The new elementary program for religious education, Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ, presents the Catholic faith as a distinct discipline with a unique set of beliefs. It understands that Catholic education must have the effect of causing students to live their faith in the community, like these girls helping feed the poor at Toronto’s St. Francis Table. Photo by Michael Swan

Unique program connects Canadian Church, schools

  • August 29, 2015

Pre-Vatican II babies remember it as if it were yesterday: Who made you? God made me? Why did God make you? To love Him in this world and to serve Him and be with Him in the next world.

The Baltimore Catechism shaped many of us, not just our faith, but the way we learned. But there have been few new catechetical tools over the past 25 years to assist teachers in religious education.  

Now the bishops of Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories are supporting a new elementary program for religious education called Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ. The bishops astutely realized that the current religious education document, now out of print, no longer reflects the evolving nature of the Catholic Church. It lacks the more recent statements and documents of the Church, as well as the modern pedagogy used in schools.

To address this in recent years, many teachers have supplemented religious education programs with additional material. However, that supplemental material did not always reflect the Canadian experience or the Catholic Church experience. Therefore the bishops decided to craft a program that reflects the modern Church and provides a more nuanced understanding of our faith. The new program also respects the importance of age-appropriateness and employs the same integrated approach to learning used in other subjects.  

Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ presents the Catholic faith as a distinct discipline with a unique set of beliefs. The program is rooted in Scripture, with explicit teachings on basic beliefs of the Catholic faith. It explores the tradition of our faith and connects students to prayer and a personal relationship with God, as well as a relationship with all learning that occurs in the school.

The program stresses a strong school-parish-home relationship. It provides for parental letters and information nights and it reminds parents of the importance of the domestic church that gathers around the kitchen table or the TV, or in the car, or wherever families gather in these busy days.

Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ provides a rich tapestry of Canadian examples as it follows the liturgical year. It reaches deeply into the lives of saints and heroes in the Church and it recognizes that religious education must have a transformative effect on students, causing them to live their faith in the community.
It is a program that parents, teachers and priests have been waiting for. It recognizes the unique Canadian Church experience, the reality of living in Canada, and provides students with a deeper understanding of their faith, Scripture and the sacraments.

The program is unique in that it is anchored to the Church’s evangelizing mission. That means reaching out to all, introducing some students to Jesus and in other cases re-introducing them. The program also recognizes that teachers play an evangelizing role in their classroom and in their community.

There are six strands to the program: believing, celebrating, living a moral life, living in communion, living in solidarity and prayer. Each unit contains enquiry questions, Scripture, prayers, story narratives, profiles of saints and holy people, faith facts, faith in action and faith words. Each unit connects the program to lived experiences in our homes and parishes. The curriculum takes an integrated approach to connect religious education with other subjects on the school curriculum, such as language, science or social studies.

The program, to be rolled out in September, will be a real gift to students as it invites them to go deeper into their faith and learn how to articulate it. They will learn that faith demands action as we are part of a community. Opportunities will also be provided for professional development for teachers and to hold events with parents and caregivers.

This revitalized program provides a forum to not just talk about linking school, home and parish, but shows how to accomplish it. It begins by promoting an awareness that what is being taught in the classroom should be deepened in our experiences at home and celebrated in parishes.  The ultimate objective is to have these units taught to students, supported by parents and then connected to what occurs when families go to church.

So often parents say that one thing they like about the Advent season is that it allows them to gather as a family to follow a format of prayers and readings, but when Advent ends, families often lack a means to gather to engage in this type of practice. The new religion program will offer an ongoing opportunity for families to support the day-to-day work occurring in classrooms. We should make sure this document becomes a part of a vision that makes parishes, schools and homes connected by more than just a slogan.

(Kostoff is the Director of Eduction at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board and the author of Auditing our Schools.)

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