‘Grandparenting’ the Faith
‘The kids know whenever they need prayers, they call Grandma,’ one matriarch reports.
CLEVELAND — Pope Francis said in his message for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021 that “there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren.”
The Anne and Joachim Grandparenting Workshops in Cleveland are proof positive.
More than 400 grandparents attended four all-day workshops over four weeks “to train them how to evangelize their grandchildren,” said Father Damien Ference, vicar of evangelization for the Diocese of Cleveland, about the Anne and Joachim Grandparenting Workshops that were first held in the early months of 2022.
Father Ference and Teresa Yohman, the director of the diocesan marriage and family ministry office, underscore that grandparents have a vital role in passing on the faith to their grandchildren.
One of the participants, Fran Atkins of Olmstead Falls, Ohio, found the workshop to be an excellent resource for guidance on such questions as: “How do we increase their faith? How do we do things with them that could help?”
At the start of the workshop presentation, grandparents learned “the importance of being able to share your own faith and share your own story of Jesus and his Church, and then continue to do activities and engage your grandchildren,” explained Father Ference.
“The vision was definitely that we wanted to educate the people first on where the youth are, what the young adults are thinking about, and how to pass on the faith,” Yohman told the Register.
Yohman also has met with potential leaders and “coached them into how to start parish ministries and provided resources for them.” Overall, she reported, “It has been very rewarding” — and so successful that she said a delegate from the Catholic Grandparents Association, an international organization, came to observe the workshop and told her, “There’s nothing like this going on around the United States.” EWTN News In Depth has reported on the workshops, too.
Father Ference told EWTN News In Depth that “many of our grandparents were taught to live the faith very well, and they do, and they’re very devout; but one thing they haven’t been taught or trained or formed to do is to pass it on — in not just example, but in word and to share their own witness. A lot of times they think, ‘My grandkids will pick up that I’m at daily Mass or that I have a devout life and pray the Rosary.’”
He added another aspect: “Maybe what they haven’t been taught to do just yet is to say, ‘Here’s my story. This is where I was in life. This is when I came to a deeper love of Jesus and his Church. And this is how my faith has helped me through’ — to be explicit in passing on the faith. … Maybe they [the grandkids] need to be told Grandpa and Grandma’s story: why they’re devout Catholics and why the embrace of faith and why Jesus and his Church are so important to them.”
He told the Register that many grandparents who went to that workshop training then started their own Anne and Joachim ministries.
“The people of God picked it up and took it to their parishes, and it’s a success,” the priest said. “We have very active grandparents’ ministries in our diocese.”
“That was the goal,” said Yohman. “We now have eight or nine parish groups.” One parish went as far as forming two groups — to meet once a month specifically to pray for their grandchildren in the church. One man told her that “his grandson had had medical problems and the support that he felt from the other people in the grandparents’ group was wonderful.”
Gathering Other Grandparents
After attending the workshop, Joanne DuMound, who has four grandchildren ages 3 to 10, answered the call. Today, she is chairwoman of the grandparents’ ministry at St. Mary of the Falls Church in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
When she heard at the workshop that age 13 is the average age when former Catholics make the decision to leave the faith, she felt compelled to do something.
“This is just so outside my comfort zone because I never start anything, but I felt the Holy Spirit pushing me towards starting a grandparents’ ministry in our parish” alongside Fran Atkins, she told the Register.
DuMound explained, “We talk about telling our story. If something pops up, like the grandchild is having an issue, you listen; then you say, ‘Well, this is what happened to me.’ You tell your story of how your faith helped you out. That’s a solid example.”
She underscores how being a “grandparent is a vocation.” Tips come from members and elsewhere, such as The Catholic Grandparents Handbook by Lorene Hanley Duquin, which offers creative ways to love, share faith and have fun. “These little helps have really gotten people interested and help them know how to approach their grandchildren.”
She shared one tip she uses with her 3-year-old granddaughter when going to Mass as a family: “When we go in, we count the number of crosses.” DuMound also teaches her about the Eucharist, explaining the consecrated Host is truly Jesus.
Atkins, who has seven children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, offered some ideas and tips she has shared with grandparents “that may be something that they can pick up,” such as “blessing their children.”
“I started with my children, and I’ve continued with my grandchildren: that, when they leave, I bless them,” signing them with a cross. “I started blessing my children to keep them safe. And now it’s for my grandchildren.”
Recently, she recalled, as her grandson was leaving the house, she saw her own son “walk over and bless him before he left … so I know that they’re carrying it on.”
One of Atkins’ prized religious objects is her mother’s Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. “My mother always lit a candle [in front of the Sacred Heart]. We always knew, if you needed prayers, you called my mom and asked her for prayers, and she would pray before the Sacred Heart. That statue just epitomized my mom. I knew she was very close to the Sacred Heart. I have that in my family room.”
“My mother always prayed for everybody,” she explained. “Whenever we needed, we always called her and asked her for prayers. I now have that statue because it meant so much to me, and I have a candle in front of it, usually lit. The kids know whenever they need prayers, they call Grandma.”
When her granddaughter was going to try out for volleyball, “she texted me and said, ‘Grandma, would you please say prayers for me and light the candle?’ So I know that means something to them. My children are the same way if they need prayers for something.”
Yohman also suggested grandparents make a “sacramental family tree album” that includes “pictures of past marriages, baptisms, first Communions or churches visited.” This way, grandparents are “using teachable moments to share how a Catholic marriage is always in a church, for example.”
At St. Mary Church in Hudson, Ohio, Sharon Zabo, grandmother to grandchildren ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 27, stressed that grandparents need to have faith-filled conversations, and if the grandchildren have questions, she answers the questions.
Whatever the question, “if you’re paying any attention to your faith at all, you’re going to be certainly educated enough to answer questions,” she said. “If you can’t answer the question, find the answer. No one should be afraid of having to find the answer.”
Zabo added, “I think that if we just live the faith that we have, model our faith by going to church, and if they say, ‘Grandma, why are you going to church?’ I say, ‘It’s because I love God, and I want to be with him. And I go to visit him to learn more about my faith. I want to be with God. I’m going to go to Jesus in his house.’ Do the explanation in the age-appropriate way, of course.”
“We just have to be more aware of what we’re representing, our living our faith,” she said.
The Anne and Joachim Grandparenting Workshops leading to grandparents’ ministries in several parishes in the Cleveland Diocese have proven so effective and also popular that there have been queries from multiple dioceses across the United States and as far away as Australia about starting similar ministries. As Yohman reported, “We have had more outreach about grandparenting than any other ministry.”
For Information on Cleveland’s Anne and Joachim Grandparenting Workshops, contact Teresa Yohman at [email protected]; more information at: DioceseofCleveland.org/offices/parish-life/marriage-and-family-ministry/marriage/overview.