Adults attracted to faith formation - Catholic Courier

Adults attracted to faith formation

Between 80 and 100 adults make their way to St. John’s School in Clyde one Sunday night each month, drawn by the Family Education Program of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah. The majority of these people come from Clyde and Savannah, but some travel from as far away as Geneva, Seneca Falls, Waterloo, Lyons, Weedsport and Wolcott.

The program originally began as an offshoot of the parishes’ religious-education program for children. Several years ago, parish officials decided to offer a faith-formation opportunity for parents to engage in while their children were in their own classes. In 2001, Father Jim Hewes — who became pastor of the parishes in 2000 — decided to change the program, bringing in an outside speaker to make a presentation to the adults.

“Rochester is an hour away. Syracuse is an hour away. I didn’t feel people here should be deprived of good (speakers) just because they’re not near Rochester,” Father Hewes explained.

Since 2001, professors from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, Nazareth and St. John Fisher colleges, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Geneseo and Colgate Rochester Divinity School have led Family Education Program sessions, as have diocesan priests and deacons. The speakers have been so well-received that the program has been opened up to members of other local Catholic churches and to the community in general, Father Hewes said.

At the end of each year, participants are asked to evaluate the year’s speakers and topics and let Father Hewes know what speakers and topics they would be interested in seeing on the following year’s schedule. When making yearly schedules, Father Hewes takes these evaluations into account while trying to provide a balanced offering of theological, spiritual and practical topics. Balance and flexibility, however, are only two of the elements that make the program so successful, he said.

The adult program begins at 6 p.m., when the children’s faith-formation classes begin, and at 7, the adults take a short refreshment break before regrouping for a question-and-answer session with the speaker. At 7:30, the children return to the school hall from their classrooms upstairs, and families have time to socialize for a bit before they go home.

“It’s late enough that people have had dinner, (but) it’s early enough to get home to do some homework or get a bath or whatever,” Father Hewes said.

The social time included in the program is a good way to draw in newcomers, but the presentation is what most people come for, he added.

“Faith is a lifelong learning process. You don’t graduate after confirmation,” he said. “I think there’s a hunger in people to learn more about their faith. We’re in a very fearful world; a very complex world … and this anchors them in their faith.

Bertha Canolesio, who belongs to St. John’s Parish, tries to get to as many of the sessions as she can, even taking notes so she can reflect back on the topic later.

“They’re very stimulating. You become stale if you don’t have this kind of stimulation. It strengthens people in their faith and it’s like a magnet — it draws them to know more about their church and its spiritual practices and history,” Canolesio said.

Judy Savaria lives in Dundee and works as religious-education administrator for the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva. Although it takes an hour and a half for her to drive to Clyde for the program, the tremendous amount of information and spirituality in the program makes it worth the trip, she said.

“I don’t think there’s ever been one that I haven’t liked. Not only is it informative, it is just very spiritual, very uplifting,” Savaria said.

The speakers, who often drive from Rochester, don’t mind making the trip either, according to Dr. Joseph Kelly, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College. Kelly has led three sessions in the past and will present on the Gospel of Matthew on Oct. 10.

“It’s really fun to go because people show up and they’re interested. It’s just a fine program,” Kelly said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the Family Education Program, contact St. John’s Parish at 315/923-3941.

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