The Office of Parish Faith Formation works to ensure that every person in every parish has a loving relationship with God and a strong connection with the faith community.
Diocese of Orange Director of Parish Faith Formation Katie Dawson says that Catholics traditionally view faith formation as a silo in which children receive preparation for the sacraments.
Yet, “Church documents say that parish life itself is formational,” Dawson notes. “What we try to build in each parish is an environment that fosters closeness to Jesus and a strong faith that accompanies families in all stages. Our goal is to have the entire parish focused together on this journey of life.”
God wants us to live eternally happy with him, Dawson says. “I do this work because I believe it is essential to human happiness. Heaven begins now if we are in relationship with Him.
“I help others with that realization because it changes everything. Without God in our lives the world becomes a very confusing place.”
Each parish’s director of faith formation is joined by volunteer catechists who serve children, teens, and adults. Formal policies and recommended curriculum come from the diocese, and a parish faith formation handbook provides further guidance. There are bimonthly meetings in each deanery where directors share experiences and best practices and solve problems together.
In addition, the diocese offers periodic enrichment experiences, including retreats and training. At their recent annual meeting, parish faith formation teams listened as national speakers discussed new models of catechesis, how the legacy of faith can be delivered in new ways, and the best practices of catechetical leaders.
Besides formal education, Dawson says, “we often see that formation experience happening in other settings – in St. Vincent de Paul feeding-the-homeless programs, small prayer groups, and in every setting of the parish.”
Parish faith formation is integral because, as Pope Paul VI said, the Church exists to evangelize. “The fundamental mission of a parish is to raise up the next generation,” she explains. “Every single person must travel the faith journey. Each one of us must grow in faith and in conversation with God that nurtures and sustains us through the challenges of life.”
Examples of meaningful faith formation programs include:
• St. Vincent de Paul Church in Huntington Beach’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program, which has taken place for 10 years. “This program is internationally and nationally recognized. It goes very deep and provides children with a contemplative relationship with Christ. Children understand what it means to be in relationship with the Good Shepherd and live out their faith.”
• St. Justin Martyr Church in Anaheim, where parents and children each attend their own faith formation programs. “This is feeding a need in the parents’ lives,” Dawson says.
• St. Joseph Church in Placentia is in its second year of providing children with sacramental preparation on Sundays while their parents attend Mass. “The observations of catechetical leaders are that parents often drop their children off for faith formation and then drive away,” Dawson says. At St. Joseph, children receive beautiful Bibles at the beginning of the year and participate with their families in activities around the Bible. “There is very little drop-off,” she notes. “Parents have continued to attend Mass during the summer.”