What can St. John Bosco teach us about Mercy?

by Marlon De La Torre, Department Director for Catechesis, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth

Imagine for a moment that you’re a catechist in a parish religious education program or Catholic school and you suddenly realize that all of your students have a very high value of themselves.


And, upon realizing this fascinating phenomenon you also realize that the majority of your students do not associate their high value as children created in the image and likeness of God.


Gasp! Your first reaction may be to put your students in their place and set aside any semblance of a merciful act. If this is the case, St. John Bosco developed a profound educational system called the Preventive System. In short, this system provides us with a clear path toward incorporating a genuine atmosphere of mercy that at times is sorely needed within the life of a child.

St john bosco

St. John Bosco was one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic faith, especially in reaching the young men of his day. His proving ground was the very difficult streets of Turin, Italy where the theological virtue of charity was more hoped for than seen; any genuine display mercy, spiritual or corporal was non-existent on a daily basis. Knowing the environment he had to work with Don Bosco made it his aim for “his boys” to see themselves as children of God. He desired to “save their souls.”

There was no miscommunication on St. John Bosco’s part on his intent to reach the souls of these boys. Because of his direct, stern, yet merciful loving approach many children were taken aback on how direct he was towards them: a “fight fire with fire” approach but, with Christ at the center. This aspect of his approach was essential in reaching these children because he showed them a profound love of forgiveness and at the same time held them accountable for their actions.

The Preventive System is an approach based on three core principles: Reason, Religion, and Kindness. Each principle has a specific point to bring the child closer to Christ.


The Principle of Reason provides a reasonable atmosphere where the child would be given the opportunity to consent to instruction and guidance. The goal of this first principle is to develop good Christians and useful citizens. The teacher must be the bridge to a child’s discovery of the world through patience, diligence, and prayer.

Grunge rubber stamp with word Reason,vector illustration

The Principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The aim is to develop the intellectual and physical gifts the child possesses and how he can be directed toward a greater good. There are five steps within this principle to help youth attain personal holiness:

  1. Holiness of ordinary life
  2. The joy and optimism of holiness
  3. Centrality of Confession
  4. The Holy Eucharist
  5. Love of Mary


The Principle of Kindness emphasizes the virtue of love. St. John Bosco would stress: “Let us make ourselves loved, and we shall possess their hearts.” In other words, our Christian witness must be genuine, merciful and constant for spiritual development of the child. The learning environment should be warm and inviting, not cold. The family spirit reigned; he did this through rapport, friendliness, presence, mercy, respect, attention, dedication to service, and personal responsibility.


The core of all three principles of the Preventive System is to draw the child away from an individualistic view. As the last principle stressed: “the family spirit reigned.” St. John Bosco’s premise is that the child should know that he is part of God’s plan by the very fact he was created in His image and likeness. This in turn will help the child view that everyone is made in the image of God.


What made St. John Bosco’s methods so effective was his willingness to go into the heart of the child regardless of his state in life and see Christ in him. Wisdom tells us these methods not only served St. John Bosco well; they can also reawaken a child’s relationship with Christ. The essential goal of the Preventive System is to foster productive Catholic citizens who seek to assist others before themselves. When teaching his students about his Preventive System St. John Bosco would always remind them: “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere.”


St. John Bosco, pray for us!

Let us hear from you!

-In one way or another we have all implemented all or parts of the Preventive System.  Please share with us how you have implemented any or all of this system in your parish or school.

-What is your school or parish doing for the Year of Mercy?

Want more information about the Preventive System? Go to:


Movie about St. John Bosco:





Injecting the Kerygma Into Your Curriculum

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By Jamin Herold, Associate Director – New Evangelization, Diocese of Kalamazoo

kerygma  noun ke·ryg·ma \kə-ˈrig-mə\

:  the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ

A longstanding debate in the field of Catechesis centers on the idea of solid theological content versus the idea of evangelistic welcoming in the classroom. Often, Americans working in this field have encamped themselves in the either/or of these two camps, reflecting the trend toward polarity in our culture.

