The History of Family Formation

By Trudy Swanson, a founding member of the Family Formation team (abridged for this website)

The Church of Saint Paul in Ham Lake, Minnesota was established in 1981 with Father Tim Nolan as the first pastor of this brand new Catholic parish.  His love for the Lord, and enthusiasm for spreading that love, drew together families from four existing parishes in the area.

From the beginning, we knew that this was a special place.  As church members began to discern and plan for the religious education of the many young children in the parish, we formulated the first blush of what was to become Family Formation.

To begin, we provided the traditional Catholic religious education program (CCD) opportunities for our kids, but as the parish grew, we quickly found ourselves running out of room to house the classes.  With a little creativity, we decided to use our homes as classrooms and my house was one of them.  A third grade group met there once a week with a volunteer teacher who would instruct the children in the ways of the Faith using a textbook series. 

When I would pick up my three sons from their respective classrooms, I would ask the normal motherly question: So, what did you learn tonight?  Each would answer, "Nothing."  I would try again, "Well, what did your teacher talk about?" "I don't remember," was the standard answer.  "Well, surely you had a lesson about something, didn't you?"  My frustration in not knowing how to continue this discussion was heightened by the fact that I really had no idea what their lesson was about.  I, too, was young in my understanding of the Faith and so, the conversation ended there.

I was on the Parish Council at the time and mentioned this situation to that group.  I discovered that all of the parents were feeling the same discouragement and desired more for their children than settling for something that was clearly not effective simply because it had always been done.  Father Tim encouraged us to begin to pray, fast, and seek God's heart for our children.  During this time, we began to hear phrases from Pope John Paul II about the "seeds of a new generation," "Nazareth families," "a future full of hope," and "Families, become who you are."  While pondering what this all meant, we continued to pray as a group.

During this same period, Father Tim went on sabbatical, visiting what he considered to be alive parishes in hopes of learning from them.  He visited one parish that had a family-focused religious education program, and he was impressed.  He brought the concept home to our Pastoral Council, where it was well received.  The basic premise was that Father Tim would teach us, the parents, thereby equipping us to pass on the Faith to our own children.

I knew that, as with most ministries in our parish, this would be a team effort.  Being a new idea and approach, there was alot of work to be done to set things in motion.  So, we gathered a group of parents together and began to pray as to how we were going to accomplish this goal.  First, we had to figure out how we were going to organize lesson topics to include all the points of the Faith and instill them into our families.  As we were praying together, we began to feel the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.  It was at this meeting that it became clear to us that we were to organize our lessons in such a way as to draw families into the life and beauty of the liturgical year.

We began to create lessons that reflected, whenever possible, what was currently happening in the Church year.  We found our families greatly benefiting from their understanding of each liturgical season, and this led to a growing participation at Mass on the part of parents and their children.  The lessons were slowly being written, and each month we would have our four-hour Core Team meeting to assess our progress and move forward.  The first hour of that meeting was, and continues to be, the most important part, as we devote that time completely to prayer for the program and for our parish.

As we began to implement this philosophy of teaching our own children the Faith, there was some resistance.  It was Father Tim's solid belief that this was the right way to do things, along with the support of the Church documents, that really kept Family Formation moving forward.  We worked to keep our language simple and easy to digest for parents who didn't feel knowledgeable enough in their own faith to teach their children.  Constant encouragement, personal phone calls, and strong relationships with the families proved to be vital in the process of equipping them in their role.  With each passing year, our families become stronger in their faith and are encouraged not only by the Family Formation staff, but by other families who are also undertaking the same task of raising their children in the Faith.

The program was definitely building momentum.  New ideas, lessons, activities, and challenges were always coming through at our Core Team meetings during those growing years.  Soon, calls came into our office along the lines of, "My sister in another parish would love these materials to use with her children, can you send her a packet too?" or "We are moving to a different state but don't want to stop being a part of the program, can you mail us the monthly lessons?"  In responding to these requests, our distance education program was born.  Not long after, we started receiving calls that were more like, "I brought our Home Lesson packet to our parish Director of Religious Education (DRE) and they are interested in the materials, can you send them Home Lessons AND the Classroom Lessons from Family Formation?"  And so, Family Formation for parishes was birthed!

Seeing how God and the power of the Holy Spirit can use humble parents who simply say, "Here I am, use me" has been amazing!  It is a tremendous blessing to see what we believe is God's masterpiece for families unfolding not only in our own parish, but in the many parishes who are now a part of the Family Formation family.  May God continue to use us in accomplishing His master plan.

Trudy Swanson

Family Catechesis

Learn more about the concept of family catechesis.

Why Family Catechesis?
By Father Tim Nolan, Founding Pastor of The Church of Saint Paul in Ham Lake.

A Word from the former Pastor at the Church of Saint Paul.

Church Documents in Support of Family Catechesis

Family Formation
c/o Church of Saint Paul

1740 Bunker Lake Blvd. NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304


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