Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Advice for a New DRE {Tips & Resources}

Diving into the world of parish ministry is certainly exciting, but is also overwhelming.  Turn over for catechetical leaders is incredibly high, and while we could cite several causes (time, expectations, pay, etc.) I think that some of the most common reasons that people leave ministry have more to do with support- from parish leadership, from volunteers, and from parents. I get lots of questions and requests for advice on how to get started as a new DRE, and I try to do my best to answer, but the truth is that my experience is unique and each parish and diocese is different.  I went to my followers on Instagram and asked what advice they would share.  Below I've compiled a few of my thoughts and lists of ideas from the hundreds of people who helped on Instagram.  I hope that some of these ideas are helpful for a new parish worker, but I also think that there are some great suggestions for catechists, youth ministers, and school teachers, as well as resources that would work for parents in their own homes.

Three notes:
-This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. That means that if you click through and purchase something, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
-By supplying a link or a recommendation, that doesn't necessarily mean that I have used that resource or endorse every aspect of the website/program.  I did my best to sort through the responses and give you quality recommendations, but please use your best discernment especially for your own program and students.
-If you have any feedback or ideas that we missed, please comment or email me! I'll happily edit and add to this list as I hear of more resources.

Advice for Recruiting and Training Volunteers
This is a job that is literally impossible to do alone.  Recruiting solid volunteers who love and live their faith and work well with kids can be one of the biggest challenges, especially when you are new to a parish. Make sure you talk to your pastor about volunteers, both for his advice as well as his insights. Build up relationships and start with talking to people you trust, either to help or to give you others to ask.  Make sure you are familiar with your diocesan procedure and policies about volunteer training and background checks, asking for help when you need it.

Some resources for personal formation:
National Directory for Catechesis
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Echoing the Mystery
Christ in the Classroom

  • Personal invitation/personal relationship
  • Reach out to Deacons to help with training
  • Parents of kids in the program
  • Past youth who were active
  • Find the person's passions and place where they will shine
  • Development of substitutes and assistant catechists- often will become lead catechists
  • Diocesan training and retreats
  • Remember it's ok to be picky
  • Priest invitations
  • Send letters home
  • Have a ministry fair
  • General announcements rarely work
  • Thank them often
  • Don't be afraid to delegate and share responsibility
  • Ask people to pray about it
  • Get recommendations from pastor, current volunteers, and parents
  • Give specific jobs- feel responsible and will follow through
  • Pray for them specifically- God is faithful and He answers

Ideas for Organization, Schedules, Communication, etc.
There is often a lot of freedom in planning a parish religious ed program, as in you get to start from scratch, but that can also be difficult as you work withing a busy parish schedule and also try to account for area school and extracurricular calendars. Communication is key, and getting out info to families in multiple formats is a big part of a a DRE's week-to-week responsibilities.  As I set the calendar for our year, I always start with the Liturgical Calendar and plan the general outline for classes, Bible studies, and youth group.  Then I add in extra events like family nights, Children's Masses, open houses, etc. For communication, good old email and text remains our most solid way of reaching everyone, but we've also used Remind, Flocknote, fliers, the parish bulletin, and CCD Newsletters.
Here are some other suggestions:

  • Use a planner (Long term planners)
  • Plan by Liturgical Year
  • Flocknote
  • Unison
  • Remind
  • Google Suite Tools
  • Social Media
  • Make lists of specific tasks in your planner, even things like reminders to send emails, etc.
  • Add things to lists in your planner and clean out your inbox every few days
  • Don't forget to communicate successes to catechists, pastor, boss, bulletin, etc.
  • Take home folders for kids to take back and forth between church and home
  • Coordinate and plan long term dates with pastor, other staff, and volunteers
  • Find multiple ways to communicate and over communicate
  • Check all school sports/event calendars before planning big events

Encouraging Parent Involvement
Parent involvement is critical, as the Church teaches that they are the primary and most important teachers of their children.  I have a whole post with ideas about the why and how of involving parents here. Here are some ideas that others shared:

  • Consistent communication- figure out what works best (text vs email, etc.)
  • Family nights (back to RE blessing & ice cream)
  • Encourage parent help (use
  • Family Faith Formation Program
  • Help from other parish leadership positions
  • Find what is important to parents and give them those opportunities with their children
  • Use fellow parents to recruit/remind
  • Ask for them to pray in specific ways
  • Get to know the parents, then invite them to be more involved specifically. The better you know them, the easier it is.
  • Send home activities with the kids to do as a family & bring back to share
  • Include in notes to parents what is being studied in class so the discussion can continue at home
  • Get the parish (non parents) involved in supporting families
  • Have mandatory monthly family meetings
  • Show charity and be welcoming, not accusatory
  • Invite them to spend time in the classrooms
  • Schedule adult classes during the same times as the children's classes

