Faith formation: Volunteers, staff help others in their faith journeys

By Ryan Mayer

We often hear it said that “Jesus meets us where we are.” Of course, Jesus doesn’t just leave us where we are but calls us to fullness of life, to somewhere greater than where we were before. God is always the one who takes the initiative and calls us to respond. Sister Celeste Arbuckle, SSS, is the director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. She, her staff and parish catechetical leaders and catechists are finding new and creative ways to meet people where they are and to ensure they receive the formation they need on their lifelong faith journey. Each parish does this in its own unique way depending on the needs of the families, their cultural expression and parish life.

One of the greatest challenges for families in faith formation is time. Families are busy, and many families struggle to just be present for faith formation sessions. One way to make parent or youth sessions more available is to offer them twice or through hybrid programs. Offering options enables a person to attend a live session or access a taped session at a more convenient time. “Sometimes, 11 p.m. is the only time a working parent can participate, once the children are sleeping,” said Sister Celeste. “We want them to be able to participate whether it be at midnight or 5 a.m.”

Recognizing Faith Formation Service

Time is, of course, also a consideration for those who lead faith formation. Parish catechetical leaders are very generous with their time and talent, with approximately half of them serving in a full-time capacity, 30% part-time and the remainder as volunteers. Catechists serve on a volunteer basis. Catechists are recognized by parishes at a commissioning Mass on Catechetical Sunday in the fall as well as in May at the Pius X awards ceremony hosted by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Recognition awards are presented to those with five years or more of service as well as those who have gone through training as new parish catechetical leaders or master catechists. Special recognition is offered to the youth who serve as volunteers. During the awards event, Sister Celeste presents the “Director’s Award” to people who have significantly helped in the archdiocesan office.

Meeting Particular Needs

Some formation takes on a different look. Programs, such as one at St. Veronica Parish in South San Francisco, offer sacramental preparation for students with special needs. The center for sacramental preparation has been a formation center for many years and is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal, the Office of Faith Formation and the Knights of Columbus. Sacramental preparation kits were developed by a young boy who wanted to help his brother who had special learning needs. These kits, as well as other supplies, are offered to parents and teachers. The program also hosts an annual Christmas party.

In addition, St. Veronica’s is collaborating with the Office of Faith Formation to host a “Saints retreat” on March 19 for those with special learning needs and their parents. The event includes prayer, activities, lunch and sessions for both children and parents.

What’s Next for Faith Formation

Sister Celeste plans to hold a catechetical summit in the spring to take an inventory of current faith formation needs in the Archdiocese. “We will review where we were before the pandemic,” she said. “We will assess how well we connected with families, how many students we served, and which programs were effective. We need to consider what was working well and what we might trim.”

In January, master catechists in the Archdiocese met to consider how to encourage more certification and formation opportunities that can strengthen the ministry of catechesis. “The New Directory for Catechesis calls us to see the mentoring of catechists as vital to their ministry,” said Sister Celeste. “It also requires that evangelization be woven into all our endeavors. Paragraph 139 says that the catechist is formed to become a witness of faith and a keeper of the memory of God. Our goal is to constantly reinforce this into our archdiocesan programs.

“Adult faith formation is a lifelong process that strives to meet the needs of people in every age group, whether they be in a parish or even in prison,” she added.. “We have RCIA as a part of prison ministry for the incarcerated, and the Archbishop even celebrated Christmas Eve Mass on Christmas Eve for the incarcerated.” Sister Celeste and her team of parish directors, master catechists and volunteers work to ensure that everyone has opportunities for knowing Jesus, loving the Church and becoming a true missionary disciple. Whether it be time constraints, language considerations or individual learning needs, faith formation in the Archdiocese of San Francisco is meeting God’s people where they are as true witnesses of the Word. 

Ryan Mayer is the director of Office of Catholic Identity Formation & Assessment for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.