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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute works to help dioceses offer substantive, rich, and engaging catechetical formation at the local level.

Our work is grounded in key catechetical principles put forth by the Church and honed in our on-campus setting for the past three decades. As the questions and answers below show, although we have now expanded our work online and in local settings, the principles guiding us have not changed.

If you are not able to find an answer to your question from the lists below, please contact us via email at CI@franciscan.edu.

Questions related to our key principles

Why does subsidiarity matter so much in evangelization and catechetics?

In his landmark social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI gave the classic definition of subsidiarity:

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them” (QA, 79; emphasis added, see CCC 1883, 1894).

The Catechetical Institute takes seriously the principle of subsidiarity. We recognize that passing on the faith is a social activity. All conversion is local, which is why faith formation must remain a robustly supported local activity. As an Institute, we don’t want to bypass those in the local community who have the responsibility for forming others in the faith, and we trust participants to take responsibility for their own learning (CL 63).

Failure to honor this principle risks disempowering the local community in favor of a cult of experts. As the General Directory of Catechesis explains:

“Catechetical pedagogy will be effective to the extent that the Christian community becomes a point of concrete reference for the faith journey of individuals. This happens when the community is proposed as a source, locus, and means of catechesis. Concretely, the community becomes a visible place of faith-witness. It provides for the formation of its members. It receives them as the family of God. It constitutes itself as the living and permanent environment for growth in the faith. Besides public and collective proclamation of the Gospel, person-to-person contact, after the example of Jesus and the Apostles, remains indispensable. In this way, personal conscience is more easily committed. The gift of the Holy Spirit comes to the subject from one living person to another. Thus, the power of persuasion becomes more effective” (GDC 158).

All of the Catechetical Institute’s online formation is designed to support and complement the formation being undertaken locally and personally, in parishes, families, schools, and communities. Never forgetting that formation in the faith is always first and foremost God’s attentive presence to us as individuals, our workshops address various aspects of what best fosters local competency. This includes encouraging personal accountability to excellence and creating tasks that demonstrate the effectiveness of soul-to-soul persuasion, dialogue, and genuine openness to others.

Likewise, we seek to honor the movements of grace within each person called to the work of catechesis, building people to serve people. In our workshops, we encourage relational ministry, challenge the prevalent “program-running” mentality, and support parish and school leaders in developing greater administrative efficiency, all with the goal of helping them to be more personally available to people. Following this Divine pedagogy, the work of forming souls must be attentive to the words of Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi:

“[I]n the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another person one’s personal experience of faith? It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual’s personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique word that he receives from someone else” (EN 46).

In light of this, how does the Institute support local parishes and communities as centers of learning and formation?

In Acts 2:41-42, Luke describes the first local Christian community:

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

As noted in this passage and echoed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, four pillars marked this early community’s way of being together: 1) The Apostles’ teaching (Creed); 2) Fellowship (Life in Christ); 3) The breaking of the bread (Liturgy, centered on the Eucharist), and 4) The prayers (Christian prayer).

Non-local efforts can aid or enrich these four pillars, but their essence is fundamentally local. Fellowship is profoundly proximal. The Mass, and all the sacramental celebrations, exist only when clergy and laity share a sacred space and a personal moment of offering and reception. And the prayers, always stemming from Jesus’ own emphasis, draw us together: “If we pray the Our Father sincerely, we leave individualism behind, because the love that we receive frees us from it” (CCC 2792).

The first pillar, however, the one that encompasses catechesis and formation in Catholic teaching, is less often recognized as a work self-evidently local. In current times, guest speakers from afar and high-quality audio and video teachings have threatened to replace local catechists. This presents numerous problems.

First, for all their talent and all they have to offer, these guest speakers and video teachers are not connected to the many local dioceses and parishes that use their services, nor are they involved with the ongoing work of forming and loving a particular people in a particular place. They are unable to participate in the struggles and graces involved with forming those people. Likewise, an over-reliance on distant experts can undercut a diocese’s commitment to form people locally — a commitment that takes far greater effort, time, and resources, but which also is able to more fruitfully address the particular needs of a parish, region, or diocese. Moreover, in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, this harder way is the Church’s way:

“The most precious gift that the Church can offer the bewildered and restless world of our time is to form within it Christians who are confirmed in what is essential and who are humbly joyful in their faith” (Guide for Catechists, 8).

To reemphasize, non-local helps and training can aid this first pillar, but its essence remains fundamentally local. The long-term goal should be forming a confident parent in that place, a competent catechist in that place, a capable lay leader in that place, and, most important of all, a clearly empowered chief catechist in that place. A priestly father whose vocation can become the locus of teaching, community fellowship, liturgy, and prayers allows the immanent hospitality of Christ to enliven catechesis with a spirit of human warmth and welcome around that particular altar.

To make this possible, in our workshops, we encourage participants to grow in self-knowledge, offering tasks that increase awareness of faults and problematic comfort zones in relationships. We also offer personality/temperament analysis, help learners discover common needs and motivations in their communities, and create workshop tasks that hone participants’ ability to listen, show authentic interest in another’s good, and practice empathy.

Why are mentors so important in this process of formation?

As we have seen, the Institute’s overarching priority is forming those who have the responsibility for forming others in the faith, not replacing those people with distant experts or high-production-value video and audio resources. We want evangelization and catechesis to remain appropriately situated with those who can be in authentic ministerial relationships in the field.

To accomplish this, the online workshops designed by the Institute rely upon mentorship — and we envisage that this be as local as possible, with mentors in local families, parishes, schools. By offering workshops that are best taken with a local guiding figure, the Catechetical Institute seeks to encourage dioceses in the direction of mentored formation. The Institute’s approach allows for a person-to-person engagement over extended periods of formation, guided by the tasks and assessments in the workshops.

