Confirmandi Work Together, Grow in Faith, Friendship

articlepicTwo southwestern Vermont parishes are enhancing their Confirmation programs by combining their efforts to reach out to youth, most of who go to the same high school.

Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington have combined their confirmation program, now serving 43 students.

And, working together, the parishes are offering high schoolers ways not only to study about the faith, but also to serve others and socialize with other Catholic youth.

“It has been wonderful,” said Rev. Robert Wiseman, C.S.C., administrator of both churches. “There is strength in numbers, with a larger group, there is more interaction.”

This is the first year the programs have been combined, and it gives the youth – mostly students at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington – and opportunity to get to know other Catholic students and to prepare for Confirmation with school friends who belong to the other parish.

Abby Whitman, a sophomore at Mount Anthony who attends St. John the Baptist Church, said she likes the combined program because “you get to be with your friends,” there is more discussion than in a smaller group, and there is “more input for teachers.”

The parishes are offering a slate of activities for youth:

  • On the first Sunday of every month, students attend Mass at their own parish and participate by being ushers, altar servers, greeters, singing in the youth choir, etc.
  • Once a month, there is a two-hour class that begins with the Gospel, a short homily, and quiet prayer time. A speaker follows, addressing various topics like the dignity of all human beings and faith science.
  • There is a shorter class on the last Sunday night of the month. During the students’ class, parents have a class with a parish priest. A Youth Mass follows this shorter class.
  • Once a month, there is a Youth Group activity like participating in a Care Net Walk for Life, helping at church dinners, shopping for the food pantry, bowling, and hiking.

“Because the two programs are now combined, we are able to communicate more easily with all the students,” said Susan Altland who coordinates the Confirmation program. “There is group of parents from both parishes who work together to make sure all the details are in place.”

There are also other parents behind the scenes who are helping to organize community service and liturgical service activities for the youth of the community.

The point of it all, Abby said, is to learn, “to be knowledgeable about our faith.”

The program uses the YouCat youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“We hope the kids have a better appreciation of their faith,” Fr. Wiseman said, and find “it’s exciting to be Catholic.”

Rita Dee’s son, Vitaly, is a student in the Confirmation program; he is a sophomore at Mount Anthony, and they are parishioners of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church. She likes the combined youth program for several reasons: It is “in tune” with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the parish priests are actively involved each week, and it draws upon the expertise of parishioners.

“I really like that we’ve all come together under one roof; it’s more exciting for the students,” she said. “There’s more participation, and it’s better having the two churches together.”

As confirmation drew near, Altland reflected that it had been a good year. The students participated in a fall retreat at the Mellos Retreat Center in Jacksonville. “It was wonderful to get 40 teenagers away for the day and focus on their faith,” she said.

Throughout the year, “the combination of classes, Masses, and services has been wonderful,” she added. “I think that through this journey, we have all grown in understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith.”

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