As parishes adapt to new ways to celebrate rites of initiation, technology is easing the transition, writes Jason Osborne
In the current climate, preparation for the sacraments has been grievously complicated. The Catechetics Council of the Irish Bishops Conference, convened by Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick Diocese, identified a gap in the preparation of school children all over the country, and with the help of iCatholic, set about catering to that need.
Bishop Leahy told The Irish Catholic that there was a strong sense that while Confirmation ceremonies were getting underway there was a need to focus on the sacramental preparation that would normally have taken place in the classroom.
“While children have been working away, there was a sense that, when we’d come up to the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, it would be good to provide the children with some material that, as it were, was more immediate preparation for the celebration of the Sacrament,” Bishop Leahy said.
“But first of all, we have to acknowledge that the children had already a preparation done in school. They’d been following the Grow in Love programme since they went back to school last September, so they had September to March. Nevertheless, we thought it would be a good idea because, when the celebration was to come, it probably would be beyond school time and it would be something more linked with the parish,” he said.
The bishop decided to set up a small group of people with the idea of working with Fr Bill Kemmy from iCatholic on three videos to help children prepare.
They looked to RTÉ’s Home School Hub for inspiration as an example of how video learning has become increasingly accessible.
“In part, the school hub series that was very successful on RTÉ, that engaged children during the months since March with various materials for school – that kind of gave us a line; it was something that appealed, given it worked very well for the children during those months.
“We felt something similar, that you would have two teachers and also the priest in this case, engaging with some of the material, but also, engaging in a classroom-dialogue style, with the children themselves and their families. So, as well as being very upbeat and modern in presentation, they also help the children think and they also provide worksheets, so I just think it’s quite interactive as an approach, and I think that’s good,” Bishop Leahy explained.
Put in charge of the vision and direction of the production, Fr Chris O’Donnell pulled together a number of elements in the hope of offering a series of educational value.
Speaking to this paper, he said: “I just had to try as best I could to try and put a few lessons together and then there was others who reviewed the lessons, to make sure, you know, to help get them right.
“I’d to get two people, two teachers who are also actors as well to deliver the lessons and so there was that sort of combination, and then the local school here in Kilmallock happily provided us with the space to film the lessons in. They were very kind to us.”
Fr Chris’s background in education, and his work with Veritas on the Grow in Love programme, made him ideally suited to helm this project.
“I worked in Veritas, in Dublin, for a couple of years on the Grow in Love programme, so I suppose the lessons were shaped by what is normally in that programme, and also by work that others had put into that programme. So, basically, I just had to just see what the children would normally have been covering in the Grow in Love programme and try and shape that into three half-hour lessons.”
Come Holy Spirit has already received thousands of views on each episode, with individual dioceses playing their part by sharing the link as well”
Not content to produce rote recitals of the textbooks, the Come Holy Spirit series features actresses uniquely suited to convey the topics at hand.
“So, they’re two girls from Limerick, Johanna and Eleanor, and their acting – it’s a major passion, actually. One of them has already been in Fair City, and they’ve both been in various productions. I know Johanna is going to be in a series that’s coming out on Apple TV next year, so acting is in their veins, thank God,” Fr Chris elaborated.
The series has pleased families, with Bishop Leahy sharing the response to this point. “So far, people have said to me they’ve been delighted, including teachers, because some teachers are also actually helping, at this stage, the preparation, and some parents too. They’ve felt that this was something they were really looking for, and this has really helped them. So, I’m delighted with that.”
The feedback Fr Chris has received echoed the same sentiments. “Thankfully, all I wanted us to do was be credible, because obviously you’re worried that you don’t know how any of these things will be received, but I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from people who’ve watched it.”
Come Holy Spirit has already received thousands of views on each episode, with individual dioceses playing their part by sharing the link as well. The success of the series bodes well for the three-part series currently airing, titled Come to the Table of the Lord. This series is directed towards children, and those preparing the children, prepare to celebrate Confession and Holy Communion for the first time.
Asked about whether or not this novel approach will have a role to play in the Church going forward, Fr Chris replied: “I suppose we will see how this goes in the sense that they’re exceptional circumstances that brought this about, but there may be a lesson in it about how we can do things in the future.
“The goal was purely to meet the need, the current need and situation,” he continues, “but as always in life, the learning as we go could be that actually this might be a good way to try and engage with people around Faith and sacraments in the future too.”