While this asks for greater time commitments by both learners and mentors, there are clear advantages. Learners become better ministers and are enabled to take more creative ownership of their own call to serve and form souls. Likewise, mentors and diocesan officials can develop deeper relationships with those they are called to lead and form as well as grow in their own formation skills and ministerial competence.

How does this approach allow us to be co-workers with God as he forms his people?

The Church teaches that God’s own educational activity is at the heart of all catechetical formation, and this education, first and foremost, takes the form of evangelization (see CT 72; CL 61, 63; GDC 33, 138, 238, 244). The basic Gospel message is always necessary, desired, and able to transform. Whatever the time or the place, the Gospel can penetrate any culture. 

If local sources of formation are not familiar with the kerygma, a parish or school runs the risk of teaching the unconverted. Therefore, in our online workshops we encourage an articulation of the kerygma for different types of groups and create tasks that help catechists learn to discern to what degree those they are teaching have accepted the basic Gospel message.

As St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). We collaborate with God, who educates and forms us for eternal happiness. God’s formation of us is rooted in sacramental grace, which elevates nature. Accordingly, authentic spiritual formation is fundamentally liturgical and Eucharistic, and thereby manifestly local. In our online workshops, we support this local formation by encouraging times of Adoration; by creating tasks that stress the importance of Mass and confession; and by helping participants articulate how various doctrines relate to the liturgy. 

How does the Catechetical Institute support formation in community?

The Institute wants to help local communities develop ongoing formation at all levels and ages (CT 43, 57; GDC 59). Part of this ongoing formation is ongoing conversion. Spiritual formation is our first priority. The goal for every catechist is to “become what you teach” — to become a witness. The person of the catechist — not their skill or the program they run — is what makes for effective catechesis.

For this reason, in our workshops, we encourage a personal inventory of how participants are seeking God; create tasks to help them grow in specific virtues; recommend the use of lectio divina and guided meditations; and encourage specific prayer habits and forms. We also stress the importance of family. In both our teaching and assessment, we strive to recognize vocational callings and encourage students to live those out. In our workshops, we encourage participants to clearly articulate their vocation, and we create tasks that invite them to first prioritize and distinguish between ministerial and vocational callings, and then apply what they’ve learned about vocations to practical situations in their own communities.

How is the Franciscan charism present in the formation offered by the Catechetical Institute?

A spirit of Franciscan joy permeates our academic life here at Franciscan University, and in our online workshops, we encourage just such a joyous response to ministerial challenges. The closer we grow to Christ in his Church, the more joy we experience.

This entails a radical openness to God’s will and an acceptance of the refining and transforming role of suffering. We recognize that such joy flows from great trust, generosity, and personal sacrifice. Moreover, in the workshop tasks, we aim to foster an instinctive loyalty to Mother Church through the graced channels of the Church’s hierarchy and an acceptance of the faith, whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. We hope to encourage those who take our workshops to welcome the guidance of the Spirit’s voice in the magisterium and ministry of Peter. Everything we do, we strive to do for the Church and with the Church.

Above all, the spirit of discipleship we seek to foster in our Institute is deeply personal and local, with one soul reaching out to another. In all we do, we seek to follow St. Teresa of Calcutta’s advice: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Questions related to those taking our workshops

How should I approach these workshops spiritually?

We are excited that you are about to embark on the learning process of this workshop. What you are entering into is not just another online course, but a formation experience that draws from the time-tested mentoring strategies handed down by catechists throughout Church history blended with an online format that gives you access to the best Catechetics faculty and speakers in one location.  As you embark on this adventure, permeate everything you do with prayer.  We recommend that you pray along with the presenter at the beginning of every workshop, and when you come to the end of a task you've completed, pray again.  The division between each segment is marked.  These dividers would be a great place to deliberately place yourself in the presence of the Triune God we serve and say a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God's Holy Name.  This can be as simple as saying a “Glory Be.” 

How should I approach these workshops as a learner?

We strongly recommend as you learn that you journal on any thoughts that come to mind as you work through the videos and tasks of each workshop. This will be a valuable record of your learning journey, as well as possibly inspiring conversations with your small group, critical friend, or mentor at various points.  Some of the workshops will have pre-tasks to introduce the topic and provide a way to enter into what the workshop is sharing.  These are meant to get you thinking about the broader perspective of the topic in regards to ministry work.  When completing these workshops, do not be afraid to just be yourself.  It's ok to share your weaknesses, in understanding or in faith, with your mentor.  In fact, the best way of learning is to let your weaknesses be seen so that they can be addressed.  We often learn best from making mistakes, so put your whole heart into these workshops that your mentor will respect your vulnerability, challenge you, and encourage you.  You can expect your mentor to occasionally correct spelling of key terms, or phrasing that could be could be misunderstood in a way that would distort the faith if used.  Your mentor will not be correcting grammar and spelling elsewhere, so if this is not a strong point, do not worry!  Your mentor has the option of responding to your work in batches, perhaps after you have submitted several exercises.  Other times they will respond to one submission at a time.  A mentor should take approximately a week or less in responses to you.  It is fine to move on to the next segment even when your mentor has not yet responded.

Will I be graded for my work?

No.  Many learners bring up concerns about written work, concerned about spelling and grammar.  Please write as you write, we are not grading on perfect English.  Write as clearly as possible to get the best response from your mentor, but relax and do not worry about making mistakes. The mentor is not judging your English, but looking instead at the content.  If English is an area in which you struggle, write as comfortably as you can. The mentor will provide thoughts on spelling only of crucial words related to ministry that you may someday be using as you teach, and on grammar only if there is a specific way in theology that a phrase needs to be stated to be clear. 

How do I switch mentors?

