Retiring faith formation director reflects on 50 years as catechist

| August 7, 2018 | 0 Comments

Katie Gebhard was the director of faith formation at St. Stephen in Anoka. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

As the faith formation classes at St. Stephen in Anoka wrapped up in May, its director of faith formation, Katie Gebhard, completed her 50th year in lay ministry. She retired this summer after a half-century serving in faith formation at the parish and diocesan level, as well as at a Catholic college and in a religious order. The Catholic Spirit recently interviewed Gebhard, 69, to learn about developments, challenges and blessings she’s seen in faith formation over the past 50 years. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. When did you feel called to work in faith formation?

A. Probably as a teenager. I felt a call to really be involved in ministry and teaching, and 50 years ago, the only thing that was available for a woman was to enter religious life, so I was a Dominican sister for a while and I taught. And then, when I left the community, I still felt called to Church ministry. Even though I had left religious life, there was a beginning in the Church to see more lay leaders, and so I stayed in faith formation.

Q. What kind of changes have you seen in religious education over five decades?

A. I think some of the changes I’ve seen [include] more Scripture within the curriculum. I see very intentional teaching of the faith. But a lot more discipleship, specifically in religious ed. I think a big thing in religious ed is the lay leadership and more parishes [having lay leaders in general].

Q. Why has there been more use of the term “discipleship” in faith formation?

A. You have the situation of apologetics: Do the kids and teens and adults know their faith? And you also have the personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not just knowing facts about the faith. It’s living the faith out, having the relationship with Jesus.

Q. You began working in faith formation right after the Second Vatican Council. How did that affect faith formation, and how did you help young people understand and engage in the Mass?

A. Whether they’re in a Catholic school or they’re in faith formation, we only have a certain amount of time with the kids and teenagers. We have to do more with adults, and I think for Mass, one of the biggest challenges is [forming] families who are very dedicated. They bring their kids to faith formation or Catholic school, but they don’t worship on Sunday. So we’re spending more and more time trying to teach about the Mass, different parts, and encouraging the families to participate in the Mass.

Q. How has family involvement in faith formation changed over 50 years?

A. I see it going from “I always drop my kid off … and then I pick them up” to the parish [involvement] now. The catechists are more involved, the staff sends families materials they can do at home, both in prayer and practice. So we’re trying to involve the parents more because it’s their primary job to raise their child in the faith. We are here to support them.

Q. How have you worked with the increased cultural diversity in faith formation?

A. It’s the two communities [English-speaking and Latino] trying to say “we’re all one community.” It’s trying to blend more. You see parishes that have a wide variety of cultures, so I think that the Church is trying to really prayerfully be very respectful of different traditions and how they celebrate the Mass or formation and involve parents.

Q. What challenges have you seen young people face over the years?

A. I think one of the biggest things is the disconnect for teens. It’s how do you help them navigate, help the families navigate that the Church guidelines are “this,” and society is saying “this” [instead]?

Q. What’s kept you going in lay ministry for 50 years?

A. Oh, the good Lord. I’ve been very blessed and humbled. I have worked for some wonderful priests … and bishops. And of course, the obvious major support from my husband [Bob] and our three kids who are now grown.

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