How do you pass on the faith to your children?

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, March 9, 2014

Martin and Margaret Wojtulewicz pray with their children Mateusz, Magda and Jasiu at their home in Crystal Lake on Feb. 17, 2013. Parishes are trying to help parents in the task of passing on the faith to their children. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

For Christina Bowman, efforts to pass on her Catholic faith to her two young children start with attending Mass at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Rosemont, every Sunday, in the first row.

“I always let my 3-year-old son pick where to sit, and he always picks the first row,” said Bowman, who also has a 10-month-old daughter.

Bowman, principal of St. Cornelius   School, 5252 N. Long Ave., has given a lot of thought to how parents can best pass the faith on to their children, in this archdiocesan Year of Strong Catholic Parents.

At St. Cornelius, she said, parents are asked to attend Sunday Mass with their children, and parents and children alike are asked to become involved in a parish ministry, such as serving at the altar or working on a parish committee. Attendance is tracked through envelope usage and simply whether a family is noticed at Mass.

So far, response has been fairly positive.

“We really presented it as a community-building idea,” said Bowman, noting that when St. Cornelius went through the archdiocese’s Parish Transformation project two years ago, it uncovered a big gap between families who had children in the school and those who didn’t. Encouraging school families to be more involved in the parish was intended to bridge that divide.

Strong Catholic families
Meanwhile, the parish itself has become part of the archdiocese’s Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth initiative, said Mary Barth, St. Cornelius’ director of religious education.

“When the year started, it was like, ‘I get to be a “strong Catholic parent.’ How do I do that?’” Barth said. “There’s not really any formal catechesis for adults. What about people who have been Catholic for their whole lives but haven’t had any education about it since they were children?

“You’re not taught how to teach the faith as a parent. We all learned Jesus as the picture we draw in first grade, and ‘Jesus loves me,’ and that’s great, but there’s this whole other level of Jesus that you can learn as an adult.”

So when the FamilyMinistries office announced that it was rolling out Strong Catholic Families, St. Cornelius was one of about 40 parishes to sign up.

The plan is the brainchild of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and is active in 60 archdioceses across the United States, said Amanda Thompson, who coordinates the initiative in the archdiocese. While it was rolled out in conjunction with the Strategic Pastoral Plan’s Year of Strong Catholic Parents, it will continue indefinitely.

“It’s a grassroots initiative that gives parents the ability to ask what they need from parishes,” Thompson said.

The process starts with an evaluation to make sure the parish staff has the capacity to start the initiative, recruiting a team of parishioners that should include all kinds of people: school parents, religious-education parents, empty nesters, anyone who has an interest in seeing the faith passed on to the next generation. That group holds parent presentations, sharing research that demonstrates the importance of passing on the faith in the home and asking how the parish can help parents to do that.

St. Cornelius’ core team hosted two meetings, both well-attended, to explain the process and to get participants to complete a survey about what they need. There was a strong interest in finding ways to bring faith into everyday life and incorporating the liturgical calendar into family life. There was also a strong response asking for ways parents and children can engage in service to the community together.

Now the team will work on ways to help people do that and provide the support they need to share their faith with their children.

“The basic premise is to create a sense of community and belonging in the parish,” Thompson said, echoing the reasons St. Cornelius School asked its families to make a point of attending Mass there.

Ongoing effort
Parishes that participate in the initiative aren’t expected to stop after one set of presentations.

“There’s going to be years of looking at and presenting it over again,” Thompson said.

Presentations can also be offered along with sacramental preparation. “It’s really parishioners meeting the needs of other parishioners. This is an opportunity to hear the voice of the parishioners and have other parishioners who are on fire with the faith meet those needs,” she said.

The changes might be minor, such as moving existing programs to a different day or time, or offering dinner or babysitting in conjunction with them, Thompson said. At her parish, an Advent wreath-making event was rescheduled from a Saturday morning to a Saturday evening after the vigil Mass, and combined with a pizza dinner. The turnout was several times higher than it had ever been before, Thompson said.

At St. Cornelius, parents wanted events they could attend with their children, so during Advent, they had someone come dressed as St. Nicholas and do a presentation about the saint, and they finished with cocoa and cookies. Once again, the parish got good turnout.

Bowman said the key is to make the steps toward passing on the faith simple and attractive.

“It’s something we have to encourage them to do. We have to meet them where they are at and make it easy for them,” she said. “They’re not going to do something that’s hard.”


  • family
  • faith
  • year of strong catholic parents

Related Articles