When Christine Patsch took over leadership of her parish’s faith formation program years ago, she never expected to pursue higher education in the field. Tuition was too costly.
But next May she will earn a degree in religious studies, benefiting the children of St. Cecilia Parish in Rochester.
Thanks to sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, many other lay leaders will be able to receive similar assistance in the future.
The campaign’s volunteer board of directors has allocated $4 million to a new and expanded Fathers Farina Church Alive! Fund. An initial grant will help not only catechetical administrators, but also youth ministers, college campus ministers, Catholic school principals, religion teachers and parish catechists.
“Without support from the Fathers Farina Fund, I would not be pursuing my degree,” Patsch said. “Expanding the fund can only benefit the diocese and strengthen education.”
Founded by Father Edward Farina as a memorial to his four older brothers who preceded him in the priesthood, the Fathers Farina Fund helped dozens of parish catechetical administrators pursue their studies. More than 80 leaders currently direct about 4,500 volunteer catechists across the diocese.
“One of the most frequent concerns raised by pastors, parishioners and parents is the faith formation of our children and youth,” said Judene Indovina, diocese director of family ministry and faith formation. “Through this grant, effective forms and methods of catechesis will expand and our leaders will be further empowered with the knowledge, skills and credentials needed to create transformative programming.”
The first grant will support 40 masters-level scholarships, one course per student per semester, in theology, religious education or related fields. It also will help fund practical, ministry-specific training, including family models of catechesis, as well as purchasing books, manuals and DVDs. The balance will pay for other forms of professional development and help provide training for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.
Sharon Smoller, coordinator of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, received a degree in religious studies five years ago.
“Professional development is important,” Smoller said. “We need to have constant training and renew ourselves to keep growing in the faith.
“I would never have been able to accomplish what I did without the Fathers Farina Fund,” she added.
Father Joseph Mele, episcopal vicar of the diocese secretariat for leadership development and evangelization, knew the Farinas. Father Edward Farina baptized him, and Father Will Farina was his pastor when he was growing up at Madonna del Castello Parish in Swissvale.
“All five brothers strongly supported parish religious education, knowing that many young families would not be able to send their children to Catholic schools,” Father Mele said. “They were visionaries, and I am delighted that their spirit remains in this fund.”
With fewer Catholic elementary schools and increasing numbers of young adults leaving the faith, the need is greater than ever for effective religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry. The Church Alive! campaign is helping to meet that need.
“Sometimes a gift is given and the recipient is unknown, a sign of true and selfless giving,” Patsch said. “To all donors, please know the depth of my gratitude as a beneficiary of the Fathers Farina Fund.”