NIAGARA — Throughout the school year, high school members of St. Anthony Parish have strengthened their faith through a new religious education program designed to work with their busy schedules.
St. Anthony religious education coordinator Dawn Johnson said the new structure not only meets the needs of the students but also the education requirements of the Green Bay Diocese.
“We have taken all of the things that are mandatory through the Green Bay Diocese and incorporated them into our religious education program,” Johnson said. “We even have things that go above the minimum.”
To graduate from the parish’s religious education program, students must accumulate 16 credits, each of which requires 15 hours of work or instruction. Seven of these credits are mandatory and must be earned by attending classes and a confirmation prep course.
Johnson said the classes are based on the six textbooks of the Midwest Theological Forum’s Didache Semester Course. The subjects include Faith and Revelation; The Blessed Trinity; The Mystery of Redemption; The Church; The Sacraments; and Our Moral Life in Christ.
“Each textbook is meant to take about 15 hours of instruction, so that is 15 hours per semester,” Johnson said. “That semester earns students one of their mandatory credits.”
The remaining nine credits are electives that allow students to fulfill them through a variety of means. Johnson said credits can be earned by attending weekday Mass, completing stewardship hours, going to adoration or participating in retreats. Even watching a faith-based film or reading a book can earn credits.
“We took what we were already doing and adjusted it, especially how we communicate it to the students,” Johnson said. “In the old program we were telling them, ‘You have to do this or that to graduate.’ Now we are giving them more flexibility in how they can earn their credits.”
Johnson said the idea for elective credits developed after a parent meeting a couple of years ago. She said parents were frustrated about how the program’s requirements were conflicting with students’ extracurricular activities.
“Wednesday Mass was mandatory in the old program and that was a huge issue,” Johnson said. “Students just couldn’t see how they could get there with athletic practices and things. I started thinking that there had to be a way to balance their school work, religious education and everything else.”
With the implementation of the elective credits, students are now able to work their way toward graduation by simply being active in the parish whenever they can.
Eleventh-grader Shannon Moreau, 17, who has earned all of her elective credits and will be confirmed in the fall, said she earned some of her credits by teaching first-grade religious education and serving on the parish council.
“I like to see the difference I make in trying to help out and making sure the kids in the parish will always get the education I was able to get,” Moreau said. “I also help out with different volunteer services.”
Other students, like 10th grader Ben Oratch, have fulfilled their credits by participating in Mass.
“I’ve been an altar server ever since my first Communion,” Oratch said. “I am now a master server. I will continue serving and will maybe do a little lectoring as I get closer to confirmation.”
Johnson said one unique aspect of the new program is that ninth through 11th graders all attend the mandatory classes at the same time, which has created learning experiences and also some challenges for the students.
“The older kids can kind of bring that experience and maturity to the classroom and that helps the younger ones see something different and maybe want to act more mature while in the classroom,” Johnson said.
By incorporating elective credits into the diocese’s basic requirements and approved curriculums, Johnson said their program is now going above and beyond Bishop David Ricken’s requirements for religious education.
“We are meeting the requirements of content, hours and with the confirmation prep course, even the bishop’s requirements for confirmation,” Johnson said.
As the school year comes to a close, Johnson is already looking ahead to the fall, which will see 27 students in the program.
Johnson said one change for next year includes eliminating a semester of classes for a chance to participate in meetings with the Neocatechumenal Way, a missionary group which was welcomed into the Green Bay Diocese by Bishop Ricken.
In the next couple of years, Johnson said, the parish is also looking at the possibility of having scholarships available to those who complete all of the requirements and graduate from the course.
“We would have a scholarship available to those students for maybe completing some sort of essay on their experience in the religious education program,” Johnson said. “That would really reward those who have met the requirements.”
Fr. Matt Settle said that one of the benefits of this program is that students are taking ownership of their faith development while supporting the parish.
“With the students becoming more active in the parish, they become participants of the mission of the parish,” Fr. Settle said.
“They are going to get out of it what they put into it,” Johnson said. “If they take the time and they choose electives that work with their own strengths and weaknesses, they are going to continue building their faith.”