Conference stresses family-focused PRE

Nearly 50 priests, directors of parish religious education (PRE) and catechists from across the archdiocese, as well as Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, gathered March 10 to learn about a program that is enriching families while teaching children the faith.

The topic of the conference, held at the Pro Sanctity Center near Elkhorn, was "Family Formation," a religious education program that replaces classes at the parish with direct involvement of parents in the faith formation of their children.

"Ten parishes in the archdiocese are currently using the program," said Mary Feda, director of religious education at St. Gerald Parish in Ralston and co-organizer of the conference, "and quite a few more are considering it."

Archbishop George J. Lucas opened the conference, describing how the program fits well with the archdiocese’s pastoral vision of "one church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy," Feda said.

"That’s really what we’re doing with Family Formation," she said.

Melanie Mueller, director of youth formation at St. Patrick Parish in Fremont, which is in its fourth year with the program, was impressed with how it connects with the vision’s emphasis on "equipping disciples."

"We know that parents often feel unprepared to teach the faith to their children, so this program equips them with the tools and knowledge to confidently pass on the faith," she said.

Father Owen Korte, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish and president of Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School, both in Hartington, spoke of his experience implementing the program as pastor of St. Gerald. He also is considering bringing it to Holy Trinity, Feda said.

And, representatives of St. Paul Parish in Ham Lake, Minn., the parish that developed Family Formation nearly 30 years ago, shared their experiences with the program and the benefits they’ve seen in parishes using it.

"We’ve seen families embracing the Catholic faith and creating a Catholic culture in their homes," said Laurie Mueller, family formation associate at St. Paul. "Prayer and faith becomes a part of family life."

Jona Winkelman, St. Paul’s director of adult formation, said one of the most significant benefits is how the approach is reversing the trend of children leaving the faith after high school.

"Parents are building a relationship of faith with their children and teaching the faith by example, so we’re seeing the number of children who remain Catholic is growing significantly," she said.

At St. Gerald, the program also is contributing to parish unity, Feda said. "It’s neat to see parents who have children at six different public schools and may not know each other coming together, sharing ideas and creating community."

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