Although the funds raised by the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation are intended chiefly for grants over the long term, the archdiocesan Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis is wasting no time in making a grant request from the proceeds of last year’s very successful annual gala.
Last November, the fundraiser drew more than $1.7 million to support Catholic education and faith formation for people of all ages in the archdiocese.
“I’m grateful for their vision to transform the archdiocese in the wake of pastoral planning,” said Sister Mary Grace Walsh, provost of the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis (OEEC). “We need to have programs and initiatives that are going to help reawaken and enliven the faith of the people.”
The money raised last year by the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation is not going into everyday operating costs, she explained, but is being used “to build up leaders and teachers and to build new programs” for the purpose of Catholic education and faith formation in parishes and schools.
Conversely, daily operating expenses for OEEC are funded through the cathedraticum (a portion of parish income) and the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
Faith formation, Sister Mary Grace explained, is a broad concept that includes both education in the faith and growth in people’s relationship with Jesus Christ. “It includes learning how to pray and going beyond the textbook to something more dynamic,” she said. “The purpose is to transform individuals.”
The funds raised by the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation for this purpose are being made available to the OEEC in the form of grants.
“For the various initiatives we’re going to do over the next few years, I can make an application to the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation to use that money,” the provost explained. “Our office can apply for grants for programs that we’re developing to help the parishes and schools of the archdiocese.”
OEEC is formulating new programs in four general areas:
– Professional development opportunities for those who serve in church ministry. To foster a more vibrant parish or campus life and to lead to improved student performance in the schools, OEEC is making professional development opportunities available to many: pastoral associates, lay parish leaders, campus ministers and archdiocesan school administrators and teachers.
“This applies to anyone who serves in a local parish or Catholic school,” Sister Mary Grace said. “We want to offer excellent formation for those who serve the Church as volunteers or in paid ministry positions. We realize that to attract excellent speakers, there is a cost involved.”
Foundation funds are being used to support the office’s new ELM initiative, which kicked off in February. “We’ve identified a great need in our parishes to help them have a dynamic faith formation program,” Sister Mary Grace explained.
ELM stands for “Evangelizing catechesis, Lifelong formation and Missionary discipleship.” ELM has two branches. The first is the Parish Accompaniment Project, an 18-month-long process designed to help parishes develop a plan to engage all ages and generations in lifelong faith formation. The second is Leadership Formation, an 18-month-long training and certification program for parish lay ministers that develops individuals and, ultimately, strengthens the parishes.
“These are two examples of programs we wanted to bring forth,” said Sister Mary Grace, who is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
– Spiritual formation for parish leaders and delegates in advance of the Archdiocese of Hartford Synod. On Pentecost 2017, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair announced his intent to convoke a synod, a gathering of representatives of the clergy, religious and lay faithful, to discuss and recommend priorities and practical steps to promote the life and mission of the local Church. The synod process will involve intensive preparation, consultation and study, as well as the selection and training of delegates, prior to its conclusion at Pentecost in June 2020.
– Grants for innovation and learning. Schools and parishes may apply to OEEC for grants to fund creative, innovative and transformational projects. The grants will be distributed by a committee based on specific criteria. Funds for such programs would flow through the OEEC, and then out to the schools and parishes, the provost explained.
For example, a parish might choose to apply to OEEC for financial assistance to start an early childhood faith formation program in response to the ELM initiative. OEEC has identified Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as a unique curriculum for this purpose.
“We will apply to the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation for a grant for this,” Sister Mary Grace said. “This is a very creative and innovative program for teaching little ones. We’re trying to help families to bridge the gap from baptism to when their children start faith formation as 5-year-olds.”
– Honor awards for Catholic school educators. Extraordinary educators in parish elementary schools and archdiocesan secondary schools will be singled out through the Seat of Honor Awards during the 2017-2020 academic years.
“The idea is to honor those who have given their lives to Catholic schools,” Sister Mary Grace said.
Recipients will be selected by an unbiased committee based on nomination and specific criteria. Honorees will receive archdiocesan recognition and a monetary reward. According to Sister Mary Grace, the first award winners are expected to be announced by the end of the current school year.
The provost could not be more enthusiastic about the possibilities ahead. “We’re very grateful to the foundation for realizing this is about educating people in the faith and about transforming lives one person at a time,” Sister Mary Grace said. “We’re already off to a good start.”