New ORE associates discuss family, faith
Perhaps not surprisingly, the two newest associate directors in the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education arrived in July at their new ministries by paths that have a great deal in common.
Prior to assuming her new role in the ORE, Aline Harbison, associate director for school catechetical leadership, who was born and raised in the metro New Orleans area, served most recently as director of religious education and evangelization at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chasse. She has also taught religion at the high school and college levels, in addition to teaching courses for catechist certification in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
On the other hand, prior to relocating to Slidell in 2011, Michael Whitehouse, associate director for adult catechetical formation, had spent most of his life in Jacksonville, Florida. Whitehouse, who holds a doctorate in ministry from the University of Notre Dame, worked in a Catholic school in Jacksonville, initiated a campus ministry program, worked in young adult ministry and served on diocesan commissions for liturgy and justice and peace.
However, like his new ORE colleague, he can trace the roots of his catechetical vocation back to his childhood. He recalls that, for reasons unknown to him, a grade school teacher tended to single him out to answer questions in religion, and his high school and college peers often gravitated toward him with questions of a religious nature, despite his lack of any formal credentials. In fact, he started college intent on a medical career.
In a similar vein, only in hindsight did Harbison recognize how God had prepared her for a catechetical vocation. So eager was she to learn, she once wore her Catholic school uniform to bed the night before school started, and whenever she played school with siblings and friends, she took the role of teacher. However, despite a love of God imbibed early on from her daily-communicant parents, she did not envision teaching religion.
Although tapped as a catechist at age 15 or 16 by the sister who ran the CCD program at St. Mary Magdalen, she simply could not foresee a future for herself in that realm.
“When I was a senior in high school, I was planning to go to college and study journalism,” she said. “I actually said to my mother – who had been my religion teacher and had taught at Ursuline for many years – ‘I want to do something important with my life, not teach religion.’”
God’s sense of humor
Ironically, after finishing college, she began teaching at Ursuline, later obtained her master’s in theological studies from the University of Dallas and has now been in religious education for more than 30 years.
Both Harbison and Whitehouse emphasize – as does the Church’s magisterium – the crucial role parents play as their children’s primary catechists and faith formation agents.
“From the time I was very young, my parents were proactive in forming us in the faith,” Harbison said. “Of course, they sent us to Catholic schools – no small feat for two people with six kids and a limited income. They also did things at home like have prayer services, agape meals and something they called ‘family time together,’ where once a week we got together and did some sharing. They really introduced me to Christ and the church at an early age.”
Whitehouse finds considerable commonality in the roles of parent and professional catechist.
“In the Rite of Baptism, we hear that we are our children’s first teachers of the faith, and it sets up a model for how we catechize our children,” he said. “As parents, we look at ourselves, and we can recognize who we are now and who we hope to be. And when we look at our children, we want them to be only the best of what we are.
“It’s the same thing when we seek to form disciples; it sets up a sort of parallel relationship. As a parent you don’t simply want to provide information to your child; you want to teach him or her how to live. Similarly, as catechists, we don’t simply want to provide information to those with whom we work; we want to teach them and show them what it means to live a Christian life, in communion with God and with one another. We want to form them to be authentic disciples.”