Challenges (& How to Overcome Them)
You're not alone.  There are others who have walked before you and can walk with you in this ministry. My biggest advice is to establish relationships with other DREs or parish workers both for help and for camaraderie.  I also highly recommend developing trust and open communication with both your pastor and the diocesan education staff, which will be indispensable when you are facing hurdles big and small. These are some of the challenges (and solutions) shared by other DREs:
  • Organization (Keep it simple and Liturgical)
  • Difficult kids
  • Getting families to go to Mass
  • Administration (Ask people for help simplifying)
  • Communication (Use technology to communicate with catechists and parents)
  • Teen engagement (Seek experienced teachers)
  • Low numbers (Doesn't equate a bad program.  Seek quality over quantity. Remember leading one soul closer to Christ matters.)
  • Complaints (Involve pastor in decisions so you have a united front)
  • First 18 months are the hardest
  • Burnout (Seek the help and advice or fellow DREs and YMs for questions and issues)
  • Push back from older parishioners and parents (Cultivate respect for leadership)
  • Youth are so poorly catechized at home (Pray the Holy Spirit illuminates your short time in class)
  • Working on weekends- Sunday school, special Masses, retreats
  • Over working (Keep track of your hours even if you are salaried)
  • Temptation to administer instead of ministering
  • Holding on to joy of serving the Lord (Take time off to avoid burnout)
  • Needing a break (Find friends you don't have to talk about ministry with)
  • You can't solve everything (Prayer & lots of time with God)
  • God already saved the world- we don't have to ;)

Favorite Curriculum Series/Texts
Sometimes you have control over curriculum, sometimes it is set by the diocese or parish (or is just established because starting over with a new series can be a serious investment.  I've always advocated first knowing your diocesan religious education standards (here are ours for example), and then teaching from a series as a resource.  The book shouldn't determine everything happening in a classroom, but most catechists are not teachers by trade, so they need a starting point.  Then support them with supplemental resources and activities, especially for the Liturgical year, Saints, and Sacrament prep. Provide a wide variety of Catholic books to be read and used in the classrooms. Make sure to check the USCCB Conformity Listing of Catechetical Texts and Series or if a bishop has granted a nihil obstat or imprimatur to any resource you use. Your diocese might also have an approved or recommended list of curriculum or series.

Favorite Catholic Websites and Resources

Sacrament Prep

Resources for Kids with Special Needs

Podcasts & Audio Resources

Other Advice

  • Pray
  • Connect with area DREs for support
  • Ask catechists about what works and doesn't work for them
  • Be careful with videos- if dated, message can be lost
  • Treat your volunteers like family- you're a team
  • Keep in mind that the parents might have a difficult relationship with the Church
  • Make sure you don't make parents feel ignorant- lack of catechesis often isn't their fault
  • Use Google Drive to share resources
  • Allow kids to write down anonymous questions
  • Have a team of 4-6 parents that are your go-to for helping with events
  • Focus on building a small team, then grow
  • The Bosco Conference at Franciscan helps you network and grow
  • Support your volunteers so you don't lose them

Be assured of my prayers for all of you and the students you will minister to this coming year.  Feel free to comment below or send me an email with some of your favorite resources that didn't make this list! And thanks to everyone who contributed your wisdom to bring this post together!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Teaching About the Parables

“Through His parables He invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but He also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough, deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use has he made of the talents he has received? Jesus and the presence of the kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables.”  -CCC 546

Resources for teaching the Parables are one of the of the most requested new topics for the blog, and so today I have some great new printables for you! While we can often find cute crafts about the lost sheep or the lost coin, it is harder find ideas for teaching the rich meaning and symbolism with older kids. 

First up, here's a mini poster (available in 8.5x11 or 11x17) with the Parables and Scriptural references.  (I think I got them all- names of the Parables vary from translation to translation, and how they are counted- in groups or as separate stories- varies as well.) But this would make a great resource to get kids thinking about and reading all the Parables Jesus used to teach about the Kingdom.

