RCIA: Imparting Knowledge with Love
Following is a Q-and-A session with Deacon Dale De Brosse, who is the director of religious education and director of RCIA at the Catholic Communities of Northwest Dayton (St. Rita and Precious Blood, Dayton and St. Paul, Englewood). A Precious Blood parishioner since the 1960s, Deacon De Brosse was ordained three years ago, and shortly after that, took over the RCIA program.
Also assisting are the pastor, Fr. Jim Seibert, C.PP.S.; the parochial vicar, Fr. Tim Knepper, C.PP.S.; and volunteers Debbie De Brosse (Dale’s wife), Greg Bauer, Ken Coe, Deacon Jim Olinger, Cathy Lecklider, Deacon Mike Prier, Mark Moorman, Cecelia Castellano and Bernie Schiml.
Tell us about the RCIA program at the parishes of Northwest Dayton (St. Rita and Precious Blood, Dayton, and St. Paul, Englewood).
Our RCIA program has a team of people to assist the director. The RCIA team is composed of a deacon (besides me), two lay men and one lay woman.
We also have an RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) team composed of two lay women (one of them is my wife). That makes a total of five lay people plus two deacons.
Our RCIA program runs from August to May each year.
How many people are going through RCIA this year?
We currently have ten people attending the RCIA sessions, besides the RCIA team. Of these ten, six people are candidates or catechumens, two people are attending with their spouse, and two people are attending as a refresher course on their religion.
Our RCIC program has two children, one in second grade and one in ninth grade.
What do you think is the importance of a good RCIA program? Additionally, how would you define a good program?
For most new Catholics, the RCIA (RCIC) program is the initial and most important step in introducing them to our religion. But the RCIA program also can be used to further the education of some Catholics who may have been away from the Church or who simply want a refresher course on their religion.
I feel that RCIA should be primarily academic in nature (formal, structured classes). Of course, there will be discussion and interaction as well, but the classes should be primarily a presentation of what we believe as Catholics since you cannot love what you do not know. First, impart knowledge, and if this is done in love and with enthusiasm, the love we want our catechumens and candidates to have for the faith will arise out of this knowledge.
I would define a good RCIA program not necessarily in term of numbers received into the church at the Easter Vigil (although quantity is great!) but primarily if it meets the objectives of the program (quality). I feel that objectives of any good RCIA program should include:
Exposure to (NOT a thorough grounding in) the main tenets of our faith
A desire to further that knowledge and to participate actively in the life of the parish after being received into the Church at Easter
A desire to evangelize their new faith by action as well as by example
What do you hope the RCIA participants get out of the program? Obviously, you would hope that they learn more about the Catholic faith – but can you expand on that?
I would hope that RCIA participants would receive a basic knowledge of our faith, sufficient to allow them to commit to the Church at Easter Vigil. In this regard, our program covers topics that include Catholic practices; sin and salvation; the Old and New Testaments; Mary, saints and feast days; the life of Jesus; and liturgical practices, among others.
The program also includes three retreats. Our text for the adults is A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki. Our text for the children is Journey of Faith for Children and Journey of Faith for Teens.
What do you feel that the leaders get out of RCIA?
As a leader, I feel that my own faith is strengthened by the RCIA program. The old saying that you cannot teach what you do not know is true here as in all teaching. You must feel confident in your own faith before you can share it with others.
While I did learn a great deal in my diaconate program, what I am learning now in preparing for RCIA is the “common man” touch of our faith. This preparation helps me to boil down the complex theological concepts I learned when I was studying for the diaconate into a more manageable component for the lay person. This has helped me prepare my homilies for the Sunday congregations as well as in my dealings with people on an everyday basis. Similar feelings have been expressed by other lay people on our RCIA team.
RCIA is a big commitment—how do you keep your volunteers/team engaged from year to year? How do you keep the participants looking forward to next week’s session?
One way I keep my RCIA team engaged from year to year is that we do NOT have a year-round program. That concept was tried once previously in our parish (before I took over as director) with diminishing returns. Team members said that they felt burnt out because of the year-round grind of attending weekly sessions, and the number of converts was much less for each of two yearly initiations than when we only had one nine-month program.
Another way I keep the team energized is that I invite some of them to present topic(s) about which they feel comfortable. We also have our two priests and two other deacons in the region present topics that they choose.
I use some of the team for dismissals on Sundays. This gives them a chance to interact with the individuals in a way that is not possible in more formal class sessions.
I keep the participants looking forward to the following week’s session by giving them just a preview of “coming attractions” and by asking them to read the related chapters in our text.