CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki is launching a “totally brand new” order — the Order of Catechists.
The vision, Dr. Kathie Amidei explained, “Lifts up the role and leadership of witness and teaching in evangelizing and catechizing as a ministry in the Church.”
Within the Church, orders exist to pursue a particular mission or goal. Familiar papal orders include the Equestrian Order and the Order of Malta. This new order specifies catechesis as a fundamental mission, and not just a job to be completed.
The prayers from the Order of Blessing within the Mass for Catechists articulate this: “Enlightened by God’s word and the teaching of the Church, catechists impart to others an initiation or a deeper formation in those realities that they themselves have learned as truths to be followed in living and to be celebrated in liturgy.”
Trained in the teaching of the doctrine of the faith, those enrolled in the Order of Catechists, Archbishop Listecki explained, incorporate and integrate that teaching into their lives.
Additionally they “commit themselves to the formation directed by the teaching, pray with the mission and understanding of integrating the teaching and commit themselves to meeting” as an order throughout the year, he said.
Catechists are central figures in the life of the Church. In mission territories where priests are sometimes unavailable, it is the catechist who gathers the people in prayer, preserves the life of the faith community and helps others understand the tenets of the faith.
We are establishing it “in order to raise the consciousness of those who are involved in the teaching of the Church,” Archbishop Listecki said in an interview for the Living Our Faith radio show.
Specifically for the order, “you want someone who possesses the vision, when they look upon catechists not as a function but they look upon catechists as a formation and an attachment to their being,” he said.
Through teaching and living the faith, catechists play a vital role in preparing the laity to receive the sacraments. In essence, Archbishop Listecki described this teaching and embodiment of faith as a fundamental demonstration of the importance of the laity.
“The catechism is not what I do, a catechist is who I am,” he said of the Order of Catechists.
By accepting admission to the order, “You are accepting this as a life commitment … a commitment integrated into the formation of your own personal life,” said Archbishop Listecki.
For Dr. Amidei, participation in this order is a formal recognition of her life’s work.
Since she graduated from college, she has been involved in catechetical ministry and said, “I love everything about the gift this has been in my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share that and to see that kind of service to the Church lifted up as nurturing a relationship with Christ and being open to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
Gary Pokorny, the director of catechesis and youth ministry, explained in a radio interview that this order gathers catechists together in the solidarity of transmitting the faith, and, by recognizing this as a life commitment, “exemplify not only in their functionality and their teaching but also in the witness of their lives that they’ve been formed by what they teach,” he said.
Marked by a life commitment, registration in the order demonstrates the significance of lay men and women to not only teach and transmit the faith, but to also demonstrate the faith by their example.
The vision of transmitting the faith through word and deed is a vital component for the life of the archdiocese. Priests are limited in their pastoral capacities, but having a dedicated group of individuals who make a life commitment to preach the faith brings life to the greater church community.
Ultimately, catechists, ancient and new, call others forth to likewise live and teach the faith.
The two saints proposed as patrons for the Order of Catechists are St. Teresa of Avila and St. John Henry Newman.
“They evangelized within different times, circumstances and challenges but with the same heart of love for God and for those they served, and were creative, compassionate, faithful and joyful in catechetical ministry. That is very inspiring to me,” Dr. Amidei said.