In one way it makes sense we would do this. After all, for years the field of catechesis has been wrapped in the dogmatic memorization of the Baltimore Catechism, while the first inklings and basic proclamation of faith had already been fostered in the children at home. It was in the home where they first encountered Church through their families, at the dinner table, at nightly prayer, through the devotions. The lives of the faithful were truly integrated with the life of faith in their homes and with their friends.

Catholic Family Praying

As time passed, society changed: migration away from the Catholic ethnic neighborhoods, the shift away from Catholic Schools, and the deterioration of the family. These changes led to the evaporation of the first kindling of faith and the basic proclamation of the Gospel away from the setting of the family.

As this change occurred some believed that holding true to the tradition of the memorized texts of the Baltimore Catechism would be the saving grace. Others thought that a new method was needed; one that did not focus on the theological concepts of the Faith, but on minimizing the amount of teaching, and encouraging a focus on “Jesus loves you”. Many believed the stern, absolutism of the teachings of the Church were actually leading the flock away from faith.

Now, we have many who can recite the Baltimore Catechism, and yet have no idea what it means, or how to have relationship with Jesus through those texts. In fact, for many, hearing the words, “personal relationship with Jesus” sounds Protestant. We have a whole new generation of Catholics who still have no relationship with Jesus, but they know of some “idyllic person” named Jesus who loves them, and allows them to do whatever they want. They have encountered a false love, a false mercy, neither tempered with truth and justice.

Both camps have it right, but in having it right, they also have it wrong. The faith is never an “either/or” but a “both/and”.  The theological truths of the Church will never mean anything without a true encounter with Jesus Christ. And, the love invitation has no validity without the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is within the fullness of the theological truths.

So where do we find ourselves today? What does this mean for your classrooms? How do we become a people of both/and?  How can the Kerygma (the basic proclamation) change all that we do with our students?

Look to all the CARA, BARNA, Pew Research, and other similar studies. We are a post-Christian society, and more so every year. We are a Catholic Church that has either no encounter with the risen Christ, or no understanding of who this Christ is. What this means is that the catechist’s job has become that much more difficult.

Catechists are now, not only needing to convey the immense theological truths of the Church and who Jesus Christ is, they must also provide for the lack of the initial kindling of faith, that used to be formed in the family.

As Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi said, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are first witnesses”.


How much more that is true now; most of the faithful and their children have never encountered witnesses of faith. This witness is not being passed on to future generations.

Understanding and encountering the Kerygma is the key solution to these issues. First, you must encounter this yourself. The basic proclamation that:

God created out of love,

We rejected that love,

Sin ruptured our relationship with God,

Sacrificial death of a pure victim was the only way to overcome that rupture,

God supplied Himself (Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity) as the sacrifice,

Jesus rose from the dead, He established the Church to supply the world with His grace, and The Holy Spirit is given to the Church and each of her members,

As Church we live as bride and bridegroom with Jesus Christ,

And we are called to repentance,

To a life of service to God and others,

To worship and prayer,

And to lives of obedience to God.

We must acknowledge that each one of us is broken and in need of a Savior,

Jesus Christ is that Savior,

He has come and healed each of us.

Once we have not just heard this basic proclamation, but also put it into effect in our lives, changed and repented of our old lives, and willing to live a new life in Christ, then and only then can we be witnesses.

Catholic Witness

This message must be entwined throughout the fabric of the strong theological teaching we have in the classroom. Nothing should be taught without looking through the lens of the Kerygma, pointing to and flowing from who Jesus Christ is, and how the Kerygma fits into the lives of the children.

The truths we teach in the classroom will now have meaning, purpose and an encounter with the living God.  When the Kerygma is brought into the classroom we are no longer teaching theological statements to be memorized like multiplication tables, but we are introducing people to the Beloved. Now, when we speak of a God who loves, it is not just empty promises, or a mythological love that is promised, but rather an encounter with the Cross – where justice and mercy meet. That love is a person; all who encounter Him will thirst more and more, they will drink in the beauty of His Truth.

