By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Even as she prepares for retirement on May 31, faith formation leader Trish Gallagher thrives on learning and growing in the Catholic faith. The pastoral associate for faith formation at Our Lady of Victory Parish shared with The Catholic Messenger how lifelong learning has changed in her decades-long career in parish ministry.
In her early years as wife of the late Bill Gallagher and mother to their six children, Trish volunteered at Catholic schools and parishes in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. “Each time I accepted a new assignment, it seemed to become a building block for future responsibilities in ministry,” Trish said. “I loved to keep learning and going to the required in-services for helping with what was then called CCD and confirmation prep for grade eight through high school youth. It was that learning that opened new doors and approaches to how to reach often resistant ‘students.’” The emphasis on “Christian Doctrine” at that time found support from families who appreciated a uniform foundation for passing on the faith to their children, she added.
While in Chambersburg, Penn., Trish was asked to join a new “leaders in ministry” lay ministry program for the Diocese of Harrisburg. “My husband Bill and I attended two years of retreats, learning, monthly all-day classes and small-group sessions. At our local parish our new pastor made us leaders of the new RCIA ministry for adults, youth and young children. We followed up with a year of RCIA leadership sessions, learning how to provide the fullest process for Rite of Christian Initiation.”
One thing that stuck with her was a saying of Father James Dunning, a founder of the Forum for the Catechumenate. His 11th commandment: “Do not do unto others what thou art not doing for yourself.” “This became a key to my future work with catechists,” Trish said. “Keep learning and growing in faith.”
That ministry “was like a light bulb experience: so much progress and openness to the Lord and to grace in such a relatively short time. It led me to re-examine what was essential in Christian learning and how grace, liturgy, Scripture and discipleship came together.”
She continued graduate-level studies and in-service, which resulted in faith formation work in Lancaster, Penn., with an emphasis on learning from birth to death. Bill’s transfer to Iowa brought them to Our Lady of Victory Parish where Trish began working with RCIA in 1994. She has led the parish’s faith formation (including RCIA) since 2001. Along the way she earned a pastoral associate certificate, a spiritual direction certificate and appointment as a lay preacher for the Davenport Diocese. “When our parish went to one full-time priest, this preparation helped to fill some of the gaps, and to assist the pastor in several ways,” she said.
“Trish Gallagher has always been involved in continuing education in the Diocese of Davenport,” said John Valenti, diocesan coordinator for Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation. “She is a graduate of our diocesan-sponsored Ministry Formation Program (MFP) and has taken classes with the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCCF) with the University of Dayton. She is a lifelong learner who continues her studies for professional development and
personal enrichment. She is a model for faith formation leadership.”
Trish said an emphasis on “linking the fullness of doctrine with Scripture, discipleship and liturgy continues to be “part of how we approach faith in our parish. The outreach for birth-to-death learning has deepened, and is provided for in the structure of our parish goals.” Her love for Catholic schools helped forge a close working relationship with the parish and school in faith formation planning.
All catechists at Our Lady of Victory are encouraged to participate in diocesan-led programs and are active supporters of certification. “Our faith formation and RCIA teams are strongly encouraged to participate in lay ministry courses and other learning opportunities. We can’t teach what we don’t know,” Trish notes. She has especially enjoyed watching the growth of others — catechists and other parish ministers — and in particular, working as an MFP mentor for Jen and Chris Wemhoff and Lisa Willows.
The biggest change Gallagher has observed over the years is the variety of family situations and the needs of families for basic education about God, and the Catholic Church’s response to walking in faith. Disunity about faith issues is often expressed in the choice to put off baptism, or for a family not to attend church together, she said. For the youth involved, the conflicting pressures become uncomfortable, and they may choose to not go to church. Children don’t get to choose their doctors, education or most other activities of family life, but are expected to choose faith, Gallagher observed.
Though joint custody situations or blended families may create scheduling challenges, the issue isn’t about being “bounced around.” It’s about not having the space for God or faith-related activities carved into their daily activities. “How to help put that together in very busy lives of our parish families has become much more of a focus,” she said. “Helping our adults grow in learning has also been an exciting development.”