It was Q & A number six in the first book of the old Baltimore Catechism that every little child had to memorize before First Communion and it is still arguably the most succinct reason for being ever written: “Why did God make you? God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.”
Ann Menna, who has just been appointed deputy secretary of the archdiocesan Office for Catechetical Formation succeeding Father John Ames, was totally caught up at age 6 by the words, “serve him” in this answer.
But really, service to the Lord and his Church is a part of her DNA, she believes, tracing back to her Manayunk roots when her great-grandfather was one of the founders of the former St. John the Baptist High School and continuing down through her grandparents and parents.
“When you grow up in that type of family you can’t help but fall in love with Jesus and want to serve him,” she said. “I have a great debt to my parents and grandparents, the wonderful fruits of a Catholic education and my I.H.M. training as a child. I am married to a great guy who from the first thing in the morning until we go to bed at night supports my work in the Church; it all blends.”
Born Ann Maxwell in Manayunk, she’s lived most of her life in Bucks County and presently in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Doylestown. After graduation from Archbishop Wood High School she pursued her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Gwynedd-Mercy College, and would later earn her master’s degree in religious education at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
It was as a young teacher at the former Holy Child School in Philadelphia that she met her future husband Frank, who was also a teacher there. After their 1976 wedding Frank left teaching, and after their children started to come along she did also, to concentrate on raising the family. Ultimately they had four children, Ann Marie, Mary Beth, Fran and Christine, and more recently two grandkids.
Even as a stay-at-home mom she kept her hand in with church activities and free-lanced with Msgr. Charles McGroarty at the archdiocesan Family Life Office, setting up and training Mothers with Young Children groups in various parishes.
She returned to teaching at Villa Joseph Marie High School as a theology teacher and chair of the theology department.
Ten years ago she came to the Secretariat for Evangelization of the archdiocese as RCIA and Faith Formation coordinator, and since 2007 director of Parish Elementary Religious Education.
“The Office for Catechetical Formation assists the archbishop in all of the catechetical efforts of the archdiocese from pre-school up until Newman Centers,” she explained. “I was charged with the elementary piece of that, working with the parish religious education programs and also being part of the elementary school team with the Office for Catholic Education in the area of the religious curriculum.”
Now as she succeeds Father Ames whom she considers “a great mentor,” her responsibilities cover a wide spectrum, not just oversight of parish elementary schools and PREP programs but high schools and beyond, covering high school theology teachers, school ministers, theology programs and Newman chaplains.
While the Catholic elementary and high schools remain a very large part of the ministry, the parish PREP programs and other parish-based religious education outreach become increasingly more important as fewer children attend parochial or private Catholic schools.
Assisting pastors in recruitment of Directors of Religious Education (DREs) and training them also comes under the scope of the Office for Catechetical Formation. This includes running group training sessions and also preparing training materials, including a modern touch: newly designed DVD presentations that can be given at group training sessions.
“We are proud of our DREs who, with very little resources, do monumental creative work for the Lord, passing on faith to our children who are not in Catholic schools,” Menna said. “We have got to come up with new models where we make our faith exciting and attractive and help our children to fall in love with Jesus.”
If enthusiasm counts and it surely does, Ann Menna should do very well in her new responsibilities.
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.