Unless a mentor relationship becomes problematic in some way, you would ordinarily have the option at the end of a track to be paired with another mentor.  It can be great to be mentored by a different person per track, to gain a variety of knowledge, but in some cases, you may want to keep the same mentor.  If an earlier change needs to take place, please talk to your diocesan administrator or contact the Catechetical Institute.

Can a single parish join without a diocesan partnership?

Whether your diocese is adopting the program or not, an individual parish can enter the system.  All members will receive the enrichment level participation (without a mentor) with the $300 per year parish subscription.  If a parish would like certain people to received mentorship from the Catechetical Institute, then those people would need to register separately as mentored learners through the $12.99 per month individual subscriptions.  Once your diocese becomes a partner, then the diocese would normally begin arranging for mentors from the local area.

What workshop collections (i.e., Tracks) are currently in development by the Catechetical Institute?

We are currently filming at a pace of about 85 workshops per year, and we have completed the filming on the first several tracks listed below.  These workshops make use of the experience and skills of dozens of outstanding presenters from all over the United States and several other countries, and seek to provide the best training available in each ministry area:

  • Catechist Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Parish Catechetical Leader Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • RCIA Track Formation (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Youth Ministry Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Catholic Schools Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Priestly Renewal Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Ministry of Parenting Track (30 core workshops plus electives)
  • Hispanic Faith and Family Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Campus Ministry Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • First Proclamation Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Pastoral Accompaniment Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Culture of Life Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Music Ministry Track (12 core workshops plus electives)
  • Sports Ministry Track (12 core workshops plus electives)

For those seeking a certification, should the workshops be done in the order that they appear?

Doing the workshops in their numerical order is not required but is certainly the best approach.  The individual workshops (aside from those marked as part I and part II) are not designed to be strictly incremental, but certain topics are foundational and provide helpful context for later subjects covered within a ministry area.

Can any workshop be taken, or only those within a certain track?

Once a person registers as an individual subscriber or as part of a parish subscription, all workshop currently posted on the system are available.

What data is recorded by the online system?

Aside from the information collected from each user during registration, the system tracks the pace of each learner through a workshop, the online interactions with a mentor, the degree to which each video segment was viewed by a learner, the evaluation form submitted at the end of each workshop, the number of workshops completed, and the status and point of renewal of each subscriber.

What is the time expectation for those being mentored through the Institute’s workshops?

The normal expectation for learners is the completion annually of 12 one-hour workshops that each have well-designed and engaging assessments built in.  This would ask a learner to commit to about three to four hours of study per month.  Learners can progress faster if desired.

What are some of the terms commonly used in the online learning platform? 

Track: an area of ministry focus (Youth Ministry, RCIA, etc.). 

Certificate: a qualification offered within a specific track. 

Course of Study: a collection of about 12 workshops within a track that would normally take about a year to complete. 

Workshop: a topic in a ministry area that a learner takes. Each workshop includes about an hour of video and an additional two to three hours of ministry-related tasks. 

Segment: a portion of a workshop. A workshop is normally composed of four to eight segments. 

Presenter: the person teaching in the videos. 

Mentor: an experienced catechist to whom a learner may choose to be assigned who journeys with the learner, reviewing the learner’s responses to workshop tasks and offering guidance. 

Critical Friend: a critical friend (critical in the sense of important rather than criticizing) is someone who helps a learner to be accountable to the goals of a workshop and with whom a learner can share his or her thoughts candidly. A critical friend is a sounding board, someone who is on a similar learning level as the workshop participant — not a second mentor, but rather an available, supportive person, a spiritual friend to walk along with you on this learning journey. This could be a spouse, neighbor, co-worker, someone in a parish group, a long-time prayer partner, etc. We’ve designed these workshops to lean into this kind of relationship as an urgently important part of a learner’s progress. 

If a technical problem occurs within a workshop, with my log-in process, my account, or other parts of the website, who do I contact?

For online system glitches and similar issues, please email the Institute at CI@franciscan.edu or call 740-283-6754.

Do the workshops accommodate those with hearing difficulty?

Each workshop video segment is posted with captions, as well as the ability to print out a full transcript.  Workshop all have a downloadable handout that provides an outline of the teaching, as well as relevant quotations and resource recommendations.

How are mentors assigned?

For those requesting a mentor through the Institute’s monthly subscription, assignments are made by the Institute staff based on availability and on the ministry area in which a learner wishes to take workshops.  For those seeking mentorship through a diocese, the diocesan offices would normally match mentors to learners, or delegate that decision to parish or school leadership.

How are mentors evaluated?  Can a mentor be changed?

Mentors are individually selected and vetted through a detailed training process.  Once a mentor is actively serving those taking workshops, the mentoring experience is evaluated by each mentee as part of the final step in concluding each workshop.  The Catechetical Institute conducts an annual evaluation of each mentor’s work and effectiveness, and can view online interactions between a mentor and mentee at any time.  If a person feels that his or her mentor is not helpful, a request to change to a new mentor can be submitted by email, and will normally be honored.

Are there any resources planned in Spanish?

The Catechetical Institute at Franciscan is building into our set of online workshop offerings a Hispanic ministry focus.  This collection is called the Hispanic Faith and Family Track.  In the many dioceses with which we are now in communication, the demand is obvious.  This track is filmed in Spanish, so that the material and teaching is firstly in Spanish, and inculturated already, rather than merely adapted from an English-language version.  We will be adding to our website’s resource section more Hispanic items in the coming months, and we currently offer a key catechetical book in Spanish, which can be explored here:  https://review.catechetics.com/books-dvds

What is the mission of the Institute’s magazine, The Catechetical Review?

