Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo Illustration By Michael Alexander
Marion and Pat Metz, center, of Mary Our Queen Church, Norcross, and eight of their 11 children show how religious education and growth in our faith is a life-long process. Whether it’s emulating a saint, reading from a number of different resources or simply believing, (l-r) Teresa, 8, Mark, 10, Mary Margaret, 14, Gregory, 16, John Paul, 18, Regina 13, Joseph, 11, Christopher, 5, and their parents stand as a testament that it can be done.


Archdiocesan office facilitates forming the faithful

By SUZANNE HAUGH Special to the Bulletin | Published August 29, 2013

ATLANTA—There’s no question that Cathy Marbury and others of the Office of Formation and Discipleship receive a thorough workout helping pastors and catechists from 88 parishes and 11 missions across 69 counties that are home to an estimated 1 million Catholics.

Serving the diverse catechetical needs of these parish communities is akin to playing dodge ball, remarked Marbury with a chuckle, as requests from parishes “come at you so fast!”

But Marbury wouldn’t have it any other way. After OFD facilitated a gathering of 700 catechists, the staff will move on to preparing for the next training session or task.

“I like the fact that I can serve catechists,” she said. “Everyone believes in what they’re doing and does it with passion.”

One of these catechists is Elizabeth Piper from St. Jude Church in Sandy Springs. Piper has appreciated OFD’s support in rolling out a fairly new formation program to the archdiocese called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for children ages 3-12 that uses Montessori principles.

“The biggest thing (OFD) has done is to help people understand the program better and to help families know what is happening,” Piper said.

She added that, in general, OFD “supports catechists by giving us continuing education, which consequently brings things to the forefront that need to be addressed.”

The challenge of serving area parishes takes flexibility and creativity as the formation office strives to cater to the unique communities of each parish by providing training and resources and by hosting networking opportunities.

“Each parish within the archdiocese is demographically unique. … Parish catechetical leaders, together with the pastor, make decisions that best serve their community. A large part of what we do in OFD is to find things and pass them along,” Marbury said.

The team at OFD continues to gather and compile a list of resources online that are available to parishes that may be limited in staff.

“Parishes are usually understaffed so often (staff/volunteers) have to be a jack of all trades and multitask. We try to make it easier on them (by directing them to resources) and this trickles down to ease and support the catechists,” she said.

Resources can include current trends of incorporating digital media into religious education classrooms or, at the other end of the spectrum, facilitating training for programs such as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Photo By Michael Alexander

Photo By Michael Alexander

For children, in particular, “parishes are better at recognizing and serving a whole spectrum of kids.”

“The kids benefit,”Marbury said. “It’s not like a cookie-cutter approach.”

An overall programming trend is the ability catechetical leaders have to communicate with parents through digital media. Parishes are also using digital media to provide online support and training for catechists. This new avenue of outreach is of particular importance to rural parishes.

“For parishes in metro Atlanta it’s easier for them to understand who OFD is. It’s not always the case for rural parishes who figure that they’re on their own,” Marbury explained.

One of the exciting developments for OFD has been an orchestrated approach to serving rural parishes. This past spring OFD organized its first Rural Parish Catechetical Conference, making important connections with parishes. The gathering will be an annual event going forward.

“Those parishes are often staffed by volunteers, maybe a man or woman who has retired. They’re usually scraping something together. They have no budget. We make lots of calls and help a lot of people,” Marbury said.

Concentrated in a number of rural parishes is sometimes a significant Hispanic population, the fastest growing segment in the church. To answer this need, OFD developed the Certificate in Pastoral Theology program in Spanish, which has been well received.

OFD is able to intervene and help more isolated parishes by re-using book series and other resources when another parish changes materials. Parishes helping parishes is a trend seen throughout the archdiocese. “They’re working together more. They are collaborating and instead of constantly doing something over and over, they change and adapt to fit things to their own personality. It’s wonderful,” Marbury said.

Not only do parishes work together but also offering catechesis engages parishioners of all ages as Paula Thomas discovered. The director of religious education at St. Helena Mission in Clayton recalled preparing a parish-wide program at Christmas with the children in her classes just two months after she took the position. Early into rehearsals Thomas realized she would need too many props to pull off the production. The community responded by providing a crib, hay, angel wings, candles and costumes.

“All this time when I didn’t have something and told God I was canceling His birth at our church, He gave me what I needed and in abundance,” Thomas recalled. “I’ll never say ‘no’ to God or ‘I can’t’ again. It was a huge ‘aha moment’ when it was all over.”

Marbury welcomes calls from parents interested in enrolling their children in a catechetical program and would be happy to listen to parents and offer advice on placement. She’d also make time to talk to potential catechists to understand their interests. To those feeling this call to serve, she says “thank you.”