By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – For the first time in 25 years, the teacher said, he didn’t give the first homework assignment.
But he and his wife offered numerous other pointers for doing the work.
Since January, John and Therese Boucher, of St. John Parish in Worcester, have been teaching local Catholics how to do the work, which is often called evangelization.
An invitation to attend the program described it this way: “Develop practical skills for sharing faith and the message of Jesus in everyday life, in ministries, and in your parish, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
For 25 years, in New Jersey and New York, the Bouchers have been offering this program, “SENT to Share God’s Mercy and Message: Intensive Training for Catholic Evangelization.” This week they completed the 10-session program in Massachusetts for the first time.
They have master’s degrees in religious education and have written books about evangelizing. Mr. Boucher was the director of evangelization for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., from 2002-2013. Then they returned to the Worcester Diocese, where they grew up and where his niece runs Boucher’s Good Books.
The diocese’s permanent diaconate program includes training in evangelization for men preparing to be deacons, and this year the Boucher’s program was used, said Deacon Peter Ryan, assistant to the director.
“They need to know before they get in the parish – evangelization is at the top of everything we do,” he said.
The diaconate office opened this program to men who are already deacons, their wives, and other church leaders. Deacon Anthony Surozenski, director of the Office of the Diaconate, said they plan to offer it again next year.
The first day 54 people came, and about 40 to 45 people from 25 parishes attended each session, Mr. Boucher said.
“This is the most consistent attendance we have ever seen” in any program of this length in 25 years, he said. “The Holy Spirit is working in the diocese. We’re realizing the need is great.”
Mr. Boucher said the first homework he and his wife usually give for this program is to bring more people to upcoming sessions, because a big part of evangelization is inviting others to participate in the life of the Church. But there were no empty seats at the first session. So they skipped that assignment.
But in class “we get them up and meeting new people … to realize that it’s not easy to meet new people,” Mr. Boucher said. That can help them understand how others may feel about being asked to evangelize.
Mr. Boucher said they looked at evangelization of parishes, young adults, new immigrants and the unchurched, and connections between evangelization, discipleship, and stewardship. Topics included ongoing conversion, listening, hospitality, using different styles of evangelization, creating evangelizing parish ministries and transforming society with the Gospel.
In one session Mrs. Boucher recounted how a New York pastor reached out to players using a ball field within the parish boundaries. He posted signs such as, “Complete the pass; come to Mass” and temporarily changed a Mass time to accommodate players’ schedules.
Once she brought parents in her baptismal preparation class around the font, where she had them pray for the children they were going to have baptized.
She told them, “Don’t be surprised if you hear God saying, ‘I don’t just want your child; I want you.’”