The Catechetical Review is an international quarterly catechetical journal primarily written for Directors of Religious Education, catechetical leaders, religious educators, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, and anyone involved in faith formation.  Its contributors, who aim to help in the formation of all those in a position to hand on the faith, come from academic catechetics faculties and “from the field.”  Subscribers receive: four beautiful full-color issues per year; online access to downloadable, reproducible articles; online Spanish translation of select printable articles; online access to projectable art for our Inspired through Art series, which may be used to teach the faith using art, or as a backdrop for reflective prayer.  Parishes and schools may assign multiple online users accounts for their catechists and teachers with a paid subscription.  For more information: https://review.catechetics.com

What other resources does the Catechetical Institute have to offer dioceses and individuals?

The Catechetical Institute’s website has a section for Formation Resources that contains an immense array of options to explore for every level of Catholic formation: hundreds of talks from Franciscan University conferences, symposia, and other events; current and past articles from dozens of issues of the Catechetical Review and Sower catechetical journals; outstanding books; webisodes and creative evangelizing media, interview series with some of the finest Catholic thinkers, catechetical experts, and creative evangelists in the Church today.  All these resources are arranged in a highly user-friendly searchable format so that anyone from a busy monsignor to a busy mother can locate useful things.  For more information: https://catechetics.com/resources

Beyond the workshops offered by the Catechetical Institute’s, what other formation does Franciscan University offer?

Whether you are right out of high school, right in the middle of your life, or right about ready to try a new direction or a next step, Franciscan University has programs that meet you where God has you.  Studying theology at Franciscan University means you combine learning and love: You’ll know more about the faith and how to live it. Your witness is the best instruction in the faith you can give the world, which is why Franciscan has more theology majors than any other Catholic school in America and why parishes and dioceses that hire Franciscan University graduates are confident they are hiring men and women who know their faith, love their faith, and are able to pass that knowledge and love on to others.  First in the country to take the Oath of Fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium in 1989, and internationally known for excellence, the University’s faculty is renowned for the faithfulness of our teaching and the quality of our preparation of graduates to serve the Church.  The guiding spirit of our programs is dynamic orthodoxy.  That means we teach from the heart of the Catholic Church, passing on the unchanging truths of the faith in all their eternal glory with passionate fidelity.  Franciscan offers online and on-ground associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in theology and catechetics.  For more information: www.franciscan.edu/departments/theology

Questions related to those mentoring through our workshops

What does the Institute mean by a mentoring approach? 

The overarching priority of the Institute is to commit the effort necessary to form those who form others, rather than replace them with distant experts or high production value video and audio resources. Evangelization and catechesis can thus remain appropriately situated with those who can be in authentic ministerial relationships in the field. To accomplish this, the online workshops designed by the Institute critically rely upon mentorship. By offering workshops designed in this way, the Catechetical Institute seeks to encourage dioceses in the direction of mentored formation. The Institute’s approach is based on person-to-person engagement over extended periods of formation, guided by assessments and tasks developed collaboratively by those involved in creating and editing the workshops. While this requires greater time commitments by both learners and mentors, there are clear advantages: for learners, that they become better ministers, with better results than less-attentive formation methods could ever achieve, and that they are enabled to take more creative ownership of their call to serve and form souls; for mentors and diocesan officials, that they grow in their own formation skills and ministerial competence, discover an effective mechanism for accountability and excellence, and find themselves ever more deeply in relationship with those they are called to lead and form. 

What is the time expectation for mentors working with those taking the Institute’s workshops?

This will vary over time and will generally reduce as experience is gained with mentoring, but an estimate would be about an hour each month per person being mentored.  So, if you have twelve mentorees, for example, that would translate to about twelve hours a month.

Relative to all the tracks the Institute intends to create, how will I know what I’m qualified to mentor?

This will be determined for each mentor; the initial judgment is based primarily on your experience and level of catechetical understanding of any given ministry field.  As time goes on, mentors can venture into other workshops and tracks, and thereby potentially gain sufficient practical understanding to serve more and more areas of the Institute’s work.

Are mentors paid?

Those mentors who have gone through the Institute’s training process and have been accepted to serve those taking our workshops are paid an annual fee based on the number of mentees they assist.  Mentors working directly for dioceses are remunerated in some cases, the amount varying by the choice and arrangement of each diocese.

How are mentors assigned?

For those requesting a mentor through the Institute’s monthly subscription, assignments are made by the Institute staff based on availability and on the ministry area in which a learner wishes to take workshops.  For those seeking mentorship through a diocese, the diocesan offices would normally match mentors to learners, or delegate that decision to parish or school leadership.

How are mentors evaluated?  Can a mentor be changed?

Mentors are individually selected and vetted through a detailed training process.  Once a mentor is actively serving those taking workshops, the mentoring experience is evaluated by each mentee as part of the final step in concluding each workshop.  The Catechetical Institute conducts an annual evaluation of each mentor’s work and effectiveness and can view online interactions between a mentor and mentee at any time.  If a person feels that his or her mentor is not helpful, a request to change to a new mentor can be submitted by email, and will normally be honored.

If I am interested in mentoring for the Catechetical Institute, or for my diocese, who do I contact?

It is preferable for a person desiring to serve as a mentor to first contact your diocese.  Local mentoring is a better option for formation than at-distance mentoring.  If your diocese partners with the Catechetical Institute, then please contact the diocesan office relevant to your ministry area.  For those seeking to serve the Catechetical Institute directly, please contact us by email: CI@franciscan.edu

If a technical problem occurs within a workshop, with my log-in process, my account, or other parts of the website, who do I contact?

For online system glitches and similar issues, please email the Institute at CI@franciscan.edu or call 740-283-6754.

What do I do if a learner wants to do more workshops than one per month?

This is fine, and under normal circumstances will not become an issue.  You have a week to respond to each segment, which should help prevent the work submitted by a single learner from being too overwhelming.  Learners who are being mentored are not allowed to expect a mentor to increase his or her response time to faster than a than a seven-day period.  A mentor can decide to respond more quickly (and this is certainly encouraged), but this is not assumed to be the norm.

