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Catechist recognized for Echo

Brian McKenzie | Thursday, April 3, 2008

The National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) will recognize the Notre Dame Center for Catechetical Initiatives (CCI) and its director, theology professor Gerard Baumbach, with the 2008 Catechetical Award at an NCCL meeting in Houston April 8. The award, given each year for “exemplary contributions to the ministry of catechesis,” recognizes Baumbach’s work at the CCI, a part of the University’s Institute for Church Life, an NCCL press release said.

The Center’s director since its inception in 2003, Baumbach helped create the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program, a two-year program where Notre Dame graduates, as well as participants from colleges across the nation, can explore their faith and grow as Catholic catechists through service projects at partner dioceses.

Baumbach said Echo stands out because it combines spiritual, professional and academic work, as the program also puts participants on the road to obtaining a Master’s degree in theology from the University.

The apprentice catechetical leaders will “work in parish catechetical ministry for two years while simultaneously pursuing a Master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame,” he said.

But training to become a successful catechist involves more than just having faith or the right degree, so Echo emphasizes the importance of being in touch with the community’s needs and also of living by the faith proclaimed.

“To my knowledge, we’re the only university developing apprentice catechetical leaders in this way in the nation, if not the world,” he said.

Echo students take classes over the summer and are assigned to dioceses across the country for the duration of the academic year. During that time, they are expected to immerse themselves in their assigned communities while taking online courses, he said.

John Fahy, a graduate student in theology not enrolled in Echo, agreed that the simultaneous academic and professional work distinguished the program from its peers.

“Echo is a great program,” he said. “From what I understand, it provides a great way to develop two kinds of skills: practice, [or] the ability to succeed in the day-to-day challenges of ministry, and the academic. I think that’s an innovative way to learn,” he said.

Anne Roat, the Director of Ecclesial Lay Ministry for the Diocese of Lafayette, agreed that the initiative was ground-breaking.

“It is unprecedented and unparalleled in forming catechetical leaders. Jerry [Baumbach] is an authentic catechetical pioneer,” she said.

One such innovation is the program’s use of mentors and learning covenants to guide apprentice catechetical leaders. Baumbach said “each of our students works with a mentor, a parish staff person who serves in parish ministry.”

This individual is often the parish’s catechetical leader, he said. With the help of the mentor, each apprentice prepares a “learning covenant, which helps the apprentice identify his or her areas of responsibility within the parish,” he said.

These areas of responsibility might include directing a children’s catechetical program, a program for adult faith formation or a special needs program, he said.

Baumbach said learning covenants were important because they provided a way for the CCI to “work with [apprentices] in their formation for ministry, even though they are serving in dioceses across the country.

“The Echo experience is formative and perhaps unique as a shared experience and partnership between the University and the Diocese and the Diocese and the parish,” he said.

In its four years of existence, 47 graduates have begun or completed the two-year Echo apprenticeships. More than 80 percent of Echo graduates have chosen to stay in ministry-related fields.