This is truly one of the most vital things we do as catechists, to proclaim the basic Gospel truths, through our own encounter, and to expand on this message with all we teach.

So, how do we integrate the Kerygma into each lesson we teach? Here are some ideas:


Meet The Parents

by Julie Schoonover, DRE, St. Patrick Catholic Church, St. Charles, Illinois

Author’s note:  I do not claim to have all the answers!  This article is meant to challenge everyone – to think about the best way(s) to pass the Faith on to our kids…and more importantly, to their parents…

Family JP2Meme


I am a DRE, in my third year of directing a program. I also have over 15 years as a catechist, several years as a classroom teacher, and hold a Masters in Education.

One of the most important things I have learned over the years is that parents matter. Parents matter so much in the education of their children, in their moral upbringing, and in the people they ultimately become as adults.

The popular culture tells us parents don’t matter. The popular culture could not be more wrong.  There is no greater example of this than in the passing on of religion to their children. A study from researchers at Notre Dame concluded that if parents are not involved in the religious upbringing of their kids, then only 1 in 100 will practice their religion as adults.  I will even be so bold as to say that if the parents are not involved, we might be wasting our time teaching the faith to the children.  Or, at the very least, by not insisting on parent involvement in faith formation, could we be enabling parents not to fulfill their obligation as parents?

Parents (not all of them, by the way) have determined that by either dropping their kids off at Religious Education, or sending their kids to Catholic School, they have done their job of passing on the Faith to their kids. Well-meaning maybe, but it occurs to me that parents cannot pass on what they don’t have; we have a couple of successive generations that were not properly catechized, and while they still feel they want their kids to be Catholic, they do not always have the knowledge or background to do anything more.  They simply cannot pass on something they do not have.

So, some abdicate their responsibility to well-meaning people like us.

What if we helped the parents gain more knowledge about their faith, get them excited about being Catholic, and equip them to pass on the Faith to their children?

I began my journey as a catechist 20 years ago. My husband and I decided to teach 7th grade girls together at our parish. We had text books, and our teaching manual ready to go, excited to make a good impression on these not so eager to be there 7th graders. I still remember the look on their faces as one girl yelled out, “THIS IS BORING!” I was shocked at her response. Not only were the materials not engaging, and as much as we tried, neither were we!

We couldn’t do it on our own. So during that class, as we looked out the windows at the line of cars filled with parents waiting to pick up their children, we knew there had to be a better way.

Line of Cars

A few years later our DRE at the time began a new, innovative program involving the parents, called Family Faith Fest. Families came together once a month, starting with community in the cafeteria over a light continental breakfast.  After prayers, everyone goes to their respective classrooms; with the parents and children being catechized separately. The classes end with just enough time for the families to make the 11:30 Mass.

My husband and I volunteered to teach the adults. It proved to be an enlightening experience.

On our first day teaching the adults, part of the class was looking up verses in the Bible and then discussing them. We asked the class to turn to a certain verse, say, John, Chapter 3, verse 16. Immediately, a hand went up – one of the parents said, “I went to Catholic School, I don’t know how to read the Bible.” She wasn’t apologetic or ashamed. Just matter of fact.  She was there to learn.

We knew we were on to something.

The parents were taught the same curriculum as their kids – just in different rooms, and not in the same way. The adult classrooms, in addition to learning the same lessons about the Faith as their children, became small groups of people trying to raise their children the right way; erupting in positive discussions about what it’s like to be a kid today, technology, bullying, examples of living the faith as a family, and many other topics.

Through the years, we saw changes in some of the parents. We saw more of them at Mass – some even became Catholic. Families came back to the Church by relearning the Faith, getting clarification on doctrine, and feeling welcomed by the class members. Priest involvement not only gave the families a connection to the parish, but their knowledge helped to enhance the program. Through family service projects, the families worked together to help others in the community as well as our own parish. Parents do matter!

