Parish leaders at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington know that an effective religious education program must provide quality programming, address the needs of parishioners and Catholic school families, consider changing family structures and be in tune with directives of the Diocese. So as the age for confirmation is gradually reduced to sixth grade in the Diocese of Burlington, the joint religious education program in the southwest corner of Vermont is adapting and developing programming for younger students who have been confirmed.

“We have to refashion and reimagine” faith formation, said Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman, pastor. Through the years, the parishes have used different models for faith formation from traditional Sunday morning classes and evening high school youth groups to family-based catechesis. As part of their program to adapt to the younger confirmation age and the need to keep younger, confirmed students part of faith formation, the parishes have hired a part-time youth discipleship coordinator, Mary Drew. “We realize that with confirmation moving to a younger age, we need to establish relationships with younger students so they will continue on [with faith formation] after confirmation,” she said. “One of our goals is to establish a Catholic youth community and give them support in their faith as they make it their own,” said Kathy Murphy, coordinator of faith formation.

“We want to show people this [youth discipleship] is important to us,” Father Wiseman added.

Students from The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington participate in the parish faith formation for sacramental preparation. They will be incorporated into efforts for youth discipleship.

One of the key initiatives in the parishes’ faith formation efforts is the Tutus Tuus summer program that sets the tone for the next school year’s religious education program.

Eventually Drew will work with students in grades seven through 12. She plans to combine catechesis, service and social activities so once they have made their confirmation they will continue to be invested in parish life.

Youth are encouraged to be part of every area of parish life such as liturgies, social services and parish council.

“We can’t have them just be done” with faith formation after confirmation, Drew said. “We need multiple opportunities to touch our families’ and young adults’ lives, Murphy added. “The goal of all of this is to help the young adults deepen their relationship with God and help facilitate their faith journey.”

—Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.