What if I get a learner is submitting inappropriate information as task submissions, or questionable or heretical material, or not completing satisfactory work?

Beyond isolated issues with an occasional task response, which should be handled generously by asking for clarification, if a mentor sees a pattern in a troubling direction, the mentor is welcome to seek advice from his or her diocesan administrator, or by emailing the Catechetical Institute.

What if I cannot understand what the learner has submitted? 

It is possible that you will receive work that is poorly written enough that you cannot readily response.  Because of the broad nature of the learner audience, coming from a variety of language learning, economic, and educational backgrounds, it is important first to keep in mind that difficulties in writing do not automatically disqualify a person from ministry.  Many strong and saintly catechists have also been illiterate, or nearly so.  Yet at the same time, you must be able to understand what has been written, to provide feedback about the work.  If you are consistently finding a learner's responses to be too confusing to allow for a clear comment or answer, then seek advice from your diocesan administrator, or by emailing the Catechetical Institute. 

What if the learner wants to submit in a language besides English?

If you as the mentor are fluent in the language, including the catechetical vocabulary, then this is fine to accept submissions in a language besides English.  If you are not fluent, then this is not possible.  You as the mentor are still able to and encouraged to respond in English.

Should I correct the learner’s English grammar?

Generally no, except in certain cases.  If a learner has misspelled a technical term, such as a name or a key concept, it's good to teach him or her to the proper way to do so.  Don’t correct English unless it is crucial to ministry – such as "Pascal Mystery" rather than "Paschal Mystery." It's important to tell a learner when you correct a word or phrase, something like: “this phrase is a tricky one to spell, and easy to get wrong, but here's the correct wording...”

What if a learner wants to speak in person, on the phone, or by video?

Relationships with learners in this context are in written form unless of course you are in the same parish or a diocesan gathering of learners allows for other forms of mentorship.  In general, we advise against communication that involves phone calls, meetings in person, video chats, or other communication besides in a written form.  If a person strongly feels that he or she cannot express a certain thing in writing, he or she is welcome to make an audio or video recording and upload that file to their response box (which the system is designed to accommodate).

What if a diocese wants to view the learner’s submission? 

Learners and mentors should be aware that anything they write is always viewable by Catechetical Institute staff or by a diocesan administrator.  From the mentor’s point of view, anything at all which is submitted to you is only for your eyes as a mentor on this learning system.  It can’t be shared, spoken about, or discussed with anyone else who does not have administrator access to this system or a critical reason to know.  If you have a question or situation that arises in this regard, please contact the Catechetical Institute.

What if I have any concerns about potential child protection reporting issues in a learner's responses? 

If you have received a learner's task response that concerns you in this area (such as the learner detailing a youth ministry interaction that raises red flags for you), please feel free to contact the Catechetical Institute or your diocesan administrator to discuss it.  If a genuine concern exists, expect that it may become necessary to report the issue.  Generally, this would involve following the child protection guidelines in force in the diocese in which you reside.

Questions related to dioceses partnering with us

What is involved in becoming a diocesan partner with Franciscan’s Catechetical Institute?

For a diocese that elects to enter into a partnership with the Catechetical Institute, a $300 per parish (or local parochial institution) yearly subscription will allow all catechists, catechetical leaders, and parents in that institution or parish to be formed.  Once a parish or school signs up, individuals can take many courses or just a few specific workshops.  There is no other cost to a diocese, other than whatever ways a bishop would like Franciscan University to assist in the training of a cadre of local mentors.  This partnership with the Catechetical Institute is arranged at the level of the diocesan ordinary, not another official, and includes the following elements:

  • All Institute workshops will be made available to any learner registered at a subscribing parish. 
  • A diocese decides which of our workshops it considers relevant to certification or continuing formation for various ministries; our online system then allows a diocesan official to self-select sets of workshops, defining tracks and courses of study tailored to that diocese’s needs. 
  • Mentors for courses are chosen by the diocese and trained in cooperation with Catechetical Institute staff. 
  • Relevant Institute workshops are counted as meeting diocesan continuing education requirements for parochial school teachers. 
  • Online access to The Catechetical Review (including all back issues) is included for all mentored learners. 
  • By special arrangement, certain discounts to the St. John Bosco Conference at Franciscan may be available to those gaining diocesan certification. 

Is the Catechetical Institute willing to accommodate exceptions or modifications to the per-parish / per-school subscriptions?

The Catechetical Institute sees its mission as being at the service of bishops’ needs.  We are committed to flexibility and will work with individual diocesan officials to recognize and fully accommodate cluster parish situations, missionary circumstances, and geographical challenges.

What is different about the Catechetical Institute’s approach to online learning? 

Most diocesan officials have experience with the fact that some forms of online training fail to engage, inspire, or excite learners. Means of assessing learners’ success in such courses can lack depth, ignore individual learning styles, or test only cognitive understanding, rather than ministerial ability and real-world professional growth. As well, these kinds of online formats often lack human connection, mentorship, or any useful dialogical exchange beyond a chat room or generic discussion board. Recognizing these challenges, Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute primarily uses a collaborative learning methodology. This approaches formation via a custom-designed online learning management system (LMS) and includes elements uncharacteristic of other online training: a mentoring focus; a priority on the spiritual formation of learners; formation that intentionally builds relationships in a learner’s own community; mature, robust, and engaging assessment methods; and full integration of catechesis with evangelization and liturgical formation. 

What does the Institute mean when it says it offers formation that complements and enriches, rather than replaces, local catechetical efforts? 

