Discover the joy of the Gospel

June 5th, 2014

First of all,  a great big thank-you to all who helped the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office celebrate the completion of our 30th anniversary year: Cardinal Dolan, our clergy, consecrated men and women, directors/coordinators of religious education, catechists, the rector and staff of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and so many more.

Now it’s time to move on to Saturday, June 21, and the fifth annual New York Catholic Bible Summit, which will take place at Cathedral High School in the Catholic Center in Manhattan. It’s a great way to discover new insights on Scripture from some of the most knowledgeable Bible experts in the county. Whether you are a catechist, a catechetical leader, a lector, a member of your parish RCIA team or just interested in deepening your understanding, you will profit from this day.  The theme this year, with a nod to Pope Francis, is “Discover the Joy of the Gospel.” Keynoters are the Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., of Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, Conn. (English), and Dr. Nuria Calduch-Benages from the Gregorian University in Rome (Spanish). Cardinal Dolan will join us in the afternoon. This event is co-sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office and the American Bible Society.

You’ll find all the information on speakers and registration here. Hope to see you on the 21st

30 years and embracing the future

May 14th, 2014

For more than 30 years, since the late Terence Cardinal Cooke established the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, catechists and leaders of parish religious education programs have had at their disposal and, more recently, at their fingertips some of the most highly regarded formation programs in the United States.

On June 1, the Catechetical Office will complete a year of celebrating, reflecting and renewing our commitment to the people of this archdiocese.  His Eminence Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will be principal celebrant of the Sacred Liturgy on Sunday, June 1, at 2:00 pm in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Sr. Joan Curtin, CND, director of the Catechetical Office, invites all catechetical leaders and catechists to join us.  Yes, the cathedral is full of scaffolding but we’ll manage. It’s our mother church.

The Catechetical Office exists in order to help assure that the more than 95,000 children who are in our parish catechetical programs learn their faith and how to live it every day of their lives. We do this by providing spiritual, theological and pedagogical training for catechists. This is available either in a traditional classroom format or online. We also provide the basic and advanced leadership training that gives the parish director or coordinator of religious education the knowledge and the confidence to be an effective administrator.

Our training makes all the difference between a so-so program and one that is vibrant and engaging for our children. Why? Because we are constantly evaluating this training, improving it where needed, and making it responsive to the needs of 21st century Catholics.

We serve parents, too, by providing for every religious education program a family catechesis component. This enables parents to fulfill their own duty, which is to be the primary catechists of their children, and also to renew their own knowledge and practice of the faith. Our website,, is updated daily.

Save a thought (and a prayer, too) for us on June 1 and join us, if you can, as we celebrate our past and turn our faces to the future in the service of God and God’s people.

Easter is a way of life

April 22nd, 2014

Happy Easter, friends.

You know how it is about great feasts. There’s a big build-up and then it’s over. Well, Easter doesn’t have to be that way because we Christians are Easter people and our song is “Alleluiah.”

Easter didn’t end Sunday evening. It won’t end after we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, then move into what the Church calls liturgically “ordinary time.”

Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND, who writes for the Rhode Island Catholic, has graciously shared her April column with me and you.  She tells us why and how Easter is really a way of life. I hope you enjoy it.

April 2014 article

Please help our displaced neighbors in East Harlem

April 4th, 2014

It has been more than three weeks since the terrible March 12 gas explosion in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. The media have moved on to other disasters, but the people directly affected are still suffering from the shock of the explosion and from losing family members, neighbors, and their homes. You can help them.

There is a need for clothing, household items and other items for the people who have been displaced and have lost their possessions. These families are just transitioning from shelters to permanent housing and are starting all over to build their households.

Sr.  Sabiduria Alcaino, SSVM, the coordinator of religious education at St. Paul’s Parish at 113 East 117th Street, asks your help in getting supplies to these neighbors. Here is Sr. Sabiduria’s request for help, which has a  list of items that are needed. We in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, especially Sr. Catherine Ryan, FSP, the regional catechetical director, add our pleas as well.

Thank you for anything you can do.

The tender evangelist

March 21st, 2014

Evangelization is the mission of our Church. Last week, one of our archdiocese’s great evangelizers went home to Jesus. Her name was Merta Ortiz. She was a secretary in the Office of the Superintendent of Schools.

Father Brian McWeeney, one of Merta’s friends, spoke briefly at the end of her Mass of Christian Burial this morning at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in East Harlem. Drawing inspiration from Pope Francis, he used a watchword of the Pope to describe Merta: tenderness.

Merta dealt with hundreds of people inside our headquarters and outside. Her kindness and professionalism never varied. Even on days when she didn’t feel very well, she soldiered on gracefully without complaint. With her face, her voice and her exquisite manners, she probably did more to spread the Good News than a dozen treatises or teaching sessions. To her colleagues in the building, her comrades in the office and to her family – especially her son Charlie, of whom she was justifiably proud – she was the personification of the word that Father Brian associated with her.

We’ll miss you, Merta, and your tenderness.

The day after Ash Wednesday

March 6th, 2014

Well, here we are a day after Ash Wednesday. Did you make plans for a prayerful observance of the Season of Lent? Yes? Wonderful! No? It’s not too late. Here are some online resources that will get you started for the next 39 days.

Our own Archdiocesan Catechetical Office has online Stations of the Cross and more.

The New York Jesuits have ideas for people of all ages that will take you right through to Easter.

Young men and women from the Augustinian Volunteers offer day by day reflections based on their experiences of working here in the U.S. and around the world in the service of those in need.

