By RENEE WEBB
A new online catechetical formation and certification program became available in the Diocese of Sioux City thanks to a partnership with the Augustine Institute.
“We have made some significant changes to the renewal of certification options by putting a clear focus on ongoing faith formation,” he said. “Likewise, transitioning to an online program is also a significant change. There are still some points that need to be worked out.”
While the diocese now offers the online option, Shellabarger noted the traditional Basic Catechist Certification program will still be available with some revisions to the curriculum.
“We wanted to maintain a local, in-class option but also provide an opportunity for those who may want to utilize an online format or even seek more in-depth instruction,” he said.
Goals for formation
Shellabarger explained the online certification is just one aspect of their future goals for catechetical formation and certification in the diocese. Goals include strengthening the Basic Catechist Certification, strengthening adult/catechist faith formation, supporting Ministry 2025, developing leaders in the diocese and building a foundation for advanced catechetical certification/training.
Having an online option for certification, he noted, is beneficial for several reasons. For instance, for volunteer catechists who are often pressed for time, Shellabarger explained it is a convenient option for them to complete on their own time. The quality of online learning has continued to improve, he added.
“It was a great learning experience. This certification course was both rewarding and challenging,” said Milam, who earned a theology degree at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and did graduate studies at Mount St. Mary’s University and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
While Milam is a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Humboldt, he noted part of his job at the grotto is stewardship. With that in mind, Milam spends part of his time catechizing and working with the community, as well as Father Tom Hart, in promoting the Catholic faith. He hosts a Catholic Catechetical Bible Study at the shrine in West Bend, teaches religious education classes at the parish and gives talks throughout the state and Midwest on the history and theology of the grotto.
“I previously completed both the Basic Catechist Certification and Presenter programs in 2012, so this was a natural fit to continue my own personal formation,” said Milam, who described the online process as “very simple and works very smoothly.”
Shellabarger explained the online certification program includes 24 sessions. Eighteen sessions are on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith structured on the Catechism’s pillars – creed, sacraments, moral life and prayer – along with clear instruction on key aspects of the faith such as divine revelation and proclamation of the Gospel. Six sessions center on catechetical methods led by experts in the field.
He referred to the online option as a self-paced program that could be completed in a few a days, a few months or beyond. However, to get the most out of it he recommended completion in under two years.
“If a catechetical student spends the time and immerses in the course, it will bear fruit,” said Milam, who believes this program will be beneficial to parishes because it is so comprehensive. “Once the course is complete, most lay men and women can and should feel comfortable to go out and bring Christ’s message through the church to other parishioners throughout the diocese and beyond.”
It is Milam’s view that after taking the course, Shellabarger’s approach to catechist formation and Bishop Walker Nickless’ vision of how catechesis should work in the diocese is achieved and exceeded.
While there is no substitute for learning in a community together, Shellabarger said it is important to provide an online option because of the need.
“Also, the online program allows for a greater depth of study and reflection and by virtue of the catechetical methods’ focus, also equips catechists with some practical tips and insight into catechesis itself by some of the best catechetical leaders in the field,” he said.
The certification process as a whole, noted Shellabarger, is designed to develop the faith and knowledge of all catechists, enhance the catechetical community and strengthen catechesis on every level.
Shellabarger said he would be happy to assist DREs set up their online accounts and add catechists by contacting him at email@example.com.