The Catechetical Institute works to form those who form others, not replace them with distant experts or DVDs. Franciscan University is guided by a vision that sees catechetical formation as an act of trust in people. We seek to address various aspects of what best fosters local competency, allowing the imminent hospitality of Christ to enliven catechesis with a spirit of human warmth and welcome. This means avoiding replacing those who are in the field and able to be in relationship with and disciple others. And it means not replacing those who are doing catechist training in the diocese. Many dioceses certify catechists by unpacking the four pillars of the Catechism, usually with additional courses on topics such as methodology or Scripture. The Institute’s offerings are not intended to replace such diocesan courses, but rather to complement them as required elements or optional enrichment or as ongoing formation post-certification. Those working on certification can do so in whatever time frame is convenient or in accord with diocesan expectations for completion. The normal expectation for learners is the completion annually of about 12 one-hour workshops that each have well-designed and engaging assessments built in. This asks a learner to commit to about three to four hours of study per month. Learners can progress faster if desired. This “normal” progression can be modified as desired by a diocese. For example, if a diocese wished to include only certain Catechetical Institute workshops in its own certification process, the Institute is pleased to accommodate this. 

How does your collection of workshops differ from what is available elsewhere? 

A Catholic “catechetical” institute worthy of the name must define “catechist” as widely as the Church does. Therefore, we not only seek to serve those in lay ecclesial ministry, but also attend to the formation needs of the two most critical catechists in every parish — priests and parents. Beyond this, the great richness and diversity of formation workshops found in each of our ministry tracks flow from University-level resources: access to the teaching expertise found within multiple disciplines complementary to theology and catechetics (such as counseling, education, psychology, life sciences, communication arts, political science, fine arts, etc.), and to Franciscan’s ability to draw in workshop presenters from a broad array of apostolates and locations — wherever there is outstanding work being done that can be shared with others to build up the Church. Going a step further, our desire is not only to assist dioceses and individuals in the already-defined areas of ministry training, but also to offer to the Church formation workshops and resources in arenas less recognized as fundamental but no less critical to successfully evangelizing and discipling souls: basic evangelization skills, mentoring, spiritual guidance, counseling, spiritual combat, deliverance, healing, vocational discernment, team building, speaking skills, and more. Workshops on these and many other topics are offered by the Institute, designed not for niche professionals in each of these fields, but for parents, catechists, school teachers, parish clergy — the people who first encounter souls who need understanding and gentle ministers, good advice, good listeners, and leaders who can authentically accompany others on the spiritual journey.

How does the Institute address the issue of affordability for diocese, parishes, and individual learners? 

Franciscan University’s priority in founding the Catechetical Institute is to serve the Church, specifically to serve diocesan bishops. By placing the University on a missionary footing, our president, Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, discerned the need to offer this service in a distinctly Franciscan way. In creating and making available what we plan will eventually be well over 500 field-level formation workshops, this Franciscan distinctive shows most clearly in the call to generosity. Our collection of workshops and related resources are being priced at a level to ensure that any diocese, any parish, and any individual learner will not face a burdensome financial barrier to access this formation. Our aim is to offer the very best we can conceive, design, and produce for all members of Christ’s Church who desire what we have created. 

How much does it cost for those taking the workshops? 

For a diocese that elects to enter into a partnership with the Catechetical Institute, a yearly subscription of $300 per parish or parochial institution will allow all catechists, catechetical leaders, and parents to be formed in a given setting. Once such a partnership exists, individuals can take many courses or just a few specific workshops. Outside of a diocesan relationship, individual learners may enroll via an inexpensive subscription (between $4.99 and $12.99 per month), and take any workshops through a mentor assigned by Franciscan University. 

What does the Institute mean by a mentoring approach? 

The overarching priority of the Institute is to commit the effort necessary to form those who form others, rather than replace them with distant experts or high production value video and audio resources. Evangelization and catechesis can thus remain appropriately situated with those who can be in authentic ministerial relationships in the field. To accomplish this, the online workshops designed by the Institute critically rely upon mentorship. By offering workshops designed in this way, the Catechetical Institute seeks to encourage dioceses in the direction of mentored formation. The Institute’s approach is based on person-to-person engagement over extended periods of formation, guided by assessments and tasks developed collaboratively by those involved in creating and editing the workshops. While this requires greater time commitments by both learners and mentors, there are clear advantages: for learners, that they become better ministers, with better results than less-attentive formation methods could ever achieve, and that they are enabled to take more creative ownership of their call to serve and form souls; for mentors and diocesan officials, that they grow in their own formation skills and ministerial competence, discover an effective mechanism for accountability and excellence, and find themselves ever more deeply in relationship with those they are called to lead and form. 

What is the time expectation for those being mentored through the Institute’s workshops?

The normal expectation for learners is the completion annually of 12 one-hour workshops that each have well-designed and engaging assessments built in.  This would ask a learner to commit to about three to four hours of study per month.  Learners can progress faster if desired.

What is the time expectation for mentors working with those taking the Institute’s workshops? 

This will vary over time and will generally reduce as experience is gained with mentoring, but an estimate would be about an hour each month per person being mentored. So, if you have 12 mentorees for example, that would translate to about 12 hours a month.

Are there ways to use the Institute’s workshops prior to having in-diocese mentors?

For dioceses that would like to use our workshops, but do not yet have a functional core of mentors, we suggest several options for moving forward:

  1. Allow your learners to sit in our "Enrichment" category until the situation changes ($300 per parish would allow an unlimited number of people to exist in this status).
  2. Allow your learners (or some of them) to temporarily sign up for our $12.99 subscription package, with income accruing to CI (this would replace the $300 per parish fee until a switch to diocesan mentorship occurs).
  3. Have the first year of the $300 per parish fee to be used for only a select set of potential core leaders, who the diocese is investing in to become mentors for others.
  4. Select a certain set of key pastors/parishes to sign up for $300 and focus on training only those locations (a diocese could cover the cost of that directly, or assess those parishes for the fee, or seek outside funding to cover some or all of the cost).
  5. Discuss with the Catechetical Institute a case-by-case mitigation of the per parish fee based on allowing cluster parishes to be counted together, mission parishes to not be counted, or communities smaller than 50-75 families to be free.
  6. Select only a few mentors for the diocese (perhaps one or two per deanery), and use the Institute’s workshops in a cohort format, allowing those mentors to gather learners for study days, mentor them together, and move together at the same pace.

