By Sister Kathleen Leary

Special to The CS&T

Many young children and teens ask the question, “Why do I have to go to PREP (Parish Religious Education Program)?”

Elizabeth Riordan, recently appointed director of Secondary Religious Education and Staff Development for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, asked that question of her mother many times through the years, especially during high school when few other teens were attending Sunday PREP.

“My parents made the decision to send my sisters and me to public school but made a strong commitment to our parish and the (then) CCD or Confraternity of Christine Doctrine program,” said Riordan of her 13 years of religious education.

“My mother, a professional teacher, taught several age groups of CCD. When I reached junior high she taught the pre-K class. I served as her aide and although we didn’t get into deep theology, the seeds were planted for my mission,” she said.

Riordan has no doubt the Lord brought her to the position in the Archdiocese to continue the catechesis begun so many years ago.

“Like St. Paul, to whom our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has dedicated this year,” Riordan said, “even as I questioned my parents’ decision about religious education, I wanted to learn about the faith.

“But, I also wanted to be ‘cool.’ One high school catechist, Mr. Joe Mannion, was dynamic. He taught us the faith in an attractive, real way. Some of my friends were even coming voluntarily. He made an impact on my life, teaching me that learning about God did not have to be dry or dull, but exciting.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Immaculata, she worked as senior admissions counselor at the University. At that time, Riordan felt a thirst that led her to attend a Life in the Spirit Seminar at her home parish in Downingtown.

“I felt called to work with youth,” she said. “I decided the best path to that end would be as a catechist and enrolled in the master of arts degree in religious studies, with a concentration in systematic theology, at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.”

Since August Riordan has been director of religious education at Holy Cross Parish in Springfield, Delaware County and chairperson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Directors of Religious Education Gathering committee.

Having recently become a member of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, she feels her new position offers a three-fold blessing.

“The year ahead will be so faith-filled,” she said. “I’ll be teaching the faith, formally and informally, as coordinator of the Catechetical Certification Program, the formation of catechists and planning the high school religious educational programs.”

Then, on Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 21, “as the catechists of the Archdiocese are called forth in their respective parishes to be commissioned to carry on the faith, I’ll witness the baptism of my first nephew, Jack Henry Ochab, as he begins his life in Christ.”

Sister Kathleen Leary,S.S.I., is the archdiocesan Coordinator for Vocations to Consecrated Life.