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The Forum for Young Catechetical Leaders

By John LeComte

It’s Saturday morning, 8 o’clock. VWK residence hall is eerily quiet, except for the sounds of a chirping alarm ringing from a cell phone. Sophomore Paige Innes checks her phone, then reluctantly rolls out of bed, puts on her favorite  t-shirt and jeans, and preps for class. “I didn't want to get out of bed on a Saturday morning,” said Innes. “But, it was always worth attending class. I would pick up coffee, then drive over to Dan Curran Place.”

Innes and five of her classmates are studying in a program called the Forum for Young Catechetical Leaders (FYCL), which prepares UD students to become outstanding catechists and Catholic school teachers. The students are required to meet on four Saturdays (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)  They must also  spend two semesters in a local catechetical parish program referred to as praxis.

“I have loved the opportunity the forum has opened up for me,” Innes said. “Church history was a class I remember vividly. Hearing Sr. Angela Ann (Zukowski)  describe her walks through the catacombs, or her discussions with the popes, was incredibly cool.”

“During one of my last meetings with Pope St. John Paul II,  I was invited to personally address the Holy Father for ten minutes and then presented him with a book,” Zukowski recalled. “Titled Voices of Courage: Women in Catholic Communications from Around the World, the pontiff was most interested in its focus so we discussed it a bit.  He then offered me a special blessing.”

Zukowski, director for the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives, College of Arts and Sciences, along with Dr. Dorothy Mensah-Aggrey, also with the Institute, and Susan Ferguson, Director of the Center for Catholic Education,  teach and mentor the group. The Forum for Young Catechetical Leaders began in 2000 to prepare UD Students to teach faith formation in Catholic schools and parish ministries across the United States. 

“These classes are interjected with wonderful discussions about the place of the youth in the church,” commented Dr. Mensah-Aggrey. “Students have grown in their wisdom of being church (globally) as we tend to discuss the universality of the church. It’s wonderful!”

Innes, an early childhood education major from Atlanta, fell in love with UD after a tour. Her mother,  Maureen (Maguire)  is a UD alum.

“Through the Forum, I’m now a Sunday school teacher planning and executing lessons on my own. Not many students get this opportunity so I’m grateful for it,” Innes said.

Freshman Greg Duchak really enjoyed the Saturday classes. "Being awake when the rest of the campus is sleeping was really neat,” said Duchak. “The class really helped give concrete ways to be the best catechist as I can be. We also learned how to use technology in evangelization, and as Sister Angela likes to say, we are missionary disciples in cyber space!”

Sophomore T.J. Belstering, also an Education major, (Adolescence to Young Adult)  didn't mind the early wake-up call.  He’s had many early mornings growing up on a farm north of Pittsburgh. T.J. currently teaches in the RCIA program through campus ministry. “ I learned so much in  class about the four pillars of catechesis.” (Faith, Sacraments, Commandments, Prayer ) The most important pillar for me is faith. I find it to be the root from which joy and fulfillment flows. “  

Dr. Mensah-Aggrey has been inspired by the students’ work. “It has been amazing to read through the final lesson plans at the end of our sessions. Any school or parish which employs these students will be glad they did because they are well-rounded in their knowledge of theology, liturgy and educational methodologies.”

As for the future, Paige, Greg, and TJ all aspire to teach some day.

 “My goal is to teach at a Catholic university or high school,” says Belstering. “Yes, teaching at some level,” said Innes. “Teaching theology in a high school and eventually working for the Archdiocese,” Duchak responded. “Of course a dream job down the road would be working for USCCB ( United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)  in Washington DC,” he added.

 Dream they will. As long as they can sleep in on future Saturdays.

The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives oversees many programs, including the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF), a distance learning site offering adult religious education and faith formation classes throughout the year. In addition,  initiatives include the Forum for Young Catholic Hispanics, Christian Meditation in Catholic schools, the Caribbean School for Catholic Communications, Special Needs in Faith Formation,  Catholic Schools for Tomorrow, and the Forum for Young Catechetical Leaders. 

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