What does the Institute suggest regarding ways to remunerate diocesan mentors?

A diocese may want a path forward to paying their mentors – a major recruiting incentive. We can offer a diocese use of our individual subscription system, with the income streams going to the diocese (or parish) and diocesan mentors.

  1. The Catechetical Institute would still charge $300 per parish, which would allow anyone in the parish to view and benefit from the workshops.
  2. For a learner that wants to be mentored, the diocese can use our subscription system to set a per-person fee (for example, $10 per month). This fee could be paid by the diocese, by the parish, or by the individual (or some division of those costs).
  3. A significant percentage of this fee would go to that person’s mentor. For example, the Institute pays mentors $100 annually for each learner. This amount is disbursed regularly via an automated deposit to a designated account, tracked by the Institute’s LMS payment system. Normally, mentors will be asked to take on at least 10 and at most 40 learners at a time, thereby allowing mentors to earn at least $1,000 annually, and perhaps as much as $4,000.
  4. A diocese could set this per-person subscription fee lower or higher, depending on how much mentors are paid and how much a diocese wishes to take in of that amount (the Institute disburses two-thirds to our mentors). With a certain amount going back to the parish or diocese, this creates an incentive to recruit more learners. The advantage is that it would give a diocese a way to pay mentors using the Institute’s existing system.

What ways can a diocese receive assistance from the Institute in developing mentoring?

Diocese are welcome to use our training materials for mentors at no charge, including our intake and interview forms, reading handouts, follow-up workshops, and training day outlines.  As well, we are able to come to your diocese for a strategy day to plan for an effective use of our workshop collection, to discuss diocesan resources, certification plans, and adult formation goals, and means to develop strong mentoring ministries.  We are also able to come to your diocese for a mentoring training day structured in a similar way to how we train our own mentors, but tailored to your circumstances, desires for follow-up formation, and diocesan priorities for ministry development.

What criteria does the Institute suggest using to recruit in-diocese mentors?

Similar to our own criteria, we would suggest that a potential mentor: has at least five years of field experience; has achieved catechist certification for your diocese; has or is willing to go through a mentor training process similar to the Catechetical Institute’s; and has been vetted in some way by your diocese to get a sense of that person's basic fidelity to the Church, faith life, and general ministerial prudence.

Here are some questions we ask our Institute mentors:  Have you had an opportunity to study any Magisterial documents on catechetics (such as St. John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae or the General Directory for Catechesis)?  Have you taken any other programs or certifications in the field of catechetics?  In your spiritual life, please describe what well-developed habits are the mainstays of your continuing formation and growth.  In a few words, please describe your understanding of what it means to be an adult in the Faith.  What ministry areas do you currently anticipate that you might be able to provide mentorship for (such as general catechesis, RCIA, school teaching, youth ministry, etc.)

What workshop collections (i.e. Tracks) are currently in development by the Catechetical Institute?

We are currently filming at a pace of about 85 workshops per year, and we have completed the filming on the first several tracks listed below.  These workshops make use of the experience and skills of dozens of outstanding presenters from all over the United States and several other countries, and seek to provide the best training available in each ministry area:

  • Catechist Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Parish Catechetical Leader Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • RCIA Track Formation (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Youth Ministry Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Catholic Schools Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Priestly Renewal Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Ministry of Parenting Track (30 core workshops plus electives)
  • Hispanic Faith and Family Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Campus Ministry Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • First Proclamation Track (24 core workshops plus electives)
  • Pastoral Accompaniment Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Culture of Life Track (36 core workshops plus electives)
  • Music Ministry Track (12 core workshops plus electives)
  • Sports Ministry Track (12 core workshops plus electives)

Can officials from a diocese record workshops or segments and have them posted on the Institute’s online system?

The Institute welcomes diocesan officials to do so and very much encourages this.  We have filmed a number of diocesan officials doing certain core and elective workshops for our existing tracks, as well as for diocese-specific applications (such as introductory segments for a course of study or orientation to certain subjects that a diocese is prioritizing).  Under most circumstances, we are happy to welcome diocesan officials to our studio at no charge and provide our normal assistance given to speakers to ensure effective online presentations.

How are the workshops designed? 

The Catechetical Institute uses the term “tracks” to describe areas of ministry focus. Within each track are dozens of one-hour workshops that are divided into “core” areas and “electives.” Each workshop has been professionally filmed with a live audience and three cameras. Art, innovative media, music, and other creative elements have been extensively incorporated. All source material is provided in a highly user-friendly manner, designed for those not used to online learning platforms. Each one-hour workshop is broken up into 10-15 minute segments, to make for ease of viewing. After each segment, a learner is asked to complete a task that is designed to be field-applicable, real-world, and spiritually formative. Once a learner completes a given task and hits the “submit” button, two things happen. One, the task answer is sent to an assigned mentor via email, seamlessly connected by the learning platform. Two, a box pops up that offers the thoughts of the Franciscan catechetics faculty on that task. These pop-up answers and advice are pre-written into the learning platform and allow learners to receive not only the insight of a live local mentor but also the wisdom of those experienced catechist formators who presented the workshop and authored the tasks. We call this method double mentoring. Taken together, this approach ensures a higher level of quality control and personal attention than either one can provide alone.

What data is recorded by the online system?

Aside from the information collected from each user during registration, the system tracks the pace of each learner through a workshop, the online interactions with a mentor, the degree to which each video segment was viewed by a learner, the evaluation form submitted at the end of each workshop, the number of workshops completed, and the status and point of renewal of each subscriber.

Do the workshops accommodate those with hearing difficultly?

