Bilingual religious education enrollment is booming at St. Charles Parish

  • Written by Eloisa Townsend
  • Published in Local
During each season of the liturgical year, students in religious education classes at St. Charles Parish in Burlington learn what it means to walk with Jesus. Pictured are Erin Douglas, right, who attends the kindergarten program; and Janeiry Cervantes and Monyca Garcia, both enrolled in the sacramental preparation program. Photo: Courtesy Lisa Wisler During each season of the liturgical year, students in religious education classes at St. Charles Parish in Burlington learn what it means to walk with Jesus. Pictured are Erin Douglas, right, who attends the kindergarten program; and Janeiry Cervantes and Monyca Garcia, both enrolled in the sacramental preparation program. Photo: Courtesy Lisa Wisler

BURLINGTON – At St. Charles Parish in Burlington, a first Communion class is held on Tuesday afternoons because all the religious education classrooms are booked on Sundays.

It’s a problem many parishes might like to have: Since 2011, the number of children and youth registered for sacramental preparation and religious education has more than quadrupled, according to Father Tom McMichael, parochial vicar at St. Charles. 

Now the multicultural Skagit Valley parish has hired a part-time faith formation coordinator, Lisa Wisler, to shepherd the growing bilingual program. “When I was approached about the position I was delighted,” said Wisler, who previously volunteered with the program.

Before 2011, when ministries serving St. Charles and its three sister parishes in Skagit County were regionalized, St. Charles averaged just 30 students in its faith formation programs, said Denise Rhone, pastoral assistant for administration.

Lisa Wisler and student
Lisa Wisler, the new faith formation coordinator at St. Charles Parish in Burlington, helps Erin Douglas show off the boat she made during the parish’s Catholic Kidz camp last summer. The little boats were a tie-in to learning about St. Peter and being “fishers of men.” Photo: Courtesy Lisa Wisler

Then Father Martin Bourke, pastor of all the parishes, and Father McMichael decided to return religious education to the parishes, Rhone explained. They encouraged the community to be more involved in the ongoing process of faith formation, and the parish held registration sessions after Masses. 

“We were overwhelmed with the response from the community,” Rhone said. “Our first year, we had 100 registrations, because we were visible to the people.”

Now the parish has 135 children and youth registered in sacramental preparation classes, she said.

And because 95 percent of children and youth in the parish’s programs are Hispanic — many parishioners work in the valley’s agricultural industry — St. Charles offers classes in English and Spanish. Wisler is relying on more than a dozen volunteer teachers, many of them bilingual. 

“We have a great group of volunteers that step up and serve the needs of the community,” Father McMichael said. 

Passing the baton to Wisler is one of those volunteers — Lynn Handy, who led the parish’s faith formation programs for 15 years and taught religious education at St. Charles for 15 years before that.

“At first we didn’t have many teachers,” Handy said. “It was hard to recruit … so I wore many hats.” Handy said she encouraged teachers to take a flexible, bilingual approach to religious ed classes. “We try to empower instructors to teach from their hearts,” she said. “It’s challenging but very rewarding.”

Father McMichael expressed appreciation for Handy’s three decades of dedication. “Lynn has been a great blessing to our parish and to the many children and their families who have been part of our faith formation and sacramental preparation program,” he said.