Diocese eyes adult education
Adult faith director says diocese aims programs at different age groups
Editor's note: Seventh in a series on the Bishop's Appeal.
By Joanne Flemming
Bishop's Appeal at a glance
The 2008 Bishop's Appeal campaign provides for 50 percent of the diocese's operating expenses. All gifts are tax-deductible and credit cards are accepted. Pledge gifts allow donors to spread contributions over a 10-month period.
Those who give $500 or more a year to the Bishop's Appeal become members of the Crozier Society. Donors participating in Advancing the Mission stewardship campaign retain membership. Josh Diedrich, director of the Bishop's Appeal, encourages donors to ask their employers if they provide a matching gift program.
For more information about the Bishop's Appeal, contact Diedrich, at (920) 272-8197 or 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8197; e-mail: [email protected] or go online to www.gbdioc.org.
GREEN BAY -- Once upon a time, a Catholic adult stopped growing in faith when he/she finished Catholic school or graduated from a high school religious education program.
Not so any more, said Julianne Donlon, who has been diocesan adult faith formation director since last October. She is part of the diocesan Education Department, which receives 19 percent of the yearly allocations from the Bishop's Appeal.
For the last few years, Donlon said, the diocese has had a more concerted effort to "develop systematic and comprehensive (adult) faith formation programs."
This takes a lot of planning since, in adult faith formation, the first question that comes up is "What is an adult?" It is quickly followed by: "What do adults want to learn about their faith?"
Donlon said that the beginning of the adult life cycle is fluid; it can start at 18 years old or 20 or 21, depending on the individual.
And, as we know, adults are not alike, but there are some age stages along that way - each with their own interests and needs, according to Donlon.
- Adults in their 20s and early 30s, are "solidifying their careers, achieving financial independence, finding and adjusting to life partners and are preoccupied with parenting. Active membership in a church is not given a high priority, "unless children are in school or religious education programs."
- Adults in their retirement years have three concerns: health, financial security and use of leisure time, Donlon said. They are also more interested in educational opportunities, either as teachers or learners, and in service. They are coping with end-of-life issues.
- There are also differences in how adults learn, Donlon added. What seems to work best are small faith-sharing groups as well as personal invitations and mentoring.
Because adult faith formation programs should cover "a multitude of adults," Donlon advises the directors whom she trains to begin their planning by researching the needs within their parishes.
"Once you assess the needs of the community, you can develop authentic programs," she said. "It's less about a specific class and more about a systematic and comprehensive approach."
Diversity in adult groups can vary regionally, as well, she added. In the Manitowoc area, for instance, classes on the "United States Catechism for Adults" have attracted older adults, while in Appleton, those attending have been mostly in their 30s.
The key is understanding the needs of the parish.
"Adult faith formation should be placed at the center of parish life," Donlon said. "Largely, for many years, it was relegated to the periphery. Adult catechesis should be wrapped around every parish ministry. We want adult faith formation to permeate every catechetical experience in the parish."
The U.S. Catholic bishops' document, "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us," released in 1999, inspired this move to bring adult faith formation into the center of parish life, Donlon said.
Nationally, parishes are working to achieve this goal, she said, but the Green Bay Diocese is "in some ways ahead of the curve. Green Bay has had such a strong tradition of visionary leadership. Our parish communities have really taken the bull by the horns and run with it. I think they have made such tremendous strides."
For example, in 1971, the diocesan education department started what became known internationally as "The Green Bay Plan," a curriculum guide for religious education.
Today, Donlon and the other education staff are on the road a lot, working with parishes and groups to develop and implement adult faith formation programs. Donlon challenges adult faith formation directors to look, not only at a variety of topics, but at a variety of ways - different times of nights, or weekends - to involve adult parishioners who might not otherwise consider attending classes.
Among the adult programs which the diocese and parishes have already offered are classes on the U.S. Catechism for Adults, Genesis to Jesus, and the Know Your Faith series.
Donlon worked with Elizabeth Ministries, Kaukauna, as they created Theology of the Body study groups, which meet on Sunday evenings and are attended mostly by people in their mid-20s.
The catechism classes have appealed to people in their mid-30s to retirement years and Donlon believes participants are "hungry for authentic knowledge. What does the church state about specific issues? They are looking for specific, targeted information - current trends in theology. I think they are hungry for connection with the spiritual life."
Donlon understands the challenges parishes face, since she had worked as an adult faith formation director as well as a director of religious education and a youth ministry director in Green Bay parishes. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, religious studies, and theology and education from Mater Dei College, Maynooth University and Dublin City University, all in Ireland.
Each month, she also compiles a monthly calendar of adult faith formation programs in parishes throughout the diocese and continues to look for new programming opportunities. Among the new programs in the works is a series on Catholic parenting and working with other departments to expand programming for the diocese's growing Hispanic and Hmong populations.