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Word of Life curriculum draws praise from catechists

The innovative curriculum from Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press is “not just imparting information,” says Amanuel Malik, a faith formation director in New York, “but it’s helping the students to develop an encounter with the Lord.”


Thank you for helping me to love Jesus.” That was the heartfelt message from a seven-year-old to Amanuel Malik, faith formation director in Rochester, New York.

The young author of that note was a student in Malik’s religious education program, a program based on the Word of Life series published by the Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press.

Since the series launched in 2021, Word of Life‘s innovative curriculum has been one of the fastest growing catechetical programs in the country; it’s now in use in more than 500 schools and parishes across America.

What makes Word of Life stand out among religious education programs? It brings together an integrated learning model that includes physical workbooks, interactive online learning, and cutting-edge video and audio enhancements. But more than that, the curriculum also includes in-depth teacher and catechist formation materials. There are different versions for Catholic schools, in which the student can expect four or five faith lessons per week, and for parish-based religious education with only one weekly session.

Also available is a bi-lingual edition for parishes which includes lessons in English/Spanish.

Two years after the launch of the innovative program, Catholic World Report talked with two educators who have direct experience with Word of Life:

  • Amanuel Malik, regional faith formation director for Holy Cross Catholic Church in Rochester, New York. Amanuel, who has 20 years experience in higher education, oversees catechetical formation at four parishes in the Rochester Diocese – two of which have their own schools, and two which offer weekly catechism classes to their youth; and
  • Emily Williams, coordinator of religious education at Christ the King School in Atlanta, Georgia. Emily has been involved in youth ministry for fifteen years, five of them in her current position. She teaches third-grade religion, as well as directing the school’s program.

Amanuel Malik found that the two parishes he serves which have their own schools favor catechesis, rather than teaching religion as one subject among many on the curriculum. “It’s not just imparting information,” he said, “but it’s helping the students to develop an encounter with the Lord.”

The parishes that do not have parish-sponsored schools depend on parents to lead their children’s religious education. Amanuel appreciates the Word of Life curriculum because it’s so fully integrated; it can be used in a school setting, in parish formation, or at home. Amanuel’s classes met only once a week (or in some cases, once a month); and he acknowledged that he couldn’t possibly cover the full range of catechesis in that limited time.

In those cases, he relied on parents to pick up the slack at home, as they should. “The family faith formation model,” he said, “puts the parents and the children at the center of catechetical instruction. They (parents) are the ideal people to teach them, not someone else – because nobody can pretend to know the children more than the parents. Not that what we do in the church isn’t important – but as a supplement, not a substitute.”

Some of the parents, Amanuel acknowledged, were not comfortable taking a leadership role in their children’s religious education. Those parents would insist that they weren’t qualified, they weren’t fully catechized themselves, or they simply wanted Amanuel and the parish to do all the work for them. The Word of Life program, Amanuel explained, equips parents with all the resources they need: teaching materials, high-definition videos, music that’s appealing to the soul. Parents can assess how much their children are learning, because the digital learning tool allows them to chart their own progress; and it won’t let them quit until they get the right answer.

The good news: Amanuel reported that he’s yet to meet a family who said they didn’t like the program, that it was too far above their heads.

Amanuel particularly appreciated Word of Life‘s four golden “catechetical threads”: salvation history, Christian anthropology, heroic virtue and character formation, and learning through discipleship. Those four catechetical threads,” he said, “are just brilliant! We never have to wonder who we are (or Whose we are!) Students are invited to form their character, growing in holiness – which will lead them to become disciples.”

Emily Williams reported that many of her students had been dissatisfied with the religious education programs they’d used in the past. Often, they included a lot of information, but were not organized in a particularly understandable way. She and her educators looked at many different programs, and made a unanimous decision: they believed that Word of Life was the best of the curricula they reviewed.

Before that, her teachers had supplemented their prepared curriculum with things they found online: core resources that explained topics such as sacraments, original sin, transubstantiation, and salvation history at an age-appropriate level. With Word of Life, Emily reported, her teachers could simply choose from the curriculum options provided, and they no longer needed to do hours and hours of lesson planning.

Emily reported that her teachers, especially those who teach kindergarten through third grade, have great things to say about the materials: The videos and scripture passages are relevant, and all of the activities in the book are meaningful. There are opportunities for the teachers to be creative, introducing their own materials; but it’s not required.

The goal of Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press, she explained, is to publish the full K-8 curriculum. They began with the K-5 curriculum last year, then added sixth grade. By next year, there will be materials available for classes from kindergarten through eighth grade; and Emily is looking forward to offering the Word of Life curriculum to all grades in her school.

The students, she added, really look forward to religion class. “I have third-grade boys,” she said, “who are begging to watch ‘Lexio Divina.’”

