From head to heart: Drawing people into greater communion with Christ and each other

June 11, 2019

Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz confirms a young man during Pentecost Mass at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Houston in 2018. Catchesis efforts led by the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis work to draw the faithful deeper into their relationship with Jesus and His Church. File by James Ramos/Herald.

HOUSTON — When it comes to forming Catholics in their faith or those who are searching for a church home, the Church recognizes that catechesis needs to be preceded by evangelization — going beyond head knowledge to the conversion of the heart. This draws people into a realization of the divine activity already in their lives through an encounter with Jesus Christ. 

According to Julie Blevins, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis (OEC) of the Archdiocese, over the past three years, the office’s mission has focused on providing ways to draw people into deeper communion and intimacy with each other and Jesus. The OEC is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

“Once someone has this encounter with Christ, they want to know more and catechesis is there to support that quest,” said Blevins. “If we know Jesus more, then we grow to love Him and desire to serve Him. The OEC programs that have been revised over these past three years have integrated this principle of encounter before catechesis, which leads to deeper encounters and deeper catechesis, which is a lifelong experience.” 

One priority has been to modernize access to the OEC programs with updated technology, but Blevins cautions balancing access and efficiency along with community is vital. 

“Since it’s not just about head knowledge, but conversion of heart, we have to remember that knowledge can happen online, but conversion and encounter happen within a living community of faith,” said Blevins. “Personal witness is critical. The catechist echoes the faith by their personal testimony, as well as enabling the authentic witness of their learners, which can best happen in a live community setting.”

Blevins said this living community of faith is demonstrated by the OEC staff and those serving the parishes in the Archdiocese as catechetical leaders across the life cycle. She said together they seek to bring others to Christ and, to do that, need opportunities to continue to grow in their personal faith and to be formed in ways to form their catechists in how to transmit the faith.

Matt Kiernan, who is a coordinator of religious education, said the OEC leadership programs have made a significant impact on his professional ministry career. 

“OEC staff members have been present and have challenged me to grow through different leadership opportunities,” Kiernan said. “Their vision and passion for catechesis across the Archdiocese have been captivating, which makes me want to participate in its mission. The OEC has made me a better catechetical leader, which has impacted the lives of the thousands of children and youth that have come through the various parish programs in which I’ve been involved.”

Blevins said OEC provides levels of formation for those in parish leadership positions, including the pastoral and educational ministries that offer training and form leaders that serve in the parish. By taking advantage of this training, Blevins said churches form leaders that help develop their families in the practice of their faith, enhance the liturgical and sacramental celebrations, and help couples.

Ryan Lambert, who is in his first year as director of religious education at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church after leaving the seminary after six years, said he has benefited from the warm welcome he received by the OEC staff and multiple training opportunities offered.

“In my first year, the OEC has provided me with opportunities to meet many wonderful people who are also working to build the Lord’s kingdom,” said Lambert. “This Archdiocese has so many people from all walks of life who have valuable knowledge to share, I feel that I have only scratched the surface of this wealth of experience in the people that I have encountered so far. The OEC has provided formation opportunities that have been beneficial in my professional growth and helped me create a vision for our parish’s mission to evangelize over 750 kids and their families.”

Another leader who has benefited from the leadership training programs is Ana Maria Gibson, director of Spanish catechesis at St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Kingwood.

“I have had the opportunity to become certified in many of the programs offered by the OEC, up to a point to where I graduated in the Diplomado Mater Dei of the Archdiocese Galveston-Houston,” Gibson said. “Due to the outpouring of support from all the members of the OEC, I want to thank everyone that has continued to assist me. I am excited to see what improvements are made to future programs.”

Becky Wilkinson, director of the Weekday Children’s Programs at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land, said she participated in the Formation Toward Christian Ministry program and later enrolled in the Catechetical Leadership Institute. 

“These classes held by the OEC not only enriched my faith life but also helped me better serve the families and staff in the early childhood ministry at St. Laurence,” said Wilkinson. “One of the most important roles we have is to evangelize. The OEC provides excellent tools, training, and is a huge resource.”

Blevins said the DSF is essential to the ongoing mission of OEC.

“DSF supports the development of the curriculum, all revisions to leadership formation programs, revisions to all of our catechist formation programs, textbook aid to poor parishes, and scholarships for leaders to pursue advanced formation or degrees in theologies,” said Blevins. 

She said each of these programs returns the investment parishes make in their donation to DSF by giving back qualified leaders and catechists that can effectively and authentically transmit the faith to its members.

“DSF impacts each and every parish by supporting the OEC,” said Kiernan. “At the heart of our Church’s mission is to evangelize and bring the faithful into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. The OEC is dedicated to helping form leaders to accomplish this mission; DSF donations do make a significant impact on our Archdiocesan community in this way.”

Lambert agrees and said he is currently working on a few projects with the OEC that depends on the DSF contributions.

“Beyond my personal experience, I know that the OEC has many programs that offer aid to parishes, from providing educational support, such as textbook assistance, to pastoral care, and expertise in ministering to people with disabilities,” he Lambert. “The work they do is worthwhile, and I am blessed to be a part of it.”

Doris M. Barrow III, who has served as coordinator of religious education at St. Monica’s Catholic Church for close to 7 years, 14 years as a catechist, said the OEC has positively touched his life and sees great value in supporting the DSF.
“The OEC is my chisel and polishing cloth in my ministry as a parish catechetical leader,” said Barrow. “All of my formation was provided through the wealth of resources, courses, retreats, grants and days of prayer offered through OEC, as well as my numerous face-to-face meetings, emails and conversations with each member of the department. Without their guidance, suggestions, support and prayers, I hesitate to think about what my ministry would like.”