By Becky Aubut
BREWSTER, Mass. — When Father William V. Kaliyadan, M.S., was assigned to Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster earlier this year, he sent a letter to the parish outlining what he intended to bring to his new congregation, including a family-orientated catechesis program.
Father Kaliyadan had been an associate pastor on Cape Cod before being assigned to a parish in New Hampshire, where he had been inspired to bring family catechesis to that parish after attending seminars in the Diocese of Manchester. He said: “I got some ideas and wanted to integrate that part into the classroom but I didn’t want it in the structure of a classroom. The reason I took that path was I noticed so many parents who bring their children, drop them off and then they go home. There was something missing.”
Father Kaliyadan has a doctorate in psychology, and decided to reach out to the parents at the New Hampshire parish to gently gather their thoughts, and found “they felt insufficient in their knowledge as parents,” he said, “and sometimes feel disconnected, and that’s one of the reasons they don’t make that strong commitment.”
After seeing the success of the family catechesis program in New Hampshire, he gathered a group together at Our Lady of the Cape Parish during the summer to create the blueprint for the program — now called “Faith on Fire” — at the Brewster parish. Team members included Kathy Russo, the new director of Adult and Family Faith Formation, who chairs the Faith on Fire program; Priscilla Silva, director of Religious Education; Elin Slavin; Tina Labossierre; Heath Eldredge; Elaine Lomenzo; Peter Lomenzo; Chip Russo; and Jane Greene.
Russo earned a masters degree in Religious Education from Boston College with a concentration on total community catechesis, and was excited to help form the new program “which is Religious Education of the whole family, all ages, together,” she said. “It’s a way of educating in faith that the whole family and everybody of all ages in the parish are able to come together, and learn together.”
Faith on Fire meetings focus upon basic Catholic teachings and Christian values, with parents being asked to participate in at least five of the six sessions being offered. Our Lady of the Cape Parish will use Faith on Fire as a supplemental program to their already comprehensive Faith Formation program: “The goal was not to take away what the children were already receiving, but to add a dimension that included the family,” said Russo.
When there is Faith on Fire scheduled on that Sunday, regular Faith Formation classes are not held; everyone is encouraged to attend with their family. Broken into two age groups, grades kindergarten to five are held in the morning, with grades six and up held in the evening.
In the morning the families attend Mass, then the younger members of Faith on Fire head to the parish center to share in a light breakfast and take time for fellowship, “which is big piece of it,” said Russo. “Everyone wears name tags so people can get to know each other and foster a strong sense of parish community.”
Then there is a presentation and witness talks, and there is a well laid-out lesson plan that is followed. The most recent lesson was on the Eucharist, while the next Faith on Fire will focus on Advent.
The older children of the Faith Formation will attend their Faith on Fire session later in the evening, and have the same experience including eating, taking time to get to know each other during fellowship, and see the same presentation.
“We have parents with feet in both camps,” said Russo, “so they’re able to choose [which session to attend]. We’re being as flexible as we can with our families in order to support them, and to invite them more deeply into the life of the parish.”
And that’s the most important aspect of the Faith on Fire program, said Father Kaliyadan: “I believe that parents are the first evangelizers of children, so their role in the development of their children is irreplaceable; we cannot do what they can do. Giving them, empowering them with that message, I thought that was important. I am already hearing from parents here, telling me that it’s beautiful that we can learn these things together.”
The first Faith on Fire had 300 parents and their children in attendance. Parents were recently surveyed for feedback after the second session, and Russo said, “We were very pleased with the positive response, they had really liked what we had done so far.”
The most substantial recommendation from the parents had been to have a Mass before the evening group. To offer Mass right before the evening Faith on Fire, instead of having families make two trips to the parish for Mass in the morning and then the program in the evening, is another way the parish is trying to accommodate and appreciate the busy schedules families have to endure.
“Father William has graciously agreed to make that formally part of the program,” said Russo of offering Mass before the evening Faith on Fire. “We want them to come and feel the love of their parish family, and feel a closeness with God and to receive the riches that our faith has to offer.”
Moving forward, Russo said she hopes to see a greater participation from families in the life of the parish as a product of the program. Father Kaliyadan added that he is already seeing the fruits of the program.
“It is connecting with the young and old, and that’s a pleasant surprise to me. I think it’s something they were longing to see in a parish on Cape Cod, where there are more elderly people filling the parish hall and the church. It’s a need of the parish and they are seeing it addressed,” he said, adding that he appreciates all the hard work the volunteers who help run the program are putting into the new venture. “The whole parish is really excited about this program. It’s brought new energy to the parish.”