The richness of faith is something for every practicing Catholic to experience. While Faith Formation is an avenue for children to discover that pinnacle of faith, all the distractions in today’s society make it increasingly difficult to engage children in faith.
According to Bill Kirejczyk, director of Religious Education at Mary Mother of Mankind Church in North Providence, he grapples daily with how to pass the mystery of faith onto the next generation.
“It seems that in today’s culture, the moral compass for our children is slightly off due to all the external stimuli to which they are exposed,” Kirejczyk said.
Kirejczyk has spent the last two years as director of Religious Education but has 12 total years of experience as a religious educator. He was raised Catholic in Providence and attended the former St. Adalbert School from grades 1–8. After attending public high school, he moved on to college where he attained a Bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice from Roger Williams University and a Master’s degree in Administration of Justice from Salve Regina. Somewhere along the way, he admits to having abandoned the practice of his Catholic Faith.
“The key to appreciating what our Lord has given us when he founded his Church is to educate ourselves about the richness of our Catholic Faith, especially concerning Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and the grace conferred through the sacraments,” Kirejczyk said. “I believe the faithful decide to leave the church due to a lack of knowledge of our Catholic faith.”
Over time, Kirejczyk rediscovered his Catholic faith and went on a journey of discovery. He took advantage of the Diocese of Providence’s online curriculum, earning a catechist certification and ultimately receiving a Masters of Theological Studies from Providence College. This journey helped Kirejczyk decide what his own religious education program’s culture would look like.
For a quarter century, the diocese has been firm in its commitment to protect children who participate in religious education. To begin, “the Diocese of Providence is doing an outstanding job creating thorough training for those working with youth,” Kirejczyk noted. “They monitor these issues very closely. This is the first step in creating a positive and safe environment where kids can learn and grow in their faith. As the coordinator for our program, I address the kids often, letting them know that respecting one another is a key element in the practice of their Faith. I also encourage them to talk to an adult any time they have been placed in a position where they felt uncomfortable.”
The diocese has been on the forefront of protecting children when they established the Office of Compliance in 1993, almost 10 years before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formalized procedures to protect children across the country in 2002. The diocese has also created an advisory board for the Protection of Children and Young People which is tasked with reviewing policy and making recommendations for where it could be stronger. Both of these bodies seek to proactively protect young people throughout the diocese, while also sharing all relevant information with law enforcement.
The diocese looks to empower religious educators like Kirejczyk to be proactive in creating a culture of safety and positivity that is key for faith development. The diocese administers Safe Environment Training for all Diocesan clergy members, staff and volunteers. The training includes building awareness of signs of abuse and clear boundaries with children. The diocese also conducts a background check and manages a database to ensure everyone has completed the training that requires a renewal every three years.
Kirejczyk seeks to create an inclusive environment for people of all ages at Mary Mother of Mankind. He wants to establish his own personal religious education classes for adults, as he understands the struggles that someone who is older can have in maintaining their faith.
While Bill inherited most of his religious education volunteers, all of whom practice their Catholic Faith and make an effort to pass it along to the children, Kirejczyk envisions all the volunteers he brings on in the future to be “practicing Catholics with a passion for getting children excited about participating at Mass and receiving the sacraments.”
“I know teaching kids can be frustrating sometimes, but I want our volunteers to remember the key element of faith; God is a loving and merciful God and He will never abandon us even when we choose to abandon Him,” Kirejczyk said. “I want all kids who come through the Mary Mother of Mankind religious education program to understand that important fact. The most important thing we can do as Catechists is to work diligently at sowing the seeds of our Faith and trust that God will do the rest,” Krejczk added.
Kirejczyk and his wife Elizabeth of 21 years are raising four children; Keeley, 17, Nicholas, 16, Regan, 11, and Maura, 8, all of whom now attend or have attended parochial school in Warwick.
To sign your child up for religious education, visit your respective parish’s website.