A Sower Went Out…

Franciscan University of Steubenville collaborated with the publishers of the catechetical journal The Sower to positive results.

Ever since he got his first copy of a catechetical journal called The Sower, Ryan Hanning has been an enthusiastic subscriber.

“I read it literally cover to cover,” he said. The coordinator of adult evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix uses the quarterly publication in his work and encourages other catechetical leaders to do the same.

“[It] blends the attractive formatting of a modern magazine with the sound content of a theological/catechetical journal,” Hanning said. Furthermore, he added, it has broad enough appeal that it offers something for catechists in the trenches as well as those in catechetical leadership.

The Sower, founded in 1919 in England, has always had an international readership and circulation, according to its editor, Petroc Willey, but through an agreement among the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England, which acquired The Sower in 1992, Studium de Notre Dame de Vie of Venasque in France and Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, it is rapidly gaining new readers in North America.

Colleen Rainone, Franciscan University’s publications director, said U.S.-Canadian circulation has gone from about 100 to 1,000 since the agreement took effect.

The three institutions were brought together by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to promote authentic catechesis and the formation of catechists.

Max Bonilla, vice president for academic affairs at Franciscan, said Cardinal Schönborn told representatives of the institutions, “I know all three of you; you should know each other.” After several years of discussions, they came together in 2003 for the first formal meeting of what they called a “catechetical friendship,” Bonilla said.

Publication of The Sower at Franciscan University for distribution in the United States and Canada beginning last year has been among the first fruits of the relationship.

Willey said the arrangement with Franciscan has meant that The Sower now includes more regular contributions from U.S. diocesan and parish catechetical leaders, including Archbishops Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Jose Gomez of San Antonio, and Bishops William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., and Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D.

Already, the journal is generating a positive response from catechetical leaders around the country.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., has ordered more than 250 subscriptions for diocesan staff, and the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., asked for 400 copies of a recent issue on the Compendium of the Catechism to hand out at their Sept. 8 catechetical assembly.

“We provide a copy to all of the directors of religious education who come to our August in-service every year, and we’ve been promoting it,” Ann Lankford, director of catechesis and evangelization for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., said. “We also gave it to the administrators of our schools and we’ve had some really good feedback.”

Contemporary Concerns

Lankford said she especially likes the way The Sower features sacred art in its “Learning Through Art” series, which teaches the faith through classical works. “It has spurred a desire to teach sacred art in both schools and parish programs,” she said.

She also appreciates that each issue has a focus or theme.

“So if it’s a topic that’s pressing right now, I make sure I read all the articles because they’ve done a fine job of doing a lot of the homework for me,” Lankford said. “Of course, I read it just to continue to grow in my own knowledge of catechesis, but it’s a very spiritually oriented magazine also so it draws me deeper in my own spiritual life because it is grounded in Catholic spirituality.”

Willey said The Sower schedules its articles using a scope and sequence of themes so it can help catechetical leaders with their annual planning and preparation. For example, he said, the current year focuses on God the Father, the year of St. Paul and resources for World Youth Day in 2008.

The Phoenix Diocese’s Hanning said he looks to The Sower to provide background for the articles he writes and for his own professional development, adding that the diocese’s catechetical office also uses it extensively and has ordered back issues by the hundreds to distribute.

“Our hope as an office is that we can get as many of our catechetical leaders aware of — if not subscribe to — The Sower because it has such a wide variety of things,” he added.

Willey said the publication is aimed at forming catechetical leaders in light of the Catechism, the General Directory for Catechesis, and the apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in Our Time), all of which capture the Church’s vision of catechesis.

The Sower, he said, is concerned mainly with content, pedagogy and methodology. “[It] picks up contemporary concerns affecting catechesis, such as the spread of New Age and forms of non-Christian angel-worship, or the neglect or deliberate removal of God the Father from many catechetics texts. At the same time it finds its life from returning to the perennial sources of the faith — the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Fathers and doctors of the Church.”

Hanning said one of the things he likes best about The Sower is that it is based on Scripture and Tradition and quotes contemporary Church documents such as the National Directory for Catechesis and the Catechism.

Lankford agreed, adding that articles in other publications she has read have tended to focus on one person’s experience without incorporating the Church’s wisdom and spirituality.

“The Sower’s writers are docile to the Church’s tradition,” she said.

It’s no coincidence that Sower articles draw extensively from the Catechism.

“It is here,” Willey said, “that we can find the keys for the renewal of catechesis in our day — not only in the recovery of confidence about the content of the faith to be taught, but also in the embracing of the pedagogy of the faith. This pedagogy informs every section and every page of the Catechism, and The Sower seeks to be inspired by this pedagogy and to reflect it in its pages.

“The Catechism emphasizes the ‘organic connection’ between spiritual life and dogma, and The Sower sees this as the key for the renewal of both catechesis and spirituality, both being avenues towards the One who is all-good, all-true and all-beautiful.”

Judy Roberts writes

from Graytown, Ohio.



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