The Diocese of Buffalo will host catechetical leaders from throughout the United States in May. The 79th annual National Conference for Catechetical Leadership conference and exposition will take place at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center in Buffalo from May 18 to May 21, with pre-conference events May 17.
The conference, with the theme of "Encounter the Joy of the Gospel," will include presentations from catechetical leaders of dioceses around the country. A registration form is available online at the conference website.
"For the average participant, it's an opportunity to recognize that we're part of a bigger Church than just number one, our parish, or number two, our diocese," Mary Beth Coates, Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for the Diocese of Buffalo, said last month. "We're part of a much larger mission that we're called to, just as the theme says, to encounter the joy of the gospel with one another, through one another."
Featured speakers include Dr. Tim Hogan, a psychologist who will give a presentation, "Encountering Who? The Gift of Cultural Hurricanes: How to Build Bridges that Empower Parents and Transform Catholic Families," on May 18. On May 19, Brother Mickey McGrath and Jerry Galipeau, a former chair of the Board of Directors of the North American Forum of the Catechumenate, will speak.
Bishop Richard J. Malone will give a presentation on "The Spirituality of Gospel-Based Leadership" on May 20. Finally, Joseph Paprocki, a National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, and Julianne Stanz, Director of New Evangelization of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., will co-host an address called "The Catechist's Backpack: Spiritual Necessities for a Joyful Walk on the Pilgrim Path," on May 21. A full list of the event's more than 50 conference presenters is available on the NCCL website.
"In part of the dialogue among the (planning committee), we had a lot of conversation about looking at these four days of the keynote speakers, saying, 'Do we want to have a common thread that goes through all of the days? Is there a theme we want to assign to each of the days?'" Coates added. "Bishop Malone is a very popular national speaker - he goes out of the diocese pretty regularly."
Last year, the NCCL conference was held in St. Louis, Mo., and in 2013, Cleveland, Ohio hosted it. It has not been in Buffalo since 2001, Coates said, and as of January, preparation was underway with regular conference calls. The planning committee includes parish or diocesan leaders from all over the country, who meet "once or twice a month" to communicate via teleconference or phone conference. Associate Lifelong Faith Formation directors Maureen Poulin and Mario Vinti are also active in the planning.
The theme of this year's conference comes from Pope Francis's encyclical, "The Joy of the Gospel." In planning for the conference in Buffalo, many of the committee members read and felt inspired by this document, and wished to "extend the life" of Pope Francis' words and encourage people to live their own lives joyfully, Coates said. If they are not doing so, they should find out why.
When asked how many people she expects to attend the conference, Coates said attendance should be in the range of 450 to 550 people, which will include parish and diocesan leaders, directors of religious education, youth ministry leaders and RCIA coordinators, all of whom will benefit from talks given during the conference. The subject matter will include a little bit of everything to appeal to everyone.
"The stereotype of religious education being just school-age, is really just a stereotype. When you look at the schedule for the conference, you see that's it's much broader, when you talk about catechetical ministry. It crosses age groups, and it crosses the settings for ministry," Coates said.
She also said of this variety, "I would hope, and I would expect, given the range of speakers and topics, that there is something for everyone here. Whether you've been in your position for a very short time, or whether you've been doing what you've been doing for 30 years or more, there's something here for everyone to learn, anything from a new skill to a clearer understanding of Scripture."
The conference will also allow local members of NCCL to connect with people outside of the Buffalo area, since there are few members within the Diocese of Buffalo. Coates stressed the importance of having many local leaders attend a national conference without having to pay for their travel expenses, and with NCCL coming, parish leaders will be able to join a professional development organization and connect with a wide variety of people they would not, normally, be able to meet in Buffalo.
"I'm still awed by the power to recognize that this isn't just us. The ministry and mission of the Church transcends geography, so that part of it will still inspire me when we gather together and realize that people from all over the country are here," Coates commented. "The diversity of our mission and ministries are represented, and certainly, on a professional development level, some of the (speakers) I've known for years, have been colleagues of mine or people whose books I've read, so that's very exciting."
For more information or to register for this year's conference, call the Department of Lifelong Faith Formation at 716-847-5510, or visit the conference website.