Confirmation challenge: Building teens’ lifelong faith foundation

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | January 14, 2015 | 0 Comments
From left, Olivia Kettleson and Abbey Baumtrog sing and clap during praise and worship at Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata Jan. 11 during an event to help teens in the parish prepare for confirmation. The featured speaker was Father Michael Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, who also celebrated the 5:30 p.m. Mass. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Olivia Kettleson and Abbey Baumtrog sing and clap during praise and worship at Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata Jan. 11 during an event to help teens in the parish prepare for confirmation. The featured speaker was Father Michael Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, who also celebrated the 5:30 p.m. Mass. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A year ago high school sophomore Brianna Woitalla attended confirmation classes at her parish, St. Michael in St. Michael, only because her parents required it.

This year she looks at it differently.

“Last year I didn’t really know what confirmation was, what it meant,” said Woitalla, who expects to be confirmed this spring. “After confirmation I hope my faith will increase, and I will learn and understand more.”

Parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis face the challenge of helping teenage confirmands such as Woitalla encounter Christ so they will embrace the sacrament and continue practicing their faith as adults — something many don’t do.

Drawing from a variety of multimedia classroom, retreat and prayer-related programs, confirmation leaders are tailoring confirmation preparation plans to offer families greater flexibility as parishes seek to engage parents alongside their teenagers.

“We have such a deep beautiful Catholic tradition that we want our young people to understand,” said Kory LaCroix, senior high youth minister at Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata. “It has very little foundation unless we’re also helping them have that encounter with the Lord in a lifelong, lived relationship.”

This year Holy Name of Jesus started allowing its 300 confirmation students to choose when they will complete their confirmation preparation and receive the sacrament. A major part of preparation is a monthly eucharistic-centered prayer meeting and talk, LaCroix said.

Bob Swift, youth ministry and catechesis director at St. Raphael in Crystal, draws from several sources to prepare the parish’s 70 confirmation students. He organizes retreats and uses programs including LifeTeen, which trains catechists for a parish-based outreach, and a new program called “Chosen,” featuring dynamic videos.

“People have to make a personal decision for the faith, especially teenagers because up to this point everyone has made the decision for them,” he said. “I see evangelization as a critical piece of the overall confirmation, youth ministry picture.”

Young people are more likely to participate when they’ve made the choice to be at confirmation class, said Linda Nunez, faith formation director at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, where nearly all of its classes are in Spanish.

“We want our kids to make the decision to join confirmation on their own, not just because mom and dad say they have to,” she said. “This is kind of the final step and then they have to go by themselves in their faith. We’re here to help them get all the knowledge they need to make, but we want them [to want] to be here.”

Getting parents involved is important for turning kids onto confirmation, said Jim Thorp, faith formation director at St. Michael. One way the parish does this is by offering family catechesis. It also has gender-specific confirmation classes for the parish’s 140 confirmation students and catechism study in the youth group.

“We saw in our own parish [that] if parents aren’t engaged, if they’re not the primary teachers, if they’re just going through the motions, the kids recognize that,” Thorp said. “If they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, the kids are not going to have it either.”

Rachel Nellis, a high school junior and parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus, said she has grown in her relationship with God since her confirmation last year and is using her talents at her parish.

“The Holy Spirit is in my life a lot more since I got confirmed, and I think that’s why,” she said. “I was looking for a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ.” Unfortunately, not many of her confirmation classmates have stayed involved, she added.

Confirmation is the beginning of life with the Lord, LaCroix said. “Discipleship is an everyday thing, choosing to follow Jesus Christ every moment of my life, something we prepare young people to do today and forever.”

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