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Parents Divided on Changes to St. Joe's Religious Ed

Parents are still adjusting to the new program, though all lauded the benefits to the children.

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.”

Michelle May 22, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Hmmmm....would I really want to touch this article with a ten foot pole? Perhaps. I certainly find it interesting after the history I have with St. Joseph's and how all that change to the Religious Ed went down. It was an eye opener for sure as to how the church has really become more like a corporation. It was an interesting show to watch as Father Chip so arrogantly argued back and forth with parents at that initial "change of program" meeting. I recall parents getting up, leaving and slamming the door. His rigid manner at this meeting set off fireworks! Life long parishoners were bullied out of the program with no choices. It was delivered in a, "It's my way or the highway" kind of tone.
Michelle May 22, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I recall a mother explaining that her child had court ordered visitations with its father in New Jersey on Sundays. She had asked what she was supposed to do because that meant her child couldn't go to CCD on Sunday?? His response, quite sharply was--then you are choosing that over God. What? She explained to Father Chip again, "It's COURT ordered". He showed no care what so ever. To be honest, that was it for me. I went back and forth with emails regarding this change to the program with Father Chip. Again showing his lack of regard to the community and his straight focus was about getting money in. The focus of this change is truly about the money. They can mask it with a song and dance about the kids. Yadda, yadda...yadda. But the truth was revealed that if you HAVE to go to church...chances are you will donate the Moolah$. Needless to say we left the church. It has all put a bad taste in my mouth.
Margaret Petta May 22, 2012 at 02:24 PM
To be honest when St Joe's started this program, I really didn't think this would work for my family. The truth of the matter is my children love this program! While discussing this article with a friend I pointed out that we all make priorities for our kids sports and seem to make that work, why not church? I am very greatly to both Fr Chip, Andrea and the entire staff for what they have done with the kids. I feel my children understand the mass better then both my husband & I and we attended catholic school. All three of my kids enjoy mass and my son is now looking foward to CCD in the fall, my oldest is and altar server and middle can not wait to follow in her sisters footprints. To this I thank the parish for a great program!
Jeff Albarn May 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I am sure that the people who belong to this parish community are giving, charitable, and kind-hearted - however - and this is just an old man's religious rant...but it's time to use common sense, and realize that it's all make believe nonsense that only serves to protect the tax-exempt status of organized religion, perpetuate child abuse, and push ugly discrimination based on made up grand tales. People are generally good on their own accord, and not b/c a book of allegories written many years ago tells them to act as such. If you are fortunate enough to have children, teach them well, love them, and encourage them to treat others with respect.
John Mainhart May 22, 2012 at 03:32 PM
The Mass and reception of Holy Communion is essential to living a Christlike life. So many children go through eight grades of catechism and, for whatever reason, stop going to Sunday Mass for some time. Any change that catholic leaders can initiate to help young people to understand the connection between Faith and the grace you receive at Mass to make you strong through receiving Communion is essential to help our young to be strong Christians when they reach adulthood. I've been to the 9:00 o'clock Mass and there is no question that these children know the many aspects of the Mass and what they mean much better through this program.

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