Catechetics: Nothing beats real-life experience


Michael Milano sits at a round table with a few other people. He answers questions about the Catholic faith and mediates conversation to help the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) candidates and catechumens understand the lecture on a topic explaining Catholicism that they just heard delivered by Drake McCallister, the leader of Steubenville’s RCIA program.

Milano, a Theology graduate student studying at Franciscan University of Steubenville, is able to participate in this program due to a class called ‘practicum’, which works much like an internship.

“It (practicum) is an opportunity to put into practice what you are theoretically learning in the classroom,” said McCallister, the Director for the Catechetics program at Franciscan and the professor for practicum.

Students who participate in practicum get a real-world experience of what it’s really like to teach the Catholic faith, including both the triumphs and struggles, said McCallister.

There are a variety of different positions students can hold while getting this first-hand experience, including helping out with the local RCIA program, like Milano did last year, assisting in the high school or junior high youth group, or helping with the kindergarten through sixth grade CCD Faith and Life program, or Catechesis of the good shepherd. Other position options include assistant director of religious education for Steubenville, or placement in the Catholic high school or junior high.

Milano works with the campus RCIA this year. While he said he enjoys the position, he sees campus as a place where the life of Catholicism is already very much alive, and people are passionate about the faith.

While working with Steubenville’s RCIA program, he said that he had once encountered a couple who had been through a tragic experience. He sat at that small table after one of McCallister’s lectures and said he cried with the couple as he tried to lead them to an understanding of the teachings.

“When you go through an RCIA process, it makes you look at all areas of your life,” said Milano. “They (the couple) became extremely open with me and shed tears. It culminated in one night where I just really tried to bring encouragement, to bring hope in this new journey they were walking toward… that the past is the past and this is a new life in Christ. This conversation brought a lot of hope to their hearts.”

It is experiences like these that McCallister designed the program to teach students about. “It allows them to settle into what it is like to show up rain or shine. It helps answer the questions: one is this something I’m interested in, and then two, is God calling me to this?”

While Milano said he wasn’t surprised by what helping lead RCIA entailed, he said it did open his eyes to what RCIA is really like. “It’s regular people you meet on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Not all of them have a lot of zeal to join the faith. Some do it for their family or girlfriend. I’ve learned just to meet them where they are at.”

While the class is not a mandatory, nor part of the Catechetics or Theology program, the experiences students take from practicum class help them land a job after graduation.

“When students participate in practicum and get out there in the field it helps them get hired because when doing interviews they can actually converse on concrete examples,” said McCallister.

Milano said, “It’s preparing me because I feel like that’s really the state of our world. The United States has a lot of lukewarm people in it. It’s great to see the zeal there is on this campus and in a sense to have that as an ideal for the rest of the world, but to go off campus and see what it’s really like is crucial and can help us transform the culture.”

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