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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Success is not the prize - "Vaya con Dios" to Forum

It was a weird day yesterday. The weather was strange, wet and cold half way through Spring. Following Carmel Catholic High School's benefit walk-a-thon (this is where Terry teaches and Desi goes to school), it was our son Desi's prom night, with all the happy-sad reminiscence that comes with a day like that. I had a funeral, only the woman had died in October, but the family delayed the funeral until today for reasons unknown to me. And just before I left home to play for the funeral, I got an email from Steve Janco, telling all of us involved with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate that for financial reasons that have been ongoing and irreparable, Forum would be ceasing operations at the end of June, 2013.

This just took the wind out of my sails. For almost thirty years, I have been a part of that wonderful team of dozens, even a couple of hundred, liturgists, theologians, catechists, and musicians who are the Forum clinicians. That's almost half my life. Shortly after I started working at St. Jerome's in Phoenix, Gary Daigle invited me, at Forum's request, to intern on a couple of "Remembering Church" institutes, after which I started being the musician, and then the liturgist-musician, on the Remembering institutes on my own. A few years later, I was baptized in fire when I was asked, in the middle of my own personal life crisis, to be the liturgist-musician on a Beginnings and Beyond institute, the Forum's flagship retreat-workshop, five days long, that spent an entire day experiencing each period of the catechumenate, ending with an evening celebration that echoed the Easter Vigil. And on that first initiation institute, I had to work with Fr. Don Neumann, Rita Ferrone, and Fr. Richard Fragomeni. Talk about intimidating! It was like the Nobel RCIA team, and I was the intern.

But that describes exactly what was great about the Forum. We learned from the best who shared because initiation for them was both passion and ministry. I think back about all the inspiring homilies and talks I have heard over the years from people like Fr. Bob Blondell, Jim LoPresti, SJ, Joe Favazza, Clare Colella, and Fr. Robert Kennedy in
Sr. Gael Gensler leads the way in Wheeling WV
reconciliation ministry, and Fr Jim Dunning, Christianne Brusselmans, Jerry Galipeau, Sr. Gael Gensler, whom I think of as having a Baptist's biblical fervor for the book of the rites (as well as for The Book), Fr. Paul Turner, Jim Moudry, Fr. Ron Oakham, Frs. Michael Clay, Tim Piasecki, Steve Lanza, Sr. Sheila O'Dea from Newfoundland,
 Mary Birmingham...The list is so long, and is full of sins of omission. My life as a Christian and as a musician is infinitely richer from the insight and love for Christ and the ministry of initiation which you so generously have shared. In my years with Forum, I have been able to share my faith with, and share the faith of, thousands of committed Catholics throughout the United States, from Washington to Florida, from California to Massachusetts, and in Canada from Victoria BC to Ottawa, as well as in Ireland, England, and Germany.

I remember being with Don Neumann and another team member in Germany when news of Jim Dunning's death reached us. We were working in a converted monastic convent somewhere above Wiesbaden with NATO jets doing exercises in the hills around us while we did an institute for the US armed forces in the area. Jim had just been to my parish, St. Anne in Barrington, a month before, doing an "Echoing God's Word" workshop for the staff. Don could barely get the words out his mouth: "Jim is dead," before he broke down at the conference table. We've lost other team members through the years: Margi Sullivan, Frank Sokol, and the unforgettable and wonderful Christiane Brusselmans herself. They are the saints of Forum, and part of our prayer and our joyful heritage.

In addition to challenging, developing, and honing my skills as a musician and liturgist, I learned in my years at Forum to be a better catechist, to claim my experience and look for God's action in the experience of others. I learned to let the liturgy speak for itself, and to listen for its echoes in memory, and lead folks in coaxing glimpses of the paschal mystery out of flowing water, processions, fire, oil, and a shared meal. I learned which side of a transparency goes "up" on a projector, too, until we finally learned about that newfangled "Powerpoint" business, and dioceses started investing in projectors.

Was Forum a victim of its own success? I'd like to think that part of the "problem" of reduced number of institutes is that those trained by Forum over the years have actually taken over the local work of helping to train new ministers and implement the vision of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Honestly, though, I have no idea about any of that. I was blindsided by this news today. It has been a tough decade or so for the whole country, and when the economy suffers, the church suffers, both from reduced donations and less free time available among its members for ministerial concerns. I've felt that there has been a certain alienation in recent years from a small number of bishops and some Catholics over a mistaken impression that Forum's approach to making Catholics was not intellectually rigorous enough, was too affective and social. Nothing could be further from the truth. But due to this false impression Forum was not welcome in a few dioceses. 

Maybe Forum just ran its course. But it seems clear to me that something will be necessary to continue the mission of implementing the vision and dynamic of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in this country and Canada, where Forum was most operative. Thanks to the vision, sacrifice, and hard work of men and women like all those mentioned above, as well as Jim Schellman and Aleli Belonia and so many others,
With Forum colleagues, 2004, in Helena MT (i think!)
there are people in every state and province who have shared the vision and mission of Forum, and can catch the baton and continue the race. 

In the confusion of the moment, with the news of this loss still stinging and still heavy on my heart, I don't know what "meaning" might come of this sadness. But we have always taught and sung that the "journey is the destiny," and that we might not know what's next for us in life, but we can face whatever it is in solidarity, with Christ among us. To the extent that we who are the North American Forum on the Catechumenate can cling to that as our birthright as Christians "made-not-born," the idea and vision that was the Forum was a success indeed, a visible manifestation of the reign of God. I could not be prouder to have been a part of this wonderful endeavor. The faithful and joyful implementation of the RCIA in Forum style goes a long way toward incarnating the "new evangelization" in parishes, reinvigorating the baptized with a faith outwardly-focused toward the world.

My friend Jerry Galipeau, president of World Library Publications and a former national director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, wrote about his feelings on his blog yesterday, here.

One last thing - commercial, for Forum! The institutes through the end of June 2013 are still on. So, if you want an experience of initiation ministry that will stay with you and serve you and the church throughout your life, log onto and see what's still available. I know we have a go on a Beginnings institute in Pittsburgh, June 6-8. This one is definite. Also, I am giving a Forum-sponsored webinar entitled, "Putting on Christ - an Introduction to the Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults." This is going to be on Thursday, May 16, in the early afternoon (time varies by time zone, of course.) Click here for a link to the website. Registration is quick and easy online, or can be done by mail-in forms. 

It will be my first, and maybe my only, webinar ever! It's just an hour long, and I promise to teach you everything I know about the RCIA. I'm not sure what we'll do for the last 45 minutes. Maybe you'll have some questions? :-)


  1. Thanks, Rory... well said.
    Looking forward to Pittsburgh

  2. Aw, Rory, you may be doing the last institute AND the last webinar for Forum! Going out in style. Wish we could have done an institute together, but maybe in a new incarnation.