New E.A.G.L.E. method of faith formation helps kids develop organic sense of faith

Children line up to receive their first Communion on April 29, 2019, at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn. A new faith formation program championed by a local religious education director aims to teach children the faith in “levels,” starting with an “encounter” of Jesus and concluding with kids being taught how to share their faith. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic file photo)

St. Isaac Jogues religious education director champions ‘leveled’ approach to sacramental prep, aiming to fix gaps in spiritual growth

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — It takes a bald eagle about five years to fully develop and reach its potential. 

That got Greg Crachiolo, director of religious education at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in St. Clair Shores, thinking. Besides being an interesting ornithological fact, Crachiolo thinks religious education programs have a lot to learn from eagles. 

Crachiolo isn’t just a bird-watcher, though. He’s deeply involved in making sure children in St. Isaac Jogues’ religious education programs get the right kind of education — and at the right pace. 

“We put our kids in first grade and have them make their first holy Communion, and then parents will a lot of times say, ‘OK, they’ve got what they need,’ waiting until their child is in seventh grade to bring them back for a two-year confirmation,” Crachiolo said. “It got me thinking about the development of the eagle; it can’t just go from one step to the last step without the steps in between.”

From there, the E.A.G.L.E. method of religious education was born. 

Fr. Steve Wertanen, pastor of St. Anastasia Parish in Troy, speaks to children and adults during the Easter Vigil Mass in 2019. Children learn the faith best when they’re immersed in it from the ground up, Crachiolo says, rather than a “next year, next textbook” approach. (Matthew Rich | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Unlike most religious education programs that teach children by grade, E.A.G.L.E. is a leveled program. Each level builds upon the next, providing children with a comprehensive understanding of their faith and keeping them in faith formation even when they are between sacraments. 

The name is an acronym for the program’s five levels: Encounter, Adore, Grow, Love and Evangelize.

Crachiolo explained the first stage, “Encounter,” is one of the most critical steps of the journey. Unless a child first encounters the person of Jesus, expecting spiritual growth is a challenge. 

“We want them to encounter Christ, and once they’ve met him, we hope that they have the desire to know him more,” Crachiolo said. 

In level two, which includes the sacraments of reconciliation and first Communion, children learn to “adore” Christ in the sacraments, leading to level three, “Grow,” in which they study the life of Jesus, the stories of the Bible and Church history. 

“Now they have encountered him in level one, they adore him and get to know him in the Eucharist and now have the desire to know him more,” Crachiolo said. 

“Now that they have received him in level two, they start to ‘study up,’ if you will, on what their job is,” Crachiolo said. “Now that they have Jesus inside of them and they are a living tabernacle, they learn, ‘What did Jesus do? How can we be like Jesus?’ They learned how Jesus helped others, was compassionate and patient along with other virtues.

Sr. Catherine Marie Compton, OP, principal of St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School in St. Clair Shores, teaches children about the rosary during religion class this spring. (Courtesy of St. Isaac Jogues School)

“Once they understand how Jesus lived, then they go into level four, which is ‘Love,’ and then they start doing things in the community to be the hands of Jesus. In level five, they learn how to share, how to evangelize,” Crachiolo said. 

By the time students reach level five, Crachiolo hopes they will be confident in their faith and ready to share their love of Christ with the world. 

Because E.A.G.L.E. is a leveled program, Crachiolo said students who come in with no prior catechesis or who have taken a year or two off from religious education will undergo an assessment to determine their level of understanding. Crachiolo said a student who is not at the same level as their peers will not be put into classes with younger students, but will receive supplemental lessons to help them catch up. 

“Our parish’s responsibility is to grow children in the faith effectively, not always conveniently,” Crachiolo said.

Currently, Crachiolo is teaching all of the classes himself via Zoom. However, he believes the program will translate well to in-person learning in the future. Once that happens, Crachiolo will share the responsibility of teaching with other religious-education teachers at the parish who will use his developed curriculum. 

According to Sr. Kathleen Matz, DC, director of catechesis for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Crachiolo’s E.A.G.L.E. program was presented to directors of religious education across the archdiocese in a recent Zoom meeting.

“It’s an excellent program,” Sr. Matz said.

This is the first year for the program — Crachiolo only began teaching it at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — he has been developing it for some time. He is confident in the results, and adds other parishes have expressed interest in the program.

“It’s in its infancy, but parents are excited about it,” Crachiolo said. “It’s not just, ‘Next year, next textbook.’ I am tired of throwing money at the publishers every year and not seeing results, so we decided to do it ourselves.”

For information about the E.A.G.L.E. Method, reach out to Greg Crachiolo at [email protected]..