Parish groupings focus on faith formation

Monday, January 14, 2019 - Updated: 1:52 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

On a recent wintery day, faith formation leaders from five parishes gathered in a converted classroom to seize what the ancient Greeks called kairos: “a proper or opportune time for crucial action.”

The partnership taking shape inside the former St. Irenaeus School building in Oakmont soon will become more common across the diocese as laity and clergy share ideas and resources to help parishioners grow in knowledge and love of God.

All agreed it will take time and effort to merge and enhance the religious education programs of St. Irenaeus, Our Lady of Joy, St. John the Baptist, St. Januarius and St. Joseph parishes in the Oakmont/Plum/Verona grouping. But indications are that they’re off to a good start.

“We’re getting to know one another,” said Michael Shipe, faith formation program manager at St. Irenaeus. “We have to be open to what’s working well in other parishes and be ready to collaborate.”

Led by administrator Father Kevin Poecking and senior parochial vicars Father George Dalton and Father David DeWitt, the five parishes are diverse in size and types of faith formation programs. Between them, they offer classroom catechesis, home schooling, online or cyber schooling, and family programs.

A faith formation “blueprint” developed as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! revitalization initiative will help to lay a strong foundation for growth, according to Father Dalton.

“The blueprint challenges us to approach faith formation in a more holistic way,” he said. “In the past we’ve focused on teaching about Christ and the church, not knowing him and being the church.

“Look at the Acts of the Apostles,” Father Dalton said. “When the apostles and disciples were discovering what it meant to be the church, they needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help them understand how to accept and carry out the mission Jesus entrusted to them. The Spirit guided them where they needed to be. Over time, their understanding grew.”

This particular day at St. Irenaeus Parish, Kristin Consuegra, coordinator of faith formation and youth ministry at Our Lady of Joy, led the group through a discussion about the challenges and opportunities before them. It was a robust and constructive conversation.

“Our approaches are different and we have various curriculums,” she said later in an interview. “But offering different kinds of formation is important.”

Consuegra pointed to the successful family program at Our Lady of Joy. FIRE Nights began in 2016 as a way to support entire families by strengthening their faith together. FIRE stands for Family Intergenerational Religious Education. Children, parents and even grandparents gather monthly for a Mass featuring contemporary music, dinner and breakout sessions for age-appropriate faith formation.

Other parishes in the grouping may try that method, or something new.

“I found a cyber program that can be used with family catechesis,” Shipe said. “The kids do the work at home beforehand, answer questions in the classroom and then go over discussion questions with their parents.”

“For several years now, all of our parishes have been praying to our Father of Mercy, ‘Help us to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus,’” Father Poecking said. “The success of our faith formation integration will be a result of this answered prayer.”

“We want to focus on discipleship and forming relationships with Christ and the church,” Father Dalton said. “We’re discerning what gifts we bring into the combined program. We all have something to learn from each other.”

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