New religious curriculum calls for certification

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone has approved a new elementary religion curriculum and catechist certification program for the diocese.

The program will impact all catechists, youth ministers, school teachers and parents who homeschool their children, said Sister Pamela Smith, director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Parishes and Schools.

The biggest change in the schools is that all teachers are now required to be certified, even if they don’t teach religion.

Sister Pam said everyone in the school system should have a good background in the beliefs and tenets of the Catholic faith.

Some educators will already be qualified. For example, religion teachers at the high school level should be exempt, along with some religious education directors. Sister Pam said they will look at education backgrounds to make a determination.

“Certification is for people who are in the beginning or have been doing it for awhile but need more specific knowledge,” she said.

For parish catechists, the document on religious education changes states: “Because so much responsibility for clear and faithful imparting of the truths and practices of our faith is given to our catechists, their formation is a vitally important part of Catholic life. It is, in fact, an essential function of the church’s mission of evangelization.”

Sister Pam said everyone should have a thorough understanding of the four tenets and be aware of what each age group is expected to know. Those in the parish must also know how to teach adults.

Officials involved with the process said nobody needs to stress over it. Sister Pam said the changes are modest and will be implemented in a low-key way. She said they will take into account what schools are already doing and any classes people have already attended, within a certain time frame.

Sister Pam said they have made the process user-friendly and cost-effective. For schools, and churches,  this means nobody has to go out and buy new books or other supplies.

“People should be able to implement it by using any of the materials approved by the Catholic bishops,” she said.

What they want to emphasize is that the same materials should be taught to the same age groups across the board. This way, when children transfer from one school to another, or come to Catholic school from a homeschool environment, they will all have learned the same information.

Sister Pam said the curriculum guidelines go grade by grade and outline what should be discussed in terms of doctrinal content, prayers and sacraments, and activities.

The guidelines also provide instruction on how to meet different styles of learning.

Everyone involved with religious education, whether they are in the school or the parish, has three to five years to be certified.

Certification requires 30 hours of material in four categories: theology, sacred Scripture, catechist and ecclesial ministry, and methodology.

There are a number of ways to earn certification hours, Sister Pam said.

The “Echoes of Faith” DVD, which is available in English and Spanish, is a good tool that can be used locally with discussion guides. People can also attend deanery workshops, conferences and on-line classes as long as it is verified beforehand, she said.

She added that the diocese will provide plenty of opportunities at a low-cost by tapping local leaders instead of high-profile national speakers.   

Progress and completion will be monitored by the Office of Catechesis in conjunction with the Office of Youth Ministry and the Catholic Schools Office.

To read the elementary religion curriculum and the catechist certification document, visit and look under diocesan departments for the Office of Catechesis.

Certificates of attendance are also available on the website.