Each workshop video segment is posted with captions, as well as the ability to print out a full transcript.  Workshop all have a downloadable handout that provides an outline of the teaching, as well as relevant quotations and resource recommendations.

What is the mission of the Institute’s magazine, The Catechetical Review?

The Catechetical Review is an international quarterly catechetical journal primarily written for Directors of Religious Education, catechetical leaders, religious educators, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, and anyone involved in faith formation.  Its contributors, who aim to help in the formation of all those in a position to hand on the faith, come from academic catechetics faculties and “from the field.”  Subscribers receive: four beautiful full-color issues per year; online access to downloadable, reproducible articles; online Spanish translation of select printable articles; online access to projectable art for our Inspired through Art series, which may be used to teach the faith using art, or as a back drop for reflective prayer.  Parishes and schools may assign multiple online users accounts for their catechists and teachers with a paid subscription.  For more information: https://review.catechetics.com

What other resources does the Catechetical Institute have to offer dioceses and individuals?

The Catechetical Institute’s website has a section for Formation Resources that contains an immense array of options to explore for every level of Catholic formation: hundreds of talks from Franciscan University conferences, symposia, and other events; current and past articles from dozens of issues of the Catechetical Review and Sower catechetical journals; outstanding books; webisodes and creative evangelizing media, interview series with some of the finest Catholic thinkers, catechetical experts, and creative evangelists in the Church today.  All these resources are arranged in a highly user-friendly searchable format, so that anyone from a busy monsignor to a busy mother can locate useful things.

Are there any resources planned in Spanish?

The Catechetical Institute at Franciscan is building into our set of online workshop offerings a Hispanic ministry focus.  This collection is called the Hispanic Faith and Family Track.  In the many dioceses with which we are now in communication, the demand is obvious.  This track is filmed in Spanish, so that the material and teaching is firstly in Spanish, and inculturated already, rather than merely adapted from an English-language version.  We will be adding to our website’s resource section more Hispanic items in the coming months, and we currently offer a key catechetical book in Spanish, which can be explored here:  https://review.catechetics.com/books-dvds

Questions related to our conferences and events

What is the purpose of the St. John Bosco Conference for Evangelization and Catechesis?

The annual St John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators at Franciscan University is our premier event, bringing catechetical experts from all over to share their expertise through general sessions and specialized tracks.  We also host on-campus academic conferences on catechetical topics, and speak all over.  Founded over 20 years ago, this amazing gathering in late July has evolved to serve all aspects of the evangelizing and catechizing mission of the Church, with an annual array of relevant, inspiring, and practical workshops on parenting and priestly excellence, children, youth, and adult ministry, multicultural, ecumenical, and special needs service, and a host of tracks offering certification for school teachers and parish catechists, campus and youth ministers, catechetical leaders, RCIA teams, and much more.  It is a place for people to share their favorite resources, discuss particular challenges facing their ministry, learn from and be mentored by some of the finest professionals in the field, and open themselves to the Holy Spirit through confession, adoration, and Mass.  Many participants think of the conference as an annual recharge of their spiritual batteries, and a true retreat for the soul.  Come to the St. John Bosco Conference and be renewed in your hope as you spend four days being blessed by an amazing ministry team, dynamic presenters, and fellowship with those that share your passion for Christ and the Church!  For more information:  https://steubenvilleconferences.com

Does the Catechetical Institute host other kinds of events?

We hold regular mentor training events that are typically one or two days in length.  These are held at Franciscan University about twice a year, and we welcome invitations to conduct training for mentors in dioceses.  We also occasionally hold academically oriented conferences on aspects of evangelization and catechetics, such as the October 13-15, 2017 Speaking the Truth in Love Conference, which honors the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

What other conferences does Franciscan University offer?

High School Youth Conferences – www.steubenvilleconferences.com/youth

For the past 40 years, high school youth from across the United States have had their faith awakened and their hearts set on a fire through a personal encounter with Jesus at a Steubenville Conference. Each summer, well over 50,000 teens and their leaders become part of this movement of grace at one of Franciscan University’s 25 conferences in many cities across the nation.

Young Adult Conferences – www.steubenvilleconferences.com/young-adult

Franciscan University’s Encounter conferences seek to provide a place where Catholic young adults can come and have their faith strengthened and be encouraged and equipped to live as disciples. These impactful events feature talks that address head-on the challenges of the young adult world.  Encounter creates an environment where participants not only encounter Jesus in the sacraments and in prayer but in one another in community.

Adult Conferences – www.steubenvilleconferences.com/adult

Franciscan University offers five unique conference experiences for adults on our campus. Every summer thousands of Catholics make the pilgrimage to our campus to have their faith renewed, their spirits refreshed, and to be equipped to not only live the faith but to share it with others. Whether you are looking for apologetics, Scripture study, catechetics, or spiritual renewal, Franciscan University has a conference that will meet your needs.

What does the University offer for homeschoolers?

The rapid growth of homeschooling in the United States is well documented.  About 20% of Franciscan’s current student body was homeschooled at some level prior to matriculation.  In the spirit of the new evangelization and in the light of Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the domestic church, Franciscan has partnered with Homeschool Connections to provide flexible, faithful, and highly affordable K-12 online classes.  Courses are available for all subjects from math to science, from literature to writing, from theology to philosophy, and so much more.  This program also provides services to help homeschooling parents fulfill their God-given vocation, including free webinars, e-books, and online workshops.  Franciscan University and Homeschool Connections are committed to making available the best Catholic instructors at the most affordable price for the homeschool family budget, aimed at an educational formation that explicitly serves the new evangelization.  For more information:

K-12 Homeschool Connections – www.homeschoolconnectionsonline.com or Franciscan Fast Track – www.franciscan.edu/fasttrack  We are also planning to found a homeschooling conference here at the University, so stay tuned!

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