Why Catholic? Program Will Begin Next Lent
Four-year initiative will help deepen faith and explain why Catholics believe what we believe
Glenn Rutherford

During the Lenten season of 2011, the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville will begin a four-year initiative to strengthen their faith and deepen their understanding of why Catholics do what we do and believe what we believe.

The program is called Why Catholic? It is a direct answer to a request from the people of the archdiocese who, during listening sessions held prior to the writing of the 2009 Strategic Plan, asked for ways to help them grow in faith.

Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, and Sal Della Bella, director of faith formation, spoke earlier this week about the Why Catholic? program and the genesis of its use here.

During an Aug. 9 interview at the Chancery, both men said the listening sessions had a constant theme. People wanted to know, Reynolds said, “why we do what we do.”

“That issue was number one in nearly every listening session we held during the development of the strategic plan,” he noted. “People wanted help to renew their faith, their understanding of Catholicism.”

As a result, the number two goal of the strategic plan is “to help form and support, with the power of the Holy Spirit, an evangelizing faith in Jesus Christ.” And the first action step called for in response to that goal is to “identify and develop a diocesan-wide renewal effort for parishes on our call to holiness, our call to proclaim the Good News, and our call to social justice and stewardship.”

Why Catholic? is part of that action step.

There is a bit of serendipity involved in the timing of the new effort. At the time the people of the archdiocese were asking those significant questions, RENEW International had produced — and dioceses in Knoxville, Lexington and Covington had been using — the Why Catholic? program. The program provides, in effect, a direct response to the listening session requests. The new effort, by the way, should not be confused with the initial RENEW program first offered in the archdiocese back in the 1980s and used again in the 2000 Jubilee Year.

“This is a much more comprehensive product,” Reynolds noted. “The materials are designed to lead you through the seasons,” and all manner of resources are available to participating parishes. They might use retreats for parents and families, workshops for school faculty and staff or adult education events, Della Bella said.

“The parishes can use the resources of Why Catholic? any way they want to use them,” he said. And Reynolds noted that people will be able to fit the programs into their schedules — “They don’t have to worry that, ‘Oh, I missed the first year and now I can’t join,’ ” he said. “They can plug right in.”

Why Catholic? is built around the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — profession of faith, celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer. In more everyday terms, those four pillars illustrate what Catholics believe, celebrate, live and pray.

After its start in Lent 2011, Why Catholic? will continue during the Lent and Advent seasons of each year. And each year will emphasize one of the catechism’s pillars — the first will focus on prayer. The Lenten and Advent season programs are each six weeks long.

The archdiocese is paying the subscription fee for the program — $100,000 for each of the four years. Parishes will be responsible for a parish kit, which costs $200, and participant booklets that cost $13 each.

“The exciting thing to me is that we have made a commitment to take those clearly identified priorities and respond to them and use our resources to fund this response,” Reynolds said. “The desire to do something like this came from all levels of the archdiocese — from parishioners to the Pastoral Council and the Priests’ Council. In fact, a year ago, the Priests’ Council was unanimous in saying ‘do this first.’ ”

Why Catholic? represents “a diocesan commitment to renewal,” Reynolds added. “Our bicentennial year was an expression of pride in the faith. People feel proud to be Catholic and want to know more, and they also want to experience personal renewal. So to commit to doing this together is significant.”

Information sessions — to inform pastors, their staffs or anyone else who would help them implement the program — are being held on two days this month. The first sessions will be held Aug. 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive, and at 1:30 p.m. at St. Margaret Mary Church, 7813 Shelbyville Road. Aug. 19 information sessions will be at 1:30 p.m. at St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, KY, and at 7 p.m. at St. James Church in Elizabethtown, KY Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will preside at all sessions.

Following the information sessions, training workshops will be scheduled this fall for program leaders and parish implementation teams, Della Bella explained. “And at that point we’ll have a better idea for what kind of event we might want to do as a kickoff to the program,” he added.

Why Catholic? materials will be available in Spanish and Vietnamese language versions as well as in English. Most people will participate in small groups at their parishes; some will meet in private homes. But the program also offers retreats and different approaches for various age groups.

In fact, Reynolds noted that Sarah Fellows, who heads Catholic campus ministry at the University of Louisville, is excited about the opportunity Why Catholic? presents to engage young adults.

“Sarah says this is a wonderful way to provide young adult students access into parish life,” Reynolds noted. “And I can imagine the process producing shared experiences between parents and children, faculty and staff and students. It’s a great way to integrate learning.”

The Archdiocese of Louisville appears especially ready for a program such as Why Catholic?

“In 2007 we received a new archbishop, and in our bicentennial year of 2008 we were recognized by the Holy Father and the Holy See,” he explained. “That generated momentum, and the process of the listening sessions helped to focus on renewal. While I think this notion is much bigger than just our own archdiocese, there is a particular readiness for it here.”
Della Bella agrees that nationally there “is a hunger to learn more about our faith.”

“A few years ago, people asked, ‘What does it mean to be Catholic?’ ” he said. “There is real pride in our faith. And as there are more and more challenges and uncertainties in society — uncertainty about the economy, about trust in national leadership — faith provides us with a certain amount of certainty. With Why Catholic? people have a chance to renew their lives, their faith, their learning, and in a Catholic mindset, which usually means doing in community.”

Why Catholic? will use retreats, workshops, events, bulletin messages and other materials, he noted. “It’s much more of a comprehensive process than anything we’ve done in the past.”

This article first appeared in The Record, the Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville and is used with permission.

Learn more about Why Catholic?