Parishes Use New, Old Ways to Finish Religious Education During Pandemic
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
June 4, 2020
With different platforms and services such as Facebook, Google Meet, or Formed, religious education continued in parishes from Algonquin, to East Dubuque in the Rockford Diocese after the Illinois governor ordered people to stay at home as much as possible.
Programs like GATHER, a family training option which was usually offered Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings about every about every three weeks continued at St. Margaret Mary  Parish in Algonquin, according to Ellie Nelson, director of religious education
“When the order came to shelter-in-place we were preparing for our March 15 (to) 18 sessions,” Nelson said. “Our GATHER lead team immediately set up a weekly schedule of communication to our RE families via email.”
Every other week, the parish “sent the lesson per grade level via email, and on the opposite week we prepared a family prayer experience,” she said. 
The feedback in the parish indicated “they really liked the chance to get together and focus on how God is working in their families’ lives,” she added.
The coronavirus pandemic  forced St. Margaret Mary and many other diocesan parishes to try to reimagine their ministries “for our families in ways that are Spirit-led and fruitful, never to (add a) burden or complicate,” Nelson said. 
“We know whatever we do is keeping Christ alive and well in our families’ homes. Every day we learn how to minister in a digital conversation,” she added.
Moving out of the comfort zone
A large number of religious educators have been out of their comfort zone, but are still “grateful for technology like Google Meet that allows me to meet with the students and parents online” said Kelly Puls, coordinator of religious education at St. Mary Parish in East Dubuque. 
The parish has curriculums that give the students access to videos for online classes. 
For first Communion preparation the parish uses Signs of Grace. 
“Due to needing to move to online learning in March of 2020, we used Dynamic Catholic’s Blessed program which gave us videos for the students to watch from home on their own time. We then met for class on Google Meet and discussed the videos,” she added. “We also shared some fun at home, activities for families to do during Lent.”
For con-firmation preparation they used Chosen. “The online components of these programs made the transition to online classes smooth and efficient,” Puls said.
“We started the family catechesis program Family of Faith from Sophia Institute this school year for our (pre-kindergarten through first) grade and third to sixth graders,” she said.
Filling in with Facebook
On the east side of the diocese, Facebook has been the tool for Father Jesús Domínguez, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Elgin, and Sister Luz María Mondragón, HMRF. They are in charge of teaching the sacraments in the parish.
At confirmation classes, held  on Mondays from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., they have spoken “of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit; of the bishop and the meaning of his clothing, of the sacrament of confession,” along with other topics said Father Domínguez.
“The first Communion was scheduled for April 25 and the confirmations for May 9, but now they are on hiatus,” he added.  Using Facebook, he has presented daily talks for families, and prayed the rosary accompanied by the priests and religious sisters of the parish. 
Especially during May “we prayed the rosary every day for families who asked us for prayers.” 
Depending on a dog
When creativity is necessary a dog may come handy.  
St. John Neumann Parish in St. Charles has its own “Faith Chat with Bella and Mrs. Stahl.” 
It is “a weekly video that I publish for our children,” said Therese Stahl, parish director of Evangelization and Faith Formation. “Bella is my Beagle dog and usually appears in the video for a short period of time.” 
They moved their religious education curriculum online “with the help of Our Sunday Visitor e-books and online assessments,” she added. “They have been generous in sharing those resources for free with all of our families during the pandemic.”
Zooming in on change
Holy Family Parish in Rockford offered “My Catholic Faith Delivered” to each student to finish out this school year. 
“MCFD offered this free of charge to families as an alternative and we jumped on it,” said Barbara Beckett, director  of religious education and Family Life Ministry at the parish. 
“It is my hope that students enjoy it and wish to continue in their grade level as we make our switch to F3@HF,” she added.
F3@HF stands for Family Faith Formation at Holy Family and is a program that will start in the fall. 
“This new program meets once a month and gives the families the tools they need to raise their children in the Catholic faith on a day to day basis,” Beckett said. “The family that prays, learns and grows in their Catholic faith together, stays together.” 
For now, students at different grade levels can participate in Zoom video conference sessions where they “say hi to their friends and touch base with where they are at in the online program, and where they last left off from the classroom,” she said.
Looking forward, “each family will receive a ‘tool kit’ with books and directions for the month,” she explained.
“For this coming year we are focusing on the Mass. Along with all the resources in the tool kit each student will have Gospel Weeklies from Pflaum publishing group,” said Beckett
In the meantime, parishes “are able to continue lessons from home because parents are the primary educator,” said Cindy Vincent of the diocesan Education Office, where she is regional director of religious education for the DeKalb, Freeport and Sterling deaneries.


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