Julie Dilley has been the Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help for less than a year. Prior to that she was the Coordinator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for 6 years. It was essentially the same job with a name that was “way too complicated.” She is responsible for the sacramental preparation of children in the parish, acting as a liaison with teachers at the school and volunteers in the Parish School of Religion (PSR), and providing tools and resources for parents. And from what I gather, way too many meetings.
Between the OLPH school and PSR, Julie is responsible for the faith formation of over 500 children. When speaking of those children, Julie becomes instantly passionate. I asked her the greatest joy of her position and without thought she instantly responded, “The kids.” Julie knows her job is following God along with those kids and acknowledges that, “They formed me and enlightened my faith much more than I did theirs.” While she is talented at the administrative aspects of her position, according to Julie, it is spending time with the kids in their faith formation that “feeds my soul.”
For those unfamiliar, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) “is a common religious experience involving children and adults in which the religious values of contemplation and enjoyment of God are predominate. This experience is shared in a place particularly prepared for the life of the children called the Atrium.” Regarding the Atrium, “The atrium can be compared to a retreat house facilitating recollection and silence.” Anyone interested in CGS can find more information at www.cgsusa.org/.
Julie loves to see the faith formation of her kids and believes it adds to a “living, breathing parish” rather than one where the various sacraments are boxes to be checked. She wants to go beyond marking off Reconciliation and Communion in second grade, Confirmation in eighth grade, and then you are done with being catechized. Being a lifelong Catholic growing up in the CCD era, I can attest to the trap that Confirmation is an ending. I am the oldest of three children, and after Confirmation I was able to go to breakfast with my parents at Friendly’s after Mass while my younger two siblings “suffered” through their Sunday School hour. Julie wants the faith formation of our children to be powerful enough that after Confirmation the kids realize it is only a beginning, giving them a thirst to continue their ongoing journey in knowledge and faith.
Speaking of that knowledge, CGS is imparting an immense amount of knowledge in our parish’s children. During preparation for Reconciliation and First Holy Communion, the children have a retreat and there formerly was a section titled Vestments and Vessels where they learned the complex nomenclature of all the objects and vestments involved in Mass. Julie recounts that when her first class of children who had begun with CGS in preschool reached that retreat, Fr. Colopy was teaching Vestments and Vessels. Afterwards he approached her and told her the session had been completely useless as the kids already knew everything he was trying to teach them. Vestments and Vessels has now been removed from the retreat.
Implementing CGS has not always been an easy path. Initially Julie received some pushback from teachers at the school who were loath to give up an hour each week of academics. However, over time she has won enthusiastic acceptance from even some of her largest detractors. It has been particularly rewarding for Julie when religious education has spread out of the Atrium into other areas of instruction. In one instance, a teacher was conducting a class on the funerary rites of ancient Egypt. Her students immediately made a connection between mummification and how Jesus was wrapped in the tomb.
“Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathe’a… This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned and prepared him with spices and ointments.” (Lk 23:50 – 56)
The kids were also able to associate the three kings’ gift of myrrh during the Nativity to myrrh used in ancient funerary rituals. Something I only learned a month or so ago myself during one of Msgr. Cody’s homilies.
In another instance, younger children were completing an Easter scripture exercise involving a color by numbers project. This involved looking up a scripture passage, associating it with a particular section of the Passion, and then coloring it in based on the color assigned to that section. The kids were not only extremely comfortable with accessing scripture in the Bible, but a lively debate ensued regarding the interpretation of that scripture.
Julie is equally passionate regarding the Atrium. For her it is, “A spiritual place where they can spend time with God.” As soon as the kids walk in, she can see a “switch” happening in them. They are no longer in an academic setting devoted to reading, writing, and arithmetic, but can embrace a quiet exploration of their faith. If she could have her one wish, Julie would like a dedicated area on campus specifically for Atriums and the spiritual development of all our children.
In addition to her duties at the parish, Julie is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry with a focus on CGS at The Aquinas Institute of Theology, the only university in the U.S. with a dedicated course of study for CGS. While her professional and academic life have dominated her with religious and spiritual books, Julie is an avid reader in her sparse free time. She enjoys nearly every genre expect for historical biographies, which her husband loves. However, her master’s degree did expose Julie to a challenging new author, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest, scientist, theologian, philosopher, and teacher.
One of the most powerful lessons Julie gives to her kids is that “there is no test.” Everything she is passionately attempting to teach them is about their personal relationship with God and that faith is for everyone. “God is there even when we don’t know He is.”
Given everything that Julie is doing with our children, I am reminded of scripture (which I probably don’t know nearly as well as her kids.)
“And a little child shall lead them.” (Is 11:6)
By Eric Brooks