Most importantly, parents were engaged with their children in passing on the Faith. They were, as Saint John Paul II put it, becoming “fully parents.”  They learned the Faith, applied the Faith, lived out the Faith, and therefore, could pass it on.

Not that this was the case with everyone. Some took advantage of the program because it was a once a month commitment instead of once a week. But, even among many of those who did not want to be there, we saw glimmers of hope. At least they were there!


All of us, you and I, continue to look for ways to involve the parents in our programs; each year tweaking things, trying to come up with a better program. New curriculums become available, each claiming to have everything you will need for a perfect program. What we need is to educate parents, give them the confidence and the ability to pass on the Faith, and partner with them by providing the resources they need.

Yes, parents do matter. We as DRE’s, Principals, Pastors, Teachers and Catechists, need to meet them where they are and empower our parents to live out the Faith, day by day, and lead their children to heaven.  Maybe it’s time to rethink how we approach catechesis!

Julie Schoonover can be contacted at jschoonover@stpatrickparish.org.

So, how do you involve the parents in the faith formation of their children?  If you have something that works, share it – we’d love to hear from you!


Click here, to view a webinar titled, Parents as Primary Teachers of Their Children’s Faith.  Go on…it’s only 30 minutes long!

Click here to learn more about the Faith and Life Family Guide from your friends at Ignatius Press Religious Education.



The Flipped Classroom For Religious Education


Technology is one thing… but mix it with Religious Education?

Our Catholic Faith is a living faith, one that is passed on from person to person. Through our faith we come to know Jesus Christ with whom we encounter in the Eucharist and in our daily lives.

So, why would anyone seriously consider passing on a living faith by using technology?

We must be able to meet people where they are.  Pope John Paul II encouraged us to promote the New Evangelization by using new methods. Pope Francis, too, urges us to “find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world”. Even our Popes recognize that we need new approaches in today’s culture.

We need to heed St. Paul’s call to “test everything, hold on to the good.”  Used in the right way, technology can be part of the good.  Finding kids and adults where they are…on the computer, the tablet, the iPad and the Smartphone, can help them learn and grow in their faith.

The most important reason to teach the Faith by flipping the classroom is because it works…individualized learning takes place on the computer at home with engaging and interactive activities and videos; as a result more time is opened up for teachers and catechists to engage students in a living faith carrying out more liturgical practices, role playing and discussing life application.

Schools find the flipped classroom methodology very successful. Parishes are all looking for a paradigm that answers to the issues in a typical parish catechetical environment: once a week classes are never enough time, discipline at the end of the day can be challenging, addressing individualized learning issues, a lack of parent involvement and catechist formation and so on. Of course there are great catechetical programs out there, but why not make them better?

So exactly what is flipped learning? Does the catechist or teacher need to be computer savvy? Not sure it will work in a parish setting? Don’t think it will work with parents?

Join us to find out more.

Find specific answers, real solutions, and testimonials that address the flipped classroom in religious education by attending a live webinar on Thursday, July 23 at 1:00 PM CST.

Click here to register: https://ipre2.webex.com/ipre2/onstage/g.php?MTID=e14393fba27865f9ae062eed910e730f0

If you are not available to attend this live webinar, click here to view a recording of the Flipped Classroom after July 23 at your convenience.

For a follow up webinar detailing specific resources for the Flipped Classroom in Religious Education, please click here.

For a recording of the follow up webinar: Faith and Life Online powered by MCFD click here

Questions or difficulty registering? Call 314-394-1228.

The flipped classroom is the solution to the quest for a paradigm that works in religious education!


Recruiting Catechists

Now that we have your attention with such a controversial topic, we beg you to keep reading. We promise this will be a different take on a well-worn topic, and we have tried to make it somewhat entertaining.  At least, we found it entertaining, and hope you will as well!

