jesus must first abide in at least one member of that small group who will intentionally point the others back from the many distractions and intellectual tangents that arise to Him, the Alpha and Omega.” [http://theecatholic.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/small-groups-are-not-the-answer/]

      I think they’re spot on. Anything can work, if people are equipped and acting as disciple-makers to make other disciples. Now, having been a longtime volunteer leader in many parishes, I think the organizational aspect is cultivating the conditions where people can actually be disciple-makers….so that to be a disciple-maker isn’t having to buck some existing structure/program, but flourish within it. So, there is a place for organizational discussion. But, like he says “People make disciples”–and only disciples make other disciples…if there’s not that starting point then it’s hard to really expect the fruit many leaders seem to hope will come.


      • “cultivating the conditions where people can actually be disciple-makers….so that to be a disciple-maker isn’t having to buck some existing structure/program, but flourish within it”

        Yes. In both parishes I’ve belonged to in the last 25 years, we’ve had that. The pastors maintained a, a what, ambiance of faith? And they let people discover their gifts and use them. I have always taken that for granted, and am nonplussed when I hear others say their parish cultures aren’t supportive in the same way.

        Related to that, and it’s funny, you know how God does things. I never volunteered for anything. The pastor or a staffer would say, I want you to do thus and so. I’d say, oh I’m the wrong person, I’d be terrible. But they wouldn’t let up, and so I’d say yeah, ok, and feel sorry for myself. Then I’d try it, and not just like it, but be good at it. My point is that the parish cultures affected how I have turned out thus far as a Catholic. So you sure can’t underestimate the importance of the parish. Thank ya Jesus I’ve been in good ones.


        • I meant “volunteer” as in the not-employed-by-parish sense. Sometimes it’s a hand-raised, sometimes it’s an ask. 😉 Also, I’m slightly biased, but yeah…there are a lot of great parishes in the south. Being a part of the parish community at St. Patrick’s in Fayetteville (oldest Catholic church in NC) from 2005-2010 was a critical experience for me as a young adult trying to discover truth and what I actually believed.


  3. Family Formation developed by St. Paul parish in Ham Lake, MN (St Paul arch) does what Elizabeth Duffy proposes. It is a hybrid home/parish model which relies on parents as catechists of their children and pastor/parish staff as catechists of parents. Here is a link — http://www.familyformation.net/ Colleen, you are spot on. It is all about making disciples who make disciples. We cannot be busy maintaining the status quo or defending our programs and structures if they do not make disciples. All we do (Catholic schools; parish catechesis; RCIA; youth ministry; marriage prep, etc) should be held to the same standard: Are we making disciples?


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