ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

Faith formation in the home and in the community: not an either/or scenario

Catechists do not teach a subject, Joe Paprocki says. “Catechists are facilitators of an encounter with Jesus … a living Person who is present with us through the Holy Spirit.”

“If we are to become a church on the move, we need to redesign our approach to faith formation so that it is not driven by doctrinal topics,” Paprocki writes in his book “A Church On the Move.”

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Paprocki argues that children’s faith formation (what we used to call “religious education”) should change so that it focuses more on what Catholics do than on what Catholics believe.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I spent 25 years or more in parish ministry focused heavily on the faith formation of children in traditional classroom settings, so I have a bias about these things.

Contrary to conventional wisdom these days, I believe the religious education young people received in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s was pretty good. And I am categorically opposed to the idea that we should shift responsibility for the faith formation of children and youth exclusively to the family.

If, as church documents say, catechesis is “an apprenticeship in the whole of Christian life,” there is a place for the faith children learn in the home and what they learn about the faith from the faith community.

What children and youth need most from us — their parents, grandparents, teachers and catechists — is to see us participating in the spiritual and sacramental life of the church, performing works of mercy and charity, advocating for social justice, struggling to apply Catholic social principles to family life, our work and our participation in political affairs, observing the world around us and the world depicted in media through the lens of Catholic moral and social values.

However, I agree with Paprocki that a curriculum based on doctrinal concepts may not serve us well.

Maybe we need a curriculum, whether for adults or children, which begins with the existential questions that challenge our faith — questions like: why are we here? where did we come from? where are we going? … why do accidents happen? … why do some people suffer and others don’t? …why do some people succeed and others don’t? … what is my responsibility to those who are struggling? to my enemies? to my competitors? … how do I live out my Christian values in a pluralistic society? …what is the difference between justice and mercy? … what does winning and losing look like in the context of Christian faith?

Like it or not, we are all home-schooling our children in the faith. I’m thinking many of us would welcome a little more help doing it well.

What do you think?

 Learn More

Find suggestions for how parents and grandparents can contribute to the faith formation of children at:

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how effective you think faith formation programs for children are? How would you have rated this five years ago?
  • What do you think children should be learning at home? What should they be learning in a parish school or faith formation program? What do you think is the big­gest challenge for parents and grandparents in fulfilling their responsibility for the faith formation of children and youth?
  • I think the big challenge to faith formation of children and youth is ….

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.