It all starts with Jesus Christ.
That we are Catholics in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, that we are members of One Faith and One Family, is all because of Jesus Christ.
While we know this is true at some level in our being – whether we are living our faith passively or more actively – we might not be able to articulate the how and why.
Helping us deepen and grow that understanding is a significant part of the work of the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal and the ministries of the church made possible by the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal. (see listing from Bishop Paul Swain on page 9)
Consider the work of the Discipleship and Evangelization office. Most might be familiar with the annual events – D-camps, Totus Tuus teams, youth conferences, retreats, the Martin Marty Institute for the New Evangelization, and more.
But some of the most exciting work of Discipleship is happening in parishes large and small around the diocese with the support of the Discipleship team and it is impacting youth and adults alike.
When Father Joe Vogel was pastor at St. Katharine Drexel in Sioux Falls he became familiar with discipleship groups which created opportunities for young people who are led and mentored by adults. It’s an alternative to or in addition to other religious education programs in parishes.
“So I knew the concept and I knew it worked,” said Fr. Vogel, now pastor at St. Joseph, Elk Point, St. Peter, Jefferson and St. Teresa of Calcutta, Dakota Dunes and wanting to implement Discipleship at the parishes.
“I just didn’t know how to make it happen so I called the diocese,” Fr. Vogel said – meaning Discipleship and Evangelization focused Eric Gallagher, Chris Burgwald and Emily Leedom. “They told me ‘we’ll come to you and train your people’”.
“And what happened is that we put the skill with the desire to make it happen through the help of the diocese,” Fr. Vogel said. “One of the best descriptions of discipleship is that it meets kids where they are in their lives and builds relationships with them.”
Gallagher said the invitation to get started with a discipleship program is offered to parishes with the hope that something can always be better.
“Every parish, every person is in a different place so the way you introduce it is based on something they desire right now. It’s trying to inspire them – going into a parish and helping them look at the current reality, and proposing something almost idealistic and then inviting them to journey into that – that’s really discipleship,” he said.
While some might think the discipleship approach is new, it actually goes right back to the way Jesus invited his disciples, developed his relationship with them and then sent them out into the world. Using four areas – spiritual, human, intellectual and pastoral – it teaches the faith but allows much flexibility in how it is done.
“It ends up being this proposal that’s made and the invitation to enter into that and inviting the person to follow,” Gallagher said. “At the diocese, we’re trying to be more present, more available to walk with the parishes … it’s a gift to work with so many parishes; we get to see signs of hope and signs of life.”
Amy Giorgio coordinates the discipleship program at St. Joseph, Elk Point and St. Peter, Jefferson.
Based on the number of high school students and the number of parents leading groups, 42% of parents are involved in the discipleship efforts.
“Talk about one faith, one family, that’s a great testimony to the desire of the parents to connect with other kids,” said Giorgio, who is also one of those involved parents who serve as group leaders and mentors to the youth who are as young as 7th grade and continuing through seniors in high school. The ripple effect impacts not just those directly involved but the entire parish.
“As adult mentors, we deepen our faith so it’s not just good for the kids but good for the parents, which then becomes good for the parish, which becomes good for the community,” she said.
Fr. Vogel describes himself as a big believer in the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal, and as a former Newman Center director, vocations director and pastor of parishes small and large he has seen the impact first hand.
What a parish or even a group of parishes cannot do alone becomes possible thanks to the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal.
“It’s so good to part of a diocese . . . someone knows this so I don’t have to . . . there’s a resource I can go to . . . we could not do this without the diocese,” he said.
“We have also had seminarians here the last two summers and that has been a blessing, but this discipleship support from the diocese is a gift and I’m so proud of our diocese for jumping into this early and to Bishop Swain for supporting it,” said Fr. Vogel.
The exposure to the seminarians, (support for the formation and education of seminarians is actually the largest beneficiary of the Catholic Family sharing Appeal), has had a lasting impact in the three parishes. The relationships built have helped parents and young men know that considering seminary is normal.
“It’s the incarnation – they (the seminarians) are people in the flesh who aren’t way out there because they are thinking of the seminary,” Fr. Vogel said.
Relationships are key to so much about the faith – healthy relationships built through the seminarians or through discipleship efforts help us also with our relationship with God.
“You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t have friends you aren’t going to know the Lord and if you don’t know the Lord you can’t have friends. And that’s what kids know – they know friends,” said Fr. Vogel.
Giorgio said the discipleship approach and working with the diocesan team helps the parishes get a sense “of the bigger picture and Eric (Gallagher) does a great job of rooting it in Catholic tradition.”
And while parent involvement is up, so is the number of young people staying active after their confirmation. But Giorgio is quick to point out it is about much more than numbers and she encourages support of Discipleship programs by supporting the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal.
“I think if the idea for a donor is to help people become more alive in their faith this is one avenue that it certainly happens at the ground level,” she said.
Bradie Timmins is one of eight senior girls and two adult leaders in a discipleship group now well into its second year together. She describes the discipleship approach as a much different experience than the years of religious education in the classroom.
“CCD is more individual learning but with discipleship we’re all together learning about our faith and trying to grow in that,” she said.
“Even just baking we are all together, all sharing things and talking and you don’t really get that as a high school student very often … my relationship with my friends has definitely grown in this … and my relationship with God has become more clear through this,” Timmins said.
Elena Giorgio is in the same group. “In y-disciple I’ve really gotten the chance to use my gifts and the faith that I have to show other people through working in the community instead of just being in a classroom,” she said.
And the group recommends the discipleship approach to others as well.
“I would definitely recommend it,” said Emily Mickelson, another member of the group. “The groups are based on your interests and every week … you have some control over how the program is going to work, it’s personalized to you so that you have the growth you want to have … now I want to come here each week, I want to learn about God and to have a relationship (with God), ” she said.