Keeping Kids Catholic
A new book lays out a path for parents and their children
We all know the fear. What if our sweet kid who serves at Mass and aces the catechism quizzes leaves the Church after leaving home? What’s a parent to do?
In his new book, Marc Cardaronella explores ways to keep your kids Catholic, based on personal experience and drawing from his job as director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. Hint: The key is for you to know the faith and practice it. You can’t give what you do not have.
Cardaronella has been married for 25 years to his wife, Shannon, and they live in Kansas City, Kansas, with their two children.
Fathers for Good asked him about his book on the vital topic of handing on the faith to the next generation.
Fathers for Good: Why this book now?
Cardaronella: I left the Church after high school, and returned after a huge conversion experience in my 30s. I went back to college and got a master degree in theology to help people, especially kids, understand the beauty of Catholicism. When my first child was born, everything I was learning got real. I did not want my kids to repeat my mistake and leave the Church. So I began researching how to raise kids who stayed Catholic. A year later, I got a job as a parish director of religious education.
At the parish, older couples began asking about my reversion to Catholicism and how they could bring their adult children back to the faith. Their stories were often similar. God wasn’t a priority when their kids were growing up, they were too busy with life. Then later, when God did become important, their kids were grown, left the Church, and wouldn’t listen. There was always such regret in their voices. I wanted to help, but in my research I discovered the key to raising faith-filled children was to start young and have it centered in the family. That became my mission, and I developed a family faith formation program in the parish. The book comes out of all that and the stuff I did with my own kids.
Fathers for Good: For parents who don’t have time to study the book, outline the main themes.
Cardaronella: The book can be summed up as a three-phase strategy. First, secure your own faith. Studies have shown parents are the primary influencers in their children’s lives. Positive or negative, your faith life will be an example for your kids. If you want your kids to stay Catholic, you have to model what a faithful Catholic adult looks like. What’s even more powerful is being a witness, communicating to them why the faith is important to you.
Second, educate to foster faith. All Church teaching is important, but some aspects are more crucial for developing faith. I advocate making faith formation a partnership with the Catholic school or parish religious education program. You don’t have to teach them everything yourself, but you should supplement a few key elements that will make a big impact on their faith—specifically salvation history, the Bible, and the liturgy/liturgical year.
Third, create a home environment of faith. This is something only parents can do. Parish and school programs are a small part of children’s lives. If you positively influence the other 99% of their lives, you will determine their course.
Fathers for Good: Is it a tough sell to tell parents they have to know and practice the faith?
Cardaronella: Yes, it’s something I struggled with while writing the book, but there was no way around it. Like it or not, parents set the tone. That’s just the way people are wired. We look to authority figures for examples and those people have to live what they teach. It works that way in business, marketing, military leadership, and parenting. Parents influence so many other areas of life such as participation in sports and hobbies, academics, music and movie preferences, and even where the family goes on vacation. Those decisions and preferences set family habits and establish family cultures that determine how children think as they grow up, and that influences adult behavior. Why would it be different for faith?
Fathers for Good: Do you and your wife follow your guidelines?
Cardaronella: Yes, my wife and I do follow these guidelines. Everything I suggest in the book was done at some point with my kids. It’s kind of autobiographical in that regard. My kids are in middle school now so they’re taking more responsibility, and I’m transitioning them into more adult things. These days the family formation time is less hands on than it was when they were young. Every week I do some kind of study with my kids, like read and discuss a spiritual book or do a Bible study. My wife reads about the Saint of the Day and feast days to them. They have been reading the Bible every night before bed since they were small and still do. There’s also things at the parish like CCD, youth group meetings, and service projects. My wife and I help out with those. Some of the most important formation times come from discussions about liturgical feast days, in response to current events, or just answering random questions.
For more information about the book, visit Ave Maria Press.