By RENEE WEBB
A series of four Excellence in Education sessions were offered in October throughout the Diocese of Sioux City.
According to Linsey Hoard, assistant director of religious education and family life in the diocese, a session was offered in each of the four deaneries – West Bend, Jefferson, Hospers and Sioux City.
“We really tried to focus on making the gatherings more central to people,” she said. “We even tried to shoot for the middle of the deaneries as well, to allow more people to attend.”
In all, Hoard estimated more than 150 people – catechists and DREs – attended the sessions with the biggest crowd of about 60 in Sioux City. Some attended sessions in more than one location.
Two presentations were given in each location. Teaching to different learning styles and classroom management was a topic presented at each of the four locations; however, it was presented by a different person in each location and they each offered their own tips and perspectives.
“That is by far the topic we hear requested from catechists and DREs every year,” Hoard said. “They ask for more assistance and training on how to teach because most catechists are not trained teachers. On top of that, they have the challenge of these students having been in the classroom all day already.”
The second presentation varied in three of the locations. In West Bend, Andy Milam presented about Teaching from the Liturgical Rites – how the liturgy can be used to catechize – and Sister Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, spoke on that same topic in Sioux City. David La Mar of Madrid delivered the second presentation on The Spiritual Life of the Catechist in Jefferson, telling catechists they must give attention to their own spirituality to minister effectively to others. Hoard gave the second talk in Hospers centered on Engaging Families in Catechesis, offering tips on what the church can do to support parents as they teach the faith in the home.
Fred Shellabarger, director of the evangelization, catechesis and family life in the diocese, said each session exceeded his expectations.
“I heard from many how much they appreciated the sessions, how much they appreciated what the dynamic catechetical leaders that led the sessions presented: solid, practical, field-tested tips on how to pass on the faith effectively in the catechetical setting,” he said.
Paulette Karolczak, DRE for Sheldon St. Patrick Church and Ashton St. Mary Church, attended the session that was offered in Hospers. She called both sessions – the one on classroom management and one of engaging families in catechesis – wonderful, offering practical and usable information for catechists.
“As the DRE, I am continually looking for opportunities to engage the parents and whole families in faith sharing together,” she said. “I appreciated the resources that Linsey shared to encourage faith practices in the homes. I also appreciated the ideas and materials shared on learning styles and classroom management. I plan to summarize this information and share my other catechists who could not attend.”
Karolczak noted two of her catechists were able to attend with her and both “seemed very interested in the material presented and were anxious to put the information into use in their classes.”
Michelle Rethman, director of faith formation at Sacred Heart Church in Sioux City, said both presenters at the Sioux City session were excellent and she learned a lot from each speaker.
“But perhaps my greatest takeaway is that the Diocese of Sioux City is viable and strong,” she said. “I looked around the full room of participants and realized we have parishes filled with caring, involved adults. As catechists, we have great leadership and support in the diocesan office, a dedicated staff to lead our parishes through Ministry 2025.”
There was also value, Rethman noted, in spending time with her catechists and feeling part of a team in ministry.
For the past few years, Shellabarger said he has received many requests from DREs and catechists looking for practical training and formation opportunities that will equip them for the catechetical setting; whether they are working with children, teens or adults.
“Recognizing this need, we decided to bring back Excellence in Catechesis,” he noted. “With this, we have adopted St. John Bosco as our patron for the initiative. Realistically, he is a tremendous model of ‘excellence in catechesis,’ and in many ways, a prime example of what good catechesis should look like.”
Shellabarger said this is only the start of a larger effort to begin to train and develop lay leaders and catechesis in the diocese.
“In the meantime, EIC will provide opportunities for catechist formation, practical training, application, networking and fellowship for catechists and catechetical leaders throughout the Diocese of Sioux City,” he said.