With its removal from the school system more than a decade ago, what is left of catechism after its replacement by the Ethics and Religious Culture course? We offer a brief insight into catechesis at the heart of Montreal parishes.

“At the beginning of the 2000s, well before its removal in 2008, there was a catechetical focus geared toward children between the ages of 6 and 12. We offered a comprehensive formation; it was less focused on leading them toward the faith and more on general instruction. The number of catechists in the parishes grew. More and more we are leaning toward intergenerational meetings. It is still in the early days; those who have tried it are happy. But it doesn’t solve everything”, says Clément Vigneault, director of the Office for Catechesis of Quebec (OCQ), created in the late 1950s.

In the beginning, the OCQ was the sole provider of catechetical material for school age children (grades 1-6). Revenues dropped with the arrival of competitors, and a dramatic drop took place when the subject was removed from the schools. “In the beginning, our revenues came solely from the schools. Today, the sale of materials represents 20% of our revenues; the rest comes from donations. Our team is much smaller”, adds Mr. Vigneault.

Active communities

Despite the drop in revenues at the OCQ, human resources within the parishes are busy planning. Many catechists – most of them volunteer – lend tremendous support to the pastoral agents in place. A mother of 3 children (aged 14, 12 and 8), Anne-Marie Boileau is a catechist at Saint-Joachim Parish in Pointe-Claire.

“There are a lot of families in my parish. It is very active! There are at least 5 groups of young people, 7-8 per group. (…) During the course of the last few years, I have noticed that the catechism program has changed a bit. It is more focused on the life of Jesus than it was before. We are trying to involve the families more too, and leaving the children alone less, with activities like visiting the Saint Joseph’s Oratory”, she says. Besides having the course outline to follow, continuous formation is offered to the catechists each month, given by a pastoral agent.

Developing the faith

In some Anglophone parishes, like Saint Augustine of Canterbury in N.D.G., the Faith First program out of the United States began in 2001. Now, there is a Quebecois adaptation called Be my Disciple. The program has gone from running 26 to 24 weeks.

“We have started including the saints of Quebec. We also encourage the parents to join in the formation. Faith enrichment is a process! It takes place before or after Mass. I take care of about twenty kids”, says Mary Prillo, a catechist from Saint Augustine of Canterbury who has volunteered there for 13 years.

“Some parishes focus on the intellectual aspect of formation, with the sacraments, instead of developing a relationship with God. We rely heavily on a formation booklet, but we make sure to also include prayers, and have the children participate actively”, says Mrs. Prillo, a mother of 7 children.

“Some people see the end of catechism like a graduation, more cultural than spiritual. Nevertheless, we can count on a group of young people who will continue. Our youth group is animated by young people aged 20-22 who followed the program. And each month, there is a youth Mass”, she adds.