Today, Nov. 4, is the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. Those who learn or who hand on the faith in parish religious education programs owe him quite a debt of gratitude. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which was created after the Reformation for the purpose of providing religious education to Catholics, especially the young. Educated lay people offered themselves as catechists. Charles Borromeo established the confraternity in every parish of the Diocese of Milan, of which he was the cardinal-archbishop. It was the ancestor, if you will, of today’s systematic, parish-based religious education.
For many people, the initials CCD stand merely for the release-time classes offered until about 50 years ago to Catholic children in public schools, who were brought to Catholic school buildings for a weekly lesson in the faith. It wasn’t always a happy experience. The public school children frequently were warned not touch anything on or in the desks of the parochial school children, who had been dismissed early to make room. The teachers themselves frequently came from a day of class in the parochial schools and were exhausted by the time these children arrived. Many of those in the so-called CCD believed they were second-class citizens of the parish.
We don’t use the term CCD these days. Since the early 1970s, the appropriate terminology is parish religious education or parish catechesis. (The word catechesis comes from a Greek word meaning to echo. Everyone who hands on the faith echoes the teaching of Jesus Christ and his church.)
The parish religious education programs of today, with their inclusion of family catechesis experiences, are quite close to the vision of people like Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Francis DeSales and other thoughtful leaders and supporters of the original Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Dedicated, energetic lay catechists and catechetical leaders once again have the opportunity to answer their baptismal call to hand on the faith to the next generation. These teachers follow guidelines established by the Archdiocese of New York in conformity with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have professional training as catechists or program directors and coordinators available to them all year ’round from the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office.
So if you have a child or youth in a vibrant parish religious education program, do thank Charles Borromeo and his associates for making this possible.