I've designed a study sheet that can work for any of the parables found in the Gospels.  It has the same graphic as the poster with the "list" and Scripture references.  It is then intended to be used with just one of the Parables.  The student writes the name of the Parable, its location in the Bible, lists and describes the symbols found in the Parable, writes about what Jesus was teaching, and reflects on how it connects to real life.  There is also room on the back for them to apply their understanding of the Parable with an illustration, poem, story, etc. Lots of means of application, hopefully deepening their understanding of Jesus' rich teaching.

You could use this with your own kiddo as a Bible Study at home, choosing one Parable at a time. Or it could be used in a classroom with any Parable you choose.  Or it could be used with a group of students, each of them studying a different Parable but completing the same task and then sharing with the whole class, which can lead to some great comparisons.  This is my favorite style of handout, two sided and intended to be folded as a booklet, because it is perfect for the students to then tuck in the cover of their Bibles to maybe return to another time.

Click here for the Parables Study handout:

Click here for the Parables Mini Poster in 8.5x11 (or here for 11x17)

And a couple of years ago I helped with an adult Bible Study that focused on the Parables.  The pastor would give a short reflection on the Parable of the night, and then we would read and discuss using Lectio Divina and these guides.  They are all formatted in a similar way, but with unique questions and quotes from Saints/popes/Church documents to add to the discussion.  Although these were created for an adult study, I certainly think they could be used/adapted for middle or high schoolers! Click on the images for the whole folder or the links below for the individual handouts.

Good Samaritan
Judge & Widow
Lost Sheep
Pearl of Great Price/Treasure in Field
Prodigal Son
Rich Man & Lazarus/Persistent Friends
Ten Wise Virgins
Good Shepherd
Mustard Seed/Leaven
Sower & Seed
Weeds & Wheat
Workers in Vineyard

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Sheen Corner- Resources for Teaching about Soon-to-Be Blessed Fulton Sheen

Things for my friend Fulton Sheen sure have been exciting this summer! In June, a final court ruling confirmed his niece's request to move his mortal remains to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, IL.  You can read the press release here. Then last Thursday, Sheen was quietly moved from New York to Peoria and interred in the Cathedral, and we heard that the Cause for his Beatification was reopened (Press release here). Today it was announced that Pope Francis declared that the healing of the son of my friends Travis and Bonnie Engstrom was indeed a miracle, clearing the last step for his Beatification. (Press release here). You can follow along with the updates and the details for the Beatification at the new website

I was able to visit and pray at his new tomb, guarded by the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (he arrived on her Feast Day!), on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.  How very fitting that Archbishop Sheen, after spending his life loving and serving our Lord and His Mother. would come home to Peoria on the weekend of the Solemnities of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts.

If you are new to my blog or just visiting because you love Sheen, I wanted to make sure you know about all the free resources I have for teaching about Sheen's life and the things that mattered the most to him. Check out the tab above labeled Teaching with Fulton Sheen for dozens of posts on how I've taught about Fulton Sheen in my classroom over the past seven years.

The ideas are synthesized in this 150 page curriculum which includes the printables as well photos, instructions, and ways to apply the topics.  I've taught these projects primarily in my 5th-8th grade classroom, but also have used the ideas for multi-age activities, CCD classrooms of elementary kids, high school youth groups, and adult Bible Studies.  The concepts Sheen taught, like prayer, Marian devotion, mission, use of media, and the call to holiness, are universal for any age.  The curriculum also includes biographical info and projects on the path to canonization.  There is a lot packed in, and I'll be working on a 3rd edition leading up to the Beatification so that everything will be up to date!

Bonnie Engstrom's book on the story of her son James Fulton and his miraculous birth is up for preorder and will be released in September! You can read all the details of their family's faith in Jesus and their devotion to Fulton Sheen.  I had the privilege of  creating her preorder bonuses, including this printable above, so if you preorder make sure to fill out this form so we can send them your way!

And finally, I'm excited to share that I'm helping with a special feature in The Catholic Post, the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.  In each edition's "The Sheen Corner," I'll be sharing a key aspect of Fulton Sheen's life and teaching, as well as how to learn from his example personally and in family life.  Even if you are not a subscriber, you can read the e-edition or posted articles, including the first article here. And if you're on social media, make sure you post your Fulton Sheen book collection with the #SheenStack - I'd love to see what you're reading! 

May the inspiration and prayers of Fulton J. Sheen continue to lead all closer and closer to Christ and His Church. Fulton Sheen, pray for us!