Parishes Consider Options for Religious Education and Other Faith Formation Programs in the Fall


By Tony DeGol

No matter what curve balls COVID-19 throws her way, Mandy Vigna has a goal for the young people engaged in her religious education program.

“I want to introduce my students to Jesus and enable them to create, then deepen, their personal relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ,” she said. “Of course the students will also learn additional elements of our faith, but the relationship with God through Jesus needs to remain paramount.”

Vigna is the Director of Religious Education at Saint Clement Parish in Johnstown. Like her counterparts in all parishes throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, she is already looking ahead to the fall and exploring options on how to prepare for the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on faith formation.

“Realizing there is a possibility that at least some of next year’s catechesis will need to be done remotely, I have been researching and studying various kinds of distance learning, including online learning, virtual learning, flipped classrooms, and hybrid variations,” she shared.

In-person classes are ideal, but Vigna insists that technology can also be a blessing.

“The internet, laptops, tablets, phones, and even gaming systems make possible what was unheard of decades ago,” she noted. “Programs such as Zoom can be the next best thing to being there. Truthfully, hybrid and virtual classrooms can offer benefits that a traditional classroom cannot, such as flexibility and increased resources.”

Vigna and other parish catechetical leaders joined diocesan ministry leaders on a recent Zoom call to discuss the path forward in the fall concerning not only Religious Education, but also Sacramental Preparation and Christian Initiation.

“We’ve got to be aware that we don’t know where this is going to go for us in the future,” reminded Francine Swope, diocesan coordinator of Youth Ministry and Religious Education. “As of right now, we’re trying to look at every parish, following the CDC guidelines, to find out how we can effectively still provide that faith formation for our young people, but make sure the safety of all is our number one concern.”

During the Zoom call, Swope and other diocesan leaders encouraged parish teams to pursue discussion among pastors and other key stakeholders. Groups should consider how in-person classes will be carried out and what will happen if in-person classes have to be halted.

“This needs to be a parish effort,” Swope insisted.

As part of the discussion, each faith community needs to weigh various factors including resources, staff, budget, and space, she added.

“We’re going to help provide something so the parishes are able to start up in September, and we hope and pray we don’t have another shutdown like we did before,” Swope continued. “If that would happen, we will have a plan in place that they can share with their families so that we can continue with the formation of our young people, which is so important.”

Vigna is committed to being prepared for whatever may happen in this unpredictable era of COVID-19.

“Ideally, both our faith formation and sacramental preparation will have face-to-face time with catechists and leaders, but I am working to ensure our programs will be able to meet our goal no matter the circumstances,” she emphasized. “Our goal is to keep the students and their families close to Jesus, even if we are not physically close to our families.”

[Photo: Students participate in a religious education class at Saint Clement Parish in Johnstown.]