We asked leaders from all parts of the country to weigh-in with their ideas, experiences, and stories on the topic.  While by no means exhaustive, we thought this was a good start to help us explore a subject we all know a lot about, but for some reason always seem to need to know more!  We took these replies, and came up with several different scenarios that lend themselves to a discussion on this topic.  It is our hope, that by showing the good, the bad, and the ugly, we can help you understand that what you go through is not too dissimilar from what others experience, and help you to finalize your teaching teams for the upcoming year.


The first dose of reality we all experience is that people are not knocking down our door to volunteer to be catechists.  Ever wonder why that is?

While there are, in reality, many, many reasons, these are the reasons we hear most often:

  1. People don’t know their Faith well enough to share it
  2. That’s something for other people to do
  3. It takes too much time

These reasons, and others, are concepts we need to keep in mind as we talk to potential catechists and ask them to serve. We can and should put in place ways to overcome these common reasons for not helping to pass on the Faith.

So, what are the ways people mention when asked how they recruit catechists?


There are several ways to make a pulpit announcement.  Some are good, some are not so good.  Here are two examples of the not so good:

This one, while not foolproof, seems to have more success than others:

So, what was good about the last one?  You asked people to consider being a catechist.  You were, positive, upbeat and open.  You let everyone know that all you expected from them is prayer.


One of the most effective ways to recruit catechists is by having a one-on-one conversation.  Through experience, this approach has been more effective than a bulletin announcement, or a plea made from the pulpit.  There are many opportunities where this can occur.  For example, when parents come in to register, ask them if they have interest in teaching or assisting. Attending Parish functions or being available after Mass is another way to recruit catechists.  Making yourself visible to the community can prompt a conversation about becoming a catechist.  Be there, and ready to share!



What?  More classes?  Maybe…

Several programs across the country have added Adult formation classes that are held at the same times as the children’s classes.  Usually held in the evenings and/or on Sunday mornings, these classes serve several purposes:

A. They involve the parents in the faith education of their children.  Research shows that when a parent is involved in a child’s religious education, there is a much greater chance that the child will be a practicing Catholic when they are adults.

B. They offer a substantial opportunity to catechize or re-catechize many of the adults in your Parish.  Many feel uninformed or are actually misinformed about the Catholic faith, and this provides an opportunity to give people the background they need to be able to lead their children to Christ.

C. They provide a large number of adults that you can recruit from to teach classes, after they see how important it is to hand on the faith to our kids!



Confirmation need not be the sacrament of exit.  Help the teens in your Parish live out their faith by inviting them to help with teaching or assisting.


Most teens love Jesus – we can give them ways to show it by helping teach the Faith to others!

OK.  Enough.  Let’s forget the good, the bad, and the ugly – let’s now concentrate on the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Speaking of the beautiful, please take a look at this wonderful painting –

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Raphael (art from wiki-commons)



Luke 5: 1-9 The Apostles had been out all night and to no avail they returned empty handed and discouraged. We too can be discouraged when casting out our nets for souls. We also cast our nets in need of effective catechists and teachers who can pass on a living faith, a faith that will resonate in the hearts of children.

If we look closely at the work of Raphael along with Scripture and the Catechism we are reminded of God’s role in all of this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance” (CCC 208). In this painting Peter, humbly kneeling before Jesus, clearly has realized how insignificant his futile attempts had been. St. Luke tells us that Peter was “astonished”. So astonished that he says to Jesus, “depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). When will we realize our own insignificance in our attempts to do God’s work? We are merely his hands and feet, we must do as he tells us and he will provide.

Place yourself in this revealing work of art; pray, listen and “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Cast out your nets to the deep with complete trust that God will send us faithful and willing catechists. Pray, listen and as Jesus said to Simon in the Gospel of the miraculous draught, “do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).  God does provide as we trust and follow his directives.

We hope you enjoyed this post.  More importantly, we want to continue the conversation – please add your comments and let us know what works for you!

Until next time…

May God Bless You!

While many folks participated in providing ideas for this article, special thanks to Angela Gaetano (Phoenix), Julie Schoonover (Chicagoland), and Patrice Spirou (Atlanta) for their help and contributions.