Longtime faith formation director retires after nearly 50 years

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, October 19, 2023

Longtime faith formation director retires after nearly 50 years

Peg Hanrahan was honored for her over 40-year service to the church at Holy Family Parish in Inverness during Mass on Sept. 18, 2023. Hanrahan recently retired as the parish’s director of religious education after seven years and more than 49 years of service to the Archdiocese of Chicago. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Peg Hanrahan receives Communion during Mass on Sept. 18, 2023 at Holy Family Parish in Inverness. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Hanrahan fist bumps a religious education student. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Standing in the sanctuary, Hanrahan receives a blessing. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
While holding her two-year-old grandson, Braylon Galloway, Karen Weder joins in extending a blessing over Hanrahan. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Standing in the sanctuary, Hanrahan receives a blessing. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Hanrahan thanks Father Keehan. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)
Hanrahan bows her head as Holy Family parishioners applaud her. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)

When Peg Hanrahan started her career in faith formation in 1975, it wasn’t even called faith formation yet.

Hanrahan, 68, retired in July after a nearly 50-year career in lay ecclesial ministry and faith formation, most recently as director of family and teen formation at Holy Family Parish, Inverness.

Along the way, she earned two master’s degrees — in religious studies from Mundelein College in 1981 and in pastoral counseling from Loyola University Chicago in 2012 — and a doctorate in ministry from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, becoming known as “Dr. Peg.”

“She knows doctrine — church teaching — and church ministry backwards and forwards,” said Patty McCarthy, the youth minister that Hanrahan hired about a year before Hanrahan retired. “She’s extremely hands-on. Not telling you to do something, but showing you how to do something. She was a very hands-on director, passing on what she knows.”

Father Terry Keehan, pastor of Holy Family, praised Hanrahan’s “articulate faith,” and the work she has put in to create Holy Family traditions like the teen Passion Play. The parish celebrated Hanrahan’s retirement on Sept. 17, Catechetical Sunday.

McCarthy recalled that Hanrahan helped keep the Kairos retreat program going after COVID-19 restrictions eased by making sure she had new leaders ready to go, and she shared the program with a neighboring parish to help that parish get back on track with Kairos.

Laura Ferlita worked for 21 years in faith formation at Holy Family, the last half-dozen with Hanrahan. She said Hanrahan is a mentor and friend, not just a former supervisor.

“She had a way of empowering me to become a better person,” said Ferlita, now a chaplain at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. “She taught me to learn what my gifts were and seek how to use them. She helped me become comfortable with who I am, and how I was wired up.”

Hanrahan worked at six parishes in positions from director of religious education to pastoral associate and served in three schools as a teacher and campus minister, and has seen her field transformed. She has published catechetical and formation materials and done spiritual direction.

Hanrahan had not really been planning on a vocation as a lay ecclesial minister when she was first hired, she said.

“At the time, it was a job,” she said. “I was finished with school and I needed a job. … The two years I did campus ministry, though, I decided I really liked doing ministry.”

Parishes were beginning to hire youth ministers to work with teens. Hanrahan was one of 25 young adults hired as youth ministers in 1978, and that group kept in touch, offering each other support, advice and encouragement for years, she said.

She very much enjoyed working with teens and college students, she said.

“I liked working with the age group,” she said. “There was something different every day. Also, it was a way to integrate my own faith with work. It was probably the relational dimension of ministry that first interested me.”

She was also interested in theology and learning about the church and the Catholic tradition, she said.

“That was a time when Vatican II was being implemented across the board, and there was a lot of talk then about the vocation of the laity and there was a lot of excitement working for the church at the time,” she said.

Much has changed over the ensuing years, Hanrahan said.

“I think we know a lot more about faith formation,” she said. “As Vatican II was implemented, we recovered a lot of important dimensions of faith formation. We restored RCIA [the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults], we developed new approaches to sacramental preparation, we kind of  recovered the theology of mystagogia. All of those dimensions deepened and broadened our approach to faith formation.”

As for the mechanics of actually running the programs?

“A lot of the programmatic elements, we were trying to make it work,” Hanrahan said. “What was working, we continued; what wasn’t working, we dropped.”

Susan Eimerman worked with Hanrahan at Our Lady of Brook in Northbrook in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Hanrahan helped develop a culture of hospitality there, Eimerman said, and she led by example.

“She lives her faith,” Eimerman said. “She would never humiliate someone publicly if they missed Mass or missed an obligation. I never once heard her speak unkindly about anyone like that. And she was always striving to better herself so she had something to offer people.”

Looking back, Hanrahan said she appreciates the support received by lay ecclesial ministers like her and the youth ministers who started with her, not just from the archdiocese and from pastors, but also from parishioners and from the men and women religious and archdiocesan priests who mentored them.

“Everything was changing at the same time,” she said. “The liturgical reform was being implemented in the parishes, and pastoral ministry to the sick and to the aged. There was kind of an explosion of new methods. I think parishes embraced it.”

She has seen that trend reverse, while at the same time the number of people attending Mass has declined.

Hanrahan said the church should look to its history, to other times of transition, and also pay attention to what those who continue practice say is important to them: a sense of community.

“I think that was one of the great gifts of parish life, the development of local vibrant communities of faith,” Hanrahan said.


  • lay ecclesial ministry

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