The United States Catholic Bishops offer a host of resources, including the Pope’s Lenten message.

American, a Franciscan online ministry, provides prayer and educational resources.

These are just a sampling of the Lenten opportunities available to you on line. However, the best thing you and I could do – in addition to some self-denial, of course, –  is to participate in the Sacred Liturgy as often as possible. Nothing we could find on line will begin to compare with meeting the Person of Jesus Christ in the community of believers, in the Word, and in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

A Blessed Lent.


Valentine: man of mystery

February 6th, 2014

St. Valentine’s Day is coming at us – cards, chocolates and all.

Who was Valentine, who is also celebrated by many Christians besides Roman Catholics? The Eastern Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans and the Anglicans also honor him. What did he do to become so well-known?

Actually, Valentine is a bit of a mystery man. Pope Gelasius I, who established his February 14 feast day in the year 496, described Valentine as one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” No help there. However, the Roman Martyrology describes him as a martyr for the Faith. He may have been a priest or bishop. He may have secretly married couples, so that the husband would not have to go fight and get killed  for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars suggest we have Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for this connection of Valentine and romance. In Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, the birds choose their mates around his feast. Many birds do mate in February.

Valentine is also associated with another form of romance, courtly love, which was all the rage in the late Middle Ages. Picture the chivalrous knight, wearing a lady’s colors, maybe his queen’s colors, and performing dangerous, even fatal, deeds for her. It was a chaste love.

Whatever Valentine’s connection or non-connection to love, it is a perfect day for couples to renew their love for one another, for children to celebrate the love their parents shower on them, for friends to cherish one another, for anyone to reach out to another.

The Gospel for February 14, which is also the Feast of St. Cyril and Methodius, recounts an act of genuine love. Jesus encounters a deaf man with a speech impediment and heals him.  Maybe Valentine’s Day can be a day of kindness toward people who ordinarily don’t receive much kindness. Of course, you do that all year ’round but I think it would be especially appreciated on St. Valentine’s Day.


January 17th, 2014

There are so many ways to identify ourselves as Catholic Christians. Some people wear medals. Others make references to Catholic teaching among their friends and professional colleagues.  Just walking or driving to the parish church on Sundays and holy days is a way of demonstrating Catholic identity. Catechists and Catholic school teachers promote Catholic identity by their teaching ministry.

However, there is one group of Catholics who give powerful witness to their identity, but not by wearing religious symbols or discussing Catholic values and teachings in the workplace. They really can’t do either of these things.  I am referring to Catholics who teach in public schools.

Instead, they give witness to their Catholic identity in the way they conduct themselves in the school environment, by their kindness and commitment to their students and families, by the diligence with which they provide the best education of which they are capable, and by their willingness to go the extra distance for the students, the families, and their own colleagues.  Some of them also serve as catechists or youth ministers and in other ways at their parishes.

These Catholic teachers in our public schools are like Pope Francis. Even if he were to trade in his white cassock for a nondescript shirt and trousers, his concern for poor and marginalized people would still identify him as a follower of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola and Francis of Assisi.

For the last eight years, we in the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office have given special recognition to Catholic teachers in public schools by sponsoring a Liturgy and breakfast in the winter and a day of recollection just for them in the fall.  It is our hope that they leave these days spiritually and physically nourished, and that they know how much they are appreciated.

The Liturgy and Breakfast this year will take place on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester. It is easily accessible by car or Metro North.  Bishop Gerald Walsh, vicar general of the Archdiocese, will celebrate Mass with us and author Gaynell Cronin will be the speaker.

If you are a Catholic teaching in a public school or you know someone who is, you will find all the details  and registration information for Feb. 22 here.  We look forward to being with you.

The Queen and the Cardinal

December 30th, 2013

Well now. It’s not too often that one finds Her Britannic Majesty and His New York Eminence opining on the same topic during the same week. But it just happened.

In her Christmas message, the one she writes and speaks from her own heart, Queen Elizabeth II talked about the importance of quiet contemplation. The Queen said, “For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people.”

Cardinal Dolan, in a Today Show interview he gave on Christmas morning, recalled a quiet time he spent in his chapel between Midnight Mass and the Christmas morning liturgy when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee.

“I went into my little cozy chapel and sat in the comfortable rocking chair. Then I lit the candles on the altar, illuminated the little tree, and took out the Bible. Glancing at the crib scene, I slowly read the story of the birth of Jesus from St. Luke’s gospel. And then, I was quiet. I prayed. I thought of past Christmases and smiled. I recalled people for whom I had promised a memento. But mostly, I was quiet. Silence is a gift we crave, a present we need, as our hectic days long for a place where no one can reach us.”

Even in our own busy lives, it is possible to steal a few minutes for quiet prayer and contemplation, whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. There is a wonderful and ancient form of prayer which has recently regained popularity and which you might consider: Lectio Divina. This is a prayerful, reflective approach to reading Sacred Scripture. Among the nicest aids to Lectio Divina are the daily prayer companions such as Magnificat, Give Us this Day, and other similar publications. Another suggestion would be Father Jim Martin’s  e-book,  Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer, which you can order from one of those great on-line booksellers. (I’d provide a link but I don’t want to play favorites here.) All these make use of Sacred Scripture, prayer and contemplation.

I cannot think of a better way to close out an old year and move into a new year than to set aside daily time for quiet reflection and prayer.  One will be in interesting company, won’t one?

Happy New Year!