December 17, 2015
Every Monday night at St. Anselm Church in Ross, a roomful of adults– many of whom have been Catholic their entire lives – circle around tables in the parish hall to learn about their faith.
The group, which includes converts and the newly confirmed ranging in age from 40-90, was started three years ago by religious education director Nicholas Case. Case recognized that for many adult Catholics, the faith formation they received as children is not enough to sustain a lively, lifelong faith.
“Our faith is organic and it needs to be rebooted and recharged over the years,” said Case, a former philosophy professor and Protestant convert now awaiting acceptance into the seminary.
Case said one of the greatest needs of the church in the United States today is catechesis. “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people, even in their 70s or 80s say to me, ‘I have no idea why we do this or say that,’” he said.
A year-long investigation by Marin County pastors in 2014 into the reasons for low Mass attendance and participation in the Eucharist in their parishes discovered the same thing, particularly among those formed as a child, like St. Anselm parishioner Elizabeth Meloney, a parishioner in her 50s.
“I had gotten most of my education growing up in the church,” said Meloney who was married at St. Anselm but gradually began participating less in the faith community. “About 10 years ago this inner yearning started,” she said. “I wanted to know more and to deepen my relationship with Christ and become part of the church community again.”
She and her husband attended San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy’s three-part “Forward in Faith” adult faith formation series held in parishes throughout the archdiocese in 2013. They were thrilled when Case started the adult faith formation program at St. Anselm and come together each week.
“Sometimes the process creates even more questions, but that’s all right,” said Meloney.
Katherine Willman of Fairfax, recently confirmed at St. Anselm, is grateful her religious education can continue with the support of other Catholic adults.
“I was still confused about a lot of things,” she said.
For the first year and a half, Case took the group through the Catholic Catechism for Adults textbook by the U.S. bishops. That piqued the curiosity of Claire Muller, a lively octogenarian and longtime St. Anselm parishioner.
“I am a cradle Catholic and I know the Baltimore Catechism inside and out,” she said. “But there is a lot I didn’t know.”
This year Case introduced Bishop Robert Barron’s three-part study series, “Untold Blessing: Three Paths to Holiness” to the group. Much of Bishop Barron’s DVD content has been paired with written materials to be used by parishes or other small groups for adult faith formation.
At the end of each “semester,” the current one ending later this month, Case asks each person how they have grown and where they see themselves going from here.
“I’ve never had anyone say they haven’t had some sort of movement in their faith,” he said.
Case is inspired and impressed by his adult students. With the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults and other programs, he said, “there is a bit of carrot at the end,” you get to become a Catholic or receive a sacrament.
“Here, there is no carrot at the end other than their own faith formation,” he said. “It’s actually sort of amazing to see a group of people who actually just want to grow in their Catholic faith.”