Catechists (religious education instructors) are essential ministers in sharing the word of God with Catholics of all ages. Today this takes place in parish catechetical programs, Catholic schools, the RCIA process and other adult faith formation programs.
The first official document promoting the importance of catechetical education was published by the Vatican in 1935. The document was called “On the Better Care and Promotion of Catechetical Education.” This document encouraged every country to recognize the importance of the ministry of teaching the faith and to recognize those who pass on the faith as catechists.
Since 1971, the U.S. bishops have provided materials for Catechetical Sunday (third Sunday of September). Catechetical Sunday offers the opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.
It is an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves to this mission as a community of faith. In many parishes, those whom the community has designated to serve as catechists will be called forth on Catechetical Sunday to be commissioned for their ministry.
In being commissioned, they are reminded that “The catechist is essentially a mediator. (S)he facilitates communication between the people and the mystery of God, between subjects amongst themselves, as well as with the community” (General Directory for Catechists, #156).
In 2012-13, parishes in the Green Bay Diocese reported 1,960 catechists, handing on the faith to over 13,500 children in parish kindergarten through eighth grade religious education programs.
The diocese supports catechists by offering certification standards and classes based on the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, encouraging them to be life-long learners themselves and assuring a high quality of instruction for the children in their care.
Certification classes, which are also open to anyone interested in learning more about their Catholic faith, are hosted by parishes and schools around the diocese throughout the year. More than 250 people took advantage of the classes offered by the Department of Education this past summer. The diocese also offers professional development programs for catechetical leaders to aid them in the encouragement and support of catechists.
Parish catechetical leaders in each of the five dioceses of Wisconsin have formed the Wisconsin Directors of Religious Education Federation (WDREF). WDREF holds biennial two-day conferences and retreats and has published catechetical materials, including “Best Practices for Catechesis on the Sacraments: Tried and True Ideas for Success” and “Employing Parish Catechetical Leaders: A Practical Handbook.”
The WDREF board of directors includes representatives from each diocese, including, from the Green Bay Diocese, Theresa Alberts, St. Anne Parish, Lena; Kathy Cornette, St. Louis Parish, Luxemburg; and Anne Stemper, Good Shepherd, Chilton.
Parishes, catechetical leaders and other interested individuals can learn more about Catechetical Sunday from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website.