Two years after , parents and students are pleased with the new method of religious education, though some are still struggling with the implementation.
In 2010, classes went from being offered on four different nights a week to one class a week on Sundays, incorporated into two Sunday Masses. The hour-long CCD classes are now held after the celebration of the Mass, which is geared toward the children and focuses on Biblical stories and characters.
According to Father George O’Neill, known to parishioners as Father Chip, the once a week CCD class was “pretty much the extent of the children’s religious education. The lion’s share attended Mass infrequently and therefore they were unfamiliar with the celebration of the Mass,” he said.
“Our intent is to make the children comfortable and familiar with the celebration of the Mass,” Father Chip explained. “Give the children the faith in a way that’s accessible to them,” with an emphasis on the chronology of the stories, to give the students a sense of context.
“They won’t continue coming to Mass [after Confirmation] if they don’t understand it,” he said.
“This is not a program that you just do until you graduate out of it,” said Andrea Woronick, the school Director of Faith Formation. “These changes were made in response to some issues that are facing religious education at a national level.”
The entire St. Joseph’s community, however, did not embrace the changes to the program, with over 200 students leaving since 2010. (Enrollment was up slightly in 2012, according to Woronick, at just over 400 students.)
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The father of one student currently enrolled, who asked not to be identified, said that while his son “loves the program,” they might not stick with it next year.
“We don’t get to sit together as a family” during Mass, he said, as the children sit together at the front of the hall, and while the substance of the sermon is “good for the children, I find it doesn’t feed me.”
“The new way is better” for the kids, he said, “It’s just not better for me” and his spiritual needs.
Giorgia Stabile said she and her son Richard, 9, thought about leaving when the new program was implemented but were “glad we stayed.”
“We weren’t sure it would work for us, but it does,” she said. “We’re happy with it, we love it here.”
Parent Dave Albanese agreed, though adjusting to the two time slots was difficult at first. Albanese would have to bring his younger son, Harrison, now 9, in the mornings, then return with David, now 12, later in the day for the evening Mass.
It took some time, but “we adjusted pretty well to it,” he said. “We’ve adjusted and it’s worked out pretty well.”
Albanese said he finds that the new format “forces us to come in, to come to church and be a part of the church.”
“The different schedules may be too much,” said a mother who asked to remain anonymous. Her youngest son will be entering the program next year just as the older transfers to the later Mass.
“The program itself is very good,” she said, “I like the way it incorporates the kids,” however she thought the move was a “step back for the church to be so strict and not accommodate different schedules,” something she had liked about the previous system.
Woronick said she understood parents’ concerns.
“I understand that Sunday’s just don’t work for some,” she said, however there are a number of other Catechism classes offered in the area. “As long as they go somewhere,” she said, noting that a number of parishioners have done that while still attending their regular Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s.
Veronica McAllister, of New Fairfield, transferred her two children — 6-year-old Faith and 8-year-old Ronan — to St. Joseph’s from the CCD class at their local church specifically for the new program.
“The program is great,” she said, especially due to the level of interaction with the priests. “When you have the priests involved with the program it really helps the kids to understand.”
Both Woronick and Father Chip said they were happy with the way the new program is progressing and there are no plans for any structural changes going into next year.
“We’ll be able to tell the true fruits when our present-day second graders are presented to the bishop for confirmation in eighth grade,” Father Chip said, “But we can see the benefits right now.”
“We work very hard for this program, we give a lot,” Woronick said, “But we get back so much more.”