Things have changed a lot since many of us were children, and Sunday School is one of them. As the diocesan catechetical leader, it is my joy to visit different religious education programs throughout the Diocese of Burlington. Throughout Vermont, I have seen various approaches to religious education. One approach that has come about more recently in parishes is called “Family Faith Formation.”

Family Faith Formation indicates any approach to religious education in which children as well as their parents attend instructional time. In some parishes, the parents and children attend the same class with parents being given the guidance on how to teach that day’s topic to their children. In other parishes, parents and children attend separate classes that teach the same topic at age-appropriate levels. The goal is to empower parents to become the primary catechists in the domestic Church that is the Christian family.

Jennifer Ploof, the parish catechetical leader at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Swanton, has been running a Family Faith Formation program at her parish since before the Covid-19 pandemic. She loves the way that Family Faith Formation engages so many different generations in her community.

“Often children are accompanied not just by their parents but grandparents or godparents as well,” she said. “We are starting to see families who are more fully embracing their Catholic faith, taking advantage of sacraments and rites that they previously did not know about or fully understand, parents stepping up to become active in other roles within the parish community.” She can give numerous examples of how — from the mother who now helps her child’s teammates prioritize Mass to the family who helps their older members connect with the Sacrament of the Sick. She sees all these victories as the small steps by which Family Faith Formation helps “normalize actively living the Catholic faith at home every day.”

St. Catherine of Siena parish in Shelburne moved to the Family Faith Formation model immediately following the pandemic. In addition to class work, its program includes fun activities like escape room events and movie nights as well as family service projects like participation in the COTS Walk. Matt Sulva, parish catechetical leader, encourages participants to see each of the elements of the Family Faith Formation program as an adaptive experience. “Like anything, it takes time to transition, especially in these post-Covid years. But a major plus is that this model allows us to have regular contact with families, to meet them where they are at, and to remind them we are also invested in their own formation as much as their children’s formation. Our hope is not so much to ‘give back’ parents and guardians their ‘responsibility’ to teach their kids the faith, but rather to help cultivate their own desire to walk with God – and to do so together with their kids. It’s not perfect, but fortunately we aren’t fishing for perfection.”

Lisa Grover has been the director of religious education/parish catechetical leader in Vergennes and Bristol for several years. This is her first year using the Family Faith Formation model, but she has been impressed by the results. She recently told me that her favorite thing about the Family Faith approach is that “it shows our families that we can all be at different stages on our faith journeys, yet still be journeying together. We can learn from one another and support one another, and most importantly encourage one another. It’s beautiful to see those connections being made.”

Grover also talked about how it challenges parents to truly take their role as catechists seriously. She related how, in their first session, one of the participants was a Jewish father who had never thought to share his Jewish faith with his children. He told the group that this simple dialogue convicted him that he should “be more conscious of making (faith-sharing) a priority.”

It has been beautiful to have the opportunity to witness the variety of innovative ways that the faith is being shared with young people throughout the state. In the future, I hope to be able to share more gems with you from what is Vermont’s “treasure chest” of creative catechesis.

— Daniel Lacourrege is the diocesan catechetical leader for the Diocese of Burlington.

— Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.