Diocese introduces religious education guidelines, DRE certification


SUMMERVILLE — The Diocese of Charleston promulgated new guidelines for parish religious education efforts in two workshops in Summerville and Columbia last week. At the same time, the Office of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis introduced a first-ever credentialing program for parish catechetical leaders.

The Christian formation guidelines draw their authority from the Synod of Charleston and reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church for authenticity. They are driven by the demands of the 1998 “General Directory for Catechesis,” written by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy and published by the United States Catholic Conference. The GDC is the main operating instrument for Catholic education.

Directors of religious education (DREs) who attended the June 29 and 30 in-service days were enthusiastic about the new guidelines.

“These fill a need felt for some time,” said Patricia Millus, pastoral associate of St. James in Conway and a catechist for nearly 40 years. “They offer some clearly defined standards for catechists.”

Andrew Vitale, DRE of St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg, is the religious education co-coordinator for the Piedmont Deanery and a contributor to the new 220-page manual. He said that the guidelines will have an effect opposite to that of restricting a teacher’s flexibility in the catechism classroom.

“It was needed because there really wasn’t anything to build on before. Creativity was stifled. These guidelines open up a whole new door for catechists,” Vitale said.

Terry McGraw, DRE at St. Andrew in Bluffton, said that the ambitious scope of the new standards appeared overwhelming at first. Once Paul Schroeder of the diocese explained that no one could be expected to follow all the recommendations at one time, though, she was grateful to have a document that outlined universal methodology and content.

“It’s great,” McGraw said, “because it brings unity to the diocese.”

Schroeder said that the “Christian Formation Guidelines” are for parish programs only, not for Catholic schools (although both diocesan high schools will begin this year coordinating their catechesis with the guidelines), and are aptly named.

“These are guides, not curricula. They are process-driven, not informational-driven,” Schroeder said. “Our goal is to form a Christian disciple with a Catholic heritage.”

The guidelines are the next step up from the school and parish curricula for grades 1-6 (“This is Our Faith … This We Believe”) written in 1991 by Jim McCarty and weakly disseminated. They are holistic in their pedagogical approach and are based on a sixfold block of dimensions that the GDC says all effective formation programs should encompass: word, community, communal prayer, personal prayer, moral formation and missionary initiation.

They include curriculum outlines for each grade level as well as learning models, social justice components, catechist reflections, Bible literacy goals, prayers each grade should know, saints and heroes for each month and a section on the liturgical year. The document took nearly two years for a committee of eight to complete; it went through 14 drafts and was evaluated by 20 people in the diocese. It stresses much more than the concepts of the Catholic faith, however.

“How many of your students know their prayers but have no prayer life? How many adults in your parish have never had a Jesus experience? How many second-graders don’t go to church on Sunday? We need to evangelize our students even as we teach them,” Schroeder said. “An evangelizing spirit permeates these pages. The directory says that catechesis comes under the umbrella of evangelization and this diocese has made evangelization a priority.”

The diocesan DRE asked the parish leaders to instruct their catechists on the new guidelines. He called them diocesan policy.

He said also that the “Christian Formation Guidelines” are a living document (growing toward perfection), a tool, a resource, a model, a means to assess a parish catechetical program and an attempt to bridge the gap between catechesis and evangelization.

Schroeder also laid out the new certificate program for catechetical leaders in the parishes of the Diocese of Charleston. There are now four levels of recognized leadership at the parish stratum, ranging from the entry level facilitator of Catechesis to the top level of director of Catechesis (religious education). Each requires a certain educational background, some of which can be earned through the diocesan Institute for Parish Leadership Development.

An administrator of Catechesis, for instance, must have completed the Advanced Certificate Program of the Institute, a coordinator of Catechesis (religious education) must have done that plus have a bachelor’s degree and a DRE must have a master’s with at least 18 graduate hours in theology or religious studies. The diocese is accepting applications for certification now. The standards apply to volunteer and paid ministers alike.

“Anyone who is functioning in the role of catechetical leader will need to be certified,” Schroeder said.

Vitale of Spartanburg said that his hope was that the certification program would go a long way toward professionalizing the religious education ministry.

“It’s got to help. Ours will always be a ministry — we’ll never be offered $70,000 a year — but this will boost it up. And it will give us something to strive for, an opportunity to advance in the ministry,” Vitale said.