ABOVE: Students work on an assignment in Mary Beth Harrod’s class at St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish. Harrod is Faith Formation leader for grades 7 through 10 at Historic Old St. John’s Parish in Utica.
By FRAN PERRITANO
Faith Formation for junior and senior high school students in the Utica region has a fresh look.
Six parishes are collaborating to offer one program taking place at two locations, giving parents and their children an opportunity to pick which location to attend.
This follows the lead of two parishes that joined their programs in fall 2022.
Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament, Historic Old St. John’s, St. Anthony & St. Agnes, St. Joseph & St. Patrick, Sacred Heart & St. Mary’s, and Mary, Mother of Our Savior parishes are working in unison to present religious education to these young adults.
In fall 2022, St. Patrick-St. Anthony’s Parish in Chadwicks and St. Mary’s in Clinton joined Faith Formation forces. This year, St. John the Evangelist in New Hartford and Annunciation in Clark Mills have been added.
“We leaders have been working together for many years on large events,” said Anne Carlone Elacqua, junior-senior high Faith Formation coordinator at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament. “I approached our group leaders and asked if we wanted to collaborate our programs to get our kids together so they can be with other Catholic youths. … There are more kids in the area than what we have in our own parish. We decided to join together.”
Kathy Poupart, parish life director at St. Patrick-St. Anthony’s Parish, and Cheryl Smith, catechetical leader/youth minister for grades 7-12 at St. Mary’s in Clinton, launched their program in fall 2022.
What prompted the merger?
“Students went through the entire ninth- and 10th-grade program and disappeared from the parish after Confirmation,” Poupart said. “It was not an effective use of our resources and time. Collaborative efforts throughout the diocese are being encouraged with a thought toward pooling staffing, resources, energies and finances to make for more dynamic programs and processes within the parishes. It is clear, throughout all sorts of industries, that collaboration is essential for growth, stability and endurance. As we move forward in building the Kingdom of God, this approach will help sustain us.”
Smith said she and Poupart realized that by working together they could provide more choices for the families and a schedule that works best for them.
“We decided the best way to do this was to offer ‘blocks,” Smith said. “Each block was three weeks. Some blocks were offered at St. Mary’s on Monday or Tuesday evenings and some at St. Patrick-St. Anthony’s on Sunday at noon. Families could choose the day and time that worked best for them, and they could change the day/time/place any time during the year if needed. They were never tied to only one option.”
Dick Vetere is coordinator of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at Mary, Mother of Our Savior Parish. He assisted in helping Poupart and Smith get their program off the ground.
“(They) were the pioneers,” he said. “I served as a consultant to this group. I learned that we can work together in collaboration rather than competing with one another to bring our collective resources to our mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to our community. It was successful and continues this year.”
Looking back, what did they learn?
“The brilliance of collaborative efforts,” Poupart said. “The power of new relationships between students when they meet students from other school districts. The possibilities, as we move forward, in new courses, new service opportunities, new prayer experiences, etc.”
Smith said that since the teens from the parishes have been in sessions together, “They have gotten to know and feel comfortable with each other.
“When we offered a Teen Gathering Night, some of these same teens came together and were comfortable sharing faith and fun outside of Faith Formation sessions because they had gotten to know each other.”
Journey of faith
Mary Beth Harrod is the new kid on the block among the Faith Formation leaders. She has been a catechist for 11 years, teaching First Communion children at Historic Old St. John’s for eight years. She’s now the Faith Formation overseer for grades 7-10.
“It is my hope that by coming together, the kids and leaders can make connections with each other, make new friendships, all while journeying together in our faith and creating individual relationships with God that will deepen and grow over time,” she said.
Elacqua said merging six programs “is a way to join our resources in catechists, ideas, programs to provide the students with the best possible program filled with ways to have a relationship with God, learn more about their faith and grow.”
She said there are about 120 students in the new program, which will offer classes at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament or Notre Dame Junior-Senior High School on Sundays.
“We hope that kids will enjoy coming and want to share their faith with others,” she added. “I have learned that we all have the best interest of our kids in our hearts, and we want them to have a fabulous experience in growing in their faith.”