FLOSSMOOR, Ill. — Anne Aboushousha’s 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son love their religious education classes so much they never want to miss them.
More importantly though, Aboushousha, who teaches in the religious-education program at Infant Jesus of Prague Parish in Flossmoor, sees that her children and her students are learning the essentials of their Catholic faith.
For example, Aboushousha said the program in her parish stresses the Trinity, one of 10 areas that had been identified as deficient in religious education before the U.S. bishops began reviewing textbooks for conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1996.
“We start with the Trinity in first grade,” Aboushousha said, “and we have them visualize it in different ways so they can understand how there can be three persons in one.” Sometimes, she added, teachers will use the metaphor of water, steam and ice, to show that something can have the same essence, but differ in appearance or function. By grade 6, which Aboushousha now teaches, she said it is clear that the material her students have been learning is “starting to click.”
To ensure Catholic children are receiving a comprehensive and accurate presentation of their faith, Infant Jesus of Prague and other parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago have been required since the fall of 2002 to use only textbooks that have been reviewed by the bishops and declared to be in conformity with the Catechism.
Infant Jesus of Prague uses Silver Burdett Ginn’s Blest Are We series, one of 132 series and books that have been found by the bishops to be in conformity with the Catechism (a complete list is available at usccb.org). The bishops have been evaluating religion textbooks for conformity with the Catechism since 1996 as a means of improving religious education in the nation’s parishes and schools.
Under the review process, publishers voluntarily submit their books before publication and agree to make changes required for a declaration of conformity with the Catechism. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and bishops around the country have responded by mandating that only books in conformity be used in their dioceses.
“Almost every bishop that I know is requiring it,” Timothy Mullner, regional vice president for Catholic sales in the McGraw-Hill School Solutions Group, said. “It is becoming the new standard.”
In the decade since the process began, the bishops have seen fruition in the form of an improvement in the overall quality of catechetical materials.
“I think when the bishops look back over the last 10 years, they feel that the doctrinal content of catechetical material is better, more complete, more authentic,” Msgr. Daniel Kutys, executive director of the bishops’ Office for the Catechism, said.
In this, the last of an investigative series centering on the 20 largest dioceses in the country in terms of elementary population, the Register looks at the policies and practices of the Archdioceses of Chicago and Los Angeles. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop, recommends but does not require use of books in conformity with the Catechism.
In Chicago, calls to a sample of parishes and schools revealed that all but two were using texts in conformity with the Catechism. The exceptions were Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and St. Athanasius Parish in Evanston, Ill.
At Holy Name, Pflaum Publishing Group’s Visions, a lectionary-based periodical series that is not reviewed by the bishops because of its format, was being used for junior high students. However, junior high students also use Pflaum’s Confirmation: Gifted With the Spirit, which is on the conformity listing, and teachers for those grades consult Harcourt Religion Publishers’ Call to Faith series, which also is in conformity and is used by grades 1-6.
Sister Judy Dieterle, a member of the Sisters of St. Louis and associate director of the archdiocesan Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry, said she prefers that parishes using lectionary-based resources employ them as supplements to a series that has been found in conformity with the Catechism, not as the main resource for students.
At St. Athanasius, three older Silver Burdett Ginn sacramental preparation texts, We Celebrate the Eucharist, We Celebrate Reconciliation and We Celebrate Confirmation, none of which has the conformity declaration, were being used. The main texts for grades 1-8 are all in conformity, but three different series are being used in the parish school: Loyola Press’ Finding God for grades 1-2, Silver Burdett Ginn’s Blest Are We for grades 3-6, and Loyola Press’ Christ Our Life for grades 7-8.
Sister Judy said the archdiocese has concentrated on getting parishes and schools to use a main textbook series that is in conformity and has not yet enforced the policy for both sacramental-preparation and high school texts.
However, she said that she does encourage parishes and schools to use one series, not several. “I prefer the consistency,” she said. “There may be slight variations in curriculum in one series to another. Our recommendation would be to pick one publisher and stick with it.”
Ron Pihokker, director of the Archdiocese of Newark catechetical office, also has cautioned against creating programs from different sources. Textbooks, he said, are not just books, but are based on programs that have various types of ancillary support, including teacher guides.
“So if you don’t buy into the whole series,” he said, “you’re running a number of different risks. You’re losing all that support, losing the continuity of the curriculum as it’s designed for that particular series and I think it can be confusing to the catechist.”
To reinforce the policy in Chicago, the archdiocese provides a link to the bishops’ conformity listing on its own website and also offers textbook-exploration days featuring representatives of various publishers. In addition, the archdiocese follows up with parishes and schools discovered to be using older materials.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles strongly encourages parishes and schools to use texts in conformity with the Catechism, specifically those from the archdiocese’s own list, but does not require them to do so.
Michelle Youssef, consultant for elementary catechesis, said the archdiocese conducts its own evaluation of texts centering on pedagogy, methodology, learning styles, cultural sensitivity, parental involvement and connection to liturgy. It then places those it has determined to be acceptable on a “recommended-text list.” Parishes and schools are asked to choose something from that list, which currently contains 11 series from six publishers; all bear the bishops’ conformity declaration.
Youssef said she has made an effort to visit parishes and attend regional meetings of directors of religious education in the last two years to talk about the various new series that are in conformity and believes there has been an increase in parishes using updated materials.
A check of 10 religious-education programs in the Los Angeles archdiocese found four to be using texts that are not in conformity with the Catechism:
• Beatitudes of Our Lord Parish in La Mirada was using Harcourt Religion Publishers’ older Living Our Faith series, which has not been found in conformity, although there are plans to replace it in the fall, likely with Loyola Press’ Finding God series, which is used by Grades 1-6 and is in conformity.
• St. Monica Parish in Santa Monica was using Resources in Christian Living’s Faith First, which is in conformity, for grade 1, but the remaining grades have no textbook and are using instead a program created by the staff as part of the parish’s whole-community catechesis program.
• Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Wilmington uses as the main textbook the Baltimore Catechism, which is not on the bishops’ conformity listing, although Ignatius Press’ Faith and Life series, which has been found in conformity, is employed as a backup text.
• St. Paschal Baylon Parish in Thousand Oaks was using Living Our Faith, an older series that is not in conformity, for the junior high grades, but had texts in conformity for the remaining grades: Sadlier’s We Believe for grades 1 and 3-6 and Harcourt’s Call to Celebrate: Eucharist and Call to Celebrate: Reconciliation for grade 2.
Told about the four parishes, Youssef said it is inevitable that some parishes, as was the case with two of the four, would still be using older texts for financial or other reasons. She said she was not familiar with the parish using the Baltimore Catechism and could not comment on it.
Youssef said she had spoken with the director at St. Monica, the parish that had written its own program for grades 2-8, and that she always encourages catechists to use textbooks.
“Textbooks have changed in recent years,” she said. “They have fabulous programs with incredible resources for parents, children, families and catechists that really help to fortify the faith formation and the religious education of the child. … I’m always encouraging people to use a textbook and in most cases I have found that most parishes are using texts and using newer texts.”
Judy Roberts is based in
This concludes the series on catechetical texts.