Diocesan DRE settles in to new position Print this post

By Bob Reddy (Florida Catholic)


With a lot of miles on her car in just a few short months, new Diocesan Director of Religious Education, Ashley Fox, has a good handle on the vastness, diversity and exciting opportunities that are available within the Diocese of Venice.

Fox joined the Diocese with a strong background in religious education and is incorporating that experience to create an enhanced passion among the catechists by creating a collaborative atmosphere of discovery and education centered on Christ.

Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education Ashley Fox.

“Religious education is a critical component of the Church,” Fox explained. “We have an opportunity to reach people of all ages and develop their relationship with Christ. That is a powerful thing.”

Fox admits that when she was younger, she drifted away from her Catholic roots, but was led back thanks to prayer, the Catholic priesthood, and a devotion to several saints.

Before coming to the Diocese of Venice, Fox worked as the Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Angels Parish in Woodbridge, Va., a very large bi-lingual parish.  In her role, she was responsible for more than 1,400 students during the school year, recruiting and training more than 190 catechists, aides and volunteers to support the enrollment. In addition, she taught the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Program, and oversaw Adult Faith Formation and Evangelization. 

At the Diocesan level, Fox was the Secretary of the Catechetical Leaders for the Diocese of Arlington and was also lead researcher and writer on the Faith Formation Section of the Diocesan Polices and Guidelines.

A graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in English Literature, Fox also has a Master’s in Theology and Christian Ministry, specializing in catechetics, from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Religious education has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. Fox noted that 85 percent of directors of religious education are lay leaders and only 15 percent are religious men and women. This complete reversal puts the “responsibility of the education of all on the whole Church, among lay people, religious and priests.”

Fox is actively trying to help everyone recognize that the directors of religious education (DREs) at the parish-level cannot do their job alone. “It takes a team working together for a religious education program to succeed.” Fox has committed to providing as much help as possible from the Diocesan-level but is also going to parishes directly to drum up support at the local-level.

“The DRE’s roles, responsibilities and ministries cross the broad spectrum of parish life,” Fox said. “From preparing children for the Sacraments and running RCIA programs, to adult faith formation; their work is all-encompassing. Coordinating the religious education program is quite similar to the responsibilities of a Catholic School principal.  There are religious education programs in our Diocese with over 500 students, some have close to 1,000 and meet five days a week.  Instead of employees, we rely on volunteer catechists to assist in this most important task of teaching the Faith to the children of the Parish.”

A key component to her educational philosophy is getting parents more involved in every aspect of religious education. “Parents are the primary educators and catechists for their children,” Fox stressed.

This involvement must be more than sending their children to religious education classes, she added. “Children know when their parents don’t regularly go to Church. They see that as okay, but it’s not!! Too many have left or are not actively involved in the Church. That has to stop and it begins by actively engaging the parents to become more involved.”

While in Virginia, Fox had a parental education component to the youth religious education classes, giving them a greater stake in the program. “It worked very well.”

By getting the parents more involved, the children will take their Faith more seriously as it becomes a family endeavor, Fox explained. There is no greater teacher to the children than parental witness. “We have them in class for 30 hours each year compared to the 9,000 hours they spend with their parents.  What we do is a drop in the ocean unless it is reinforced at home. This in turn makes the families more engaged in parish life and brings about a deepening of parents’ faith. The ripple effect of including everyone can go into creating a more vibrant Parish and a greater evangelized culture.”

Getting parents more involved in religious education is just one aspect of what Fox is promoting within the Diocese. By visiting parishes during the past few months, meeting with DREs, catechists and parish priests, she is getting a true sense of the Diocese.

One thing Fox was quick to learn is that each parish has unique demographics and challenges. This includes parishes with huge youth programs to others with none; or parishes with large senior populations while still others have a younger element with many families; or parishes which have mixed cultural communities and offer religious education in multiple languages.

“There is no one answer to religious education, but when it comes to our cultural communities it is good to note today 60 percent of Catholic youth in the United States under the age 18 are of Latino or Spanish descent and that number is reflected in the Diocese,” Fox said. “Religious education is about bringing the Lord to the greatest number of people, no matter their cultural background, we are all God’s children, and in turn helping them become missionary disciples by an enculturation of the Gospel.”

This is particularly critical for the engagement of seniors within the Diocese, Fox added. Seniors are critical to the future of the Church with their foundational knowledge and wisdom, they have a real mission in the Church and the world. Fox plans to allow opportunities where the youth of our Diocese can listen to their wisdom, hoping that many seniors will volunteer for this important task.

“We never stop having a role in the work of Christ.  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  As they say, as long as there is breath in you, your work is not done.  My one message to them is, Come, we must be going to follow Him.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Moving forward, Fox is promoting an approach to catechesis which is parish oriented, family sensitive and which calls us to proclaim the message of Jesus, to foster community, to prepare for worship. Together this will motivate Christian discipleship giving witness and service.

Ashley Fox can be contacted at 941-484-9543 or at fox@dioceseofvenice.org.

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