Perhaps the strongest endorsement of the program is to be found in Amanuel’s personal reaction. He said, “This was a program which, despite the fact that I’m pushing 50, with all of my educational background and professional experience, it’s as if I had to relearn the faith with a very fresh set of eyes! It has increased my love of the Lord, my reverence toward the Lord. I can’t say enough about it! So it is with great enthusiasm that I use it, because I find it edifying on a personal level.”

For more information, go to

• Related at CWR: “New Ignatius Press series focuses on unevangelized and uncatechized students” (Nov 14, 2022) by Paul Senz

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About Kathy Schiffer 25 Articles
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.


  1. The integration of knowledge, structure and method geared appropriately for its student and parent participants is in itself high recommendation for the value of this “Word of Life” series.

  2. The Traditional Latin Mass is still the most effective and most beautiful way to honor, show respect for and love God. 98% of those that have attended the Latin Mass as children are still attending at 18-years old. 5% of those that have attended the NO Mass as children are still attending by the time they reach 18-years old. That, my friends, tells you everything you need to know about what it is that is going to save the Catholic Faith and Church.

      • I’d like to know that source also.
        I attend a local TLM frequently & it would be something I could share at our next fellowship meal. Thanks!

      • I frequent a lot of different catholic sites, so sadly, I’m not sure which one provided the information. That said, my search yielded a lot of gloomy information about mass attendance by Catholics across all demographics since the NO MASS. It could have also been in a book that I have read recently. I’m sure about the figures, not as sure about where I found them. I apologize. I’ll continue to look and post if/when I find them. Deo gratias!

    • First, the Latin Mass is not a catechesis curriculum. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and therefore, of infinite value to those who are led by the Holy Spirit to attend a parish that offers it. But again, there are no “lessons” or “apologetics” or “applications of the teachings to real life situations” or “Christian viewpoints of various current events” or “Bible study”, etc. The TLM was never labelled as a “catechesis program.” In the past, when the TLM was the only option for Catholics, the children attended a Catechism class (in their own language) to prepare for First Holy Communion and these classes were usually taught by consecrated religious (nuns) or perhaps by the priests in the parish. So even back in the day when the TLM was the Mass that all Catholics attended, Holy Mother Church recognized the need for actual catechesis of children and teens, as well as of those wishing to convert to Catholicism. Second, I grew up in a nationally-known, vibrant Evangelical Protestant church with constantly increasing membership, and for the most part, at least 25-50% of the members and attendees were former Catholics, most of whom had grown up in the TLM (we’re talking 1970s here!). I will go along with you when it comes to converts to Protestantism by Catholics who were disillusioned by the “folk Masses” of the 1970s, but in recent years, since the proliferation of excellent and engaging Catholic apologists like Thomas Howard (R.I.P.), Tim Staples, Scott Hahn, etc., and also the fantastic ministry of Catholic radio and television (Covenant Network/Mother Angelica, and EWTN), many Evangelical Protestants have “crossed the Tiber”–in fact, the husband of the couple that taught the R.C.I.A. classes that my late husband and I attended was a former pastor of the Evangelical Protestant church that I grew up in! I’m not trying to cast aspersions on the TLM–in fact, in my former city (I moved after my husband died), I was a volunteer accompanist in a Chesterton School where the students are taught Latin from Pre-K through 12th grade, and their Mass was a TLM. (I also played organ several times for that parish, which was associated with Institute of Christ the King). I just think that pretty much anything can be “proven” with statistics, and we have to be careful.

      • Dear Sharon, your perspective that the Mass was never meant to catechize cannot be justified simply because the Church saw a need for formal instruction. The TL Mass epitomizes all that might ever be good about any catechetical study program that can possibly be cobbled. It is a lived catechesis and merely attending attentively will teach even the most aloof soul the profound respect, love and honor they should have in their heart for the sacrifice of the Mass! That cannot be said of the NO Missae, which, more and more is becoming the Missa Novi Ordinisi (the Mass of the New Order) especially under this modernist, globalist pope. I have been witness, in my 55 years of NO parish/church attendance, to failed program after program the post-V2 church has used to try and kick start the spiritual life of the average NO attending Catholic: all have summarily failed in their objectives. The Post V2 church continues to hemorrhage adherents and jeopardize the salvation of souls. The NO is not Catholic and is not meant to appeal to the Catholic heart. It is based on the protestant prayer services of Thomas Cranmer and company, who, when they fashioned their prayer services took pains to ELIMINATE any notion of the real presence and holy sacrifice. If the Mass does not reflect by living example the substance of even the best catechetical program, the entire project is bound to fail. Thus, the latest endeavor by the USCCB to “revive” the eucharist would do well to begin by abandoning the NO mass and return to Catholicism as exemplified and epitomized by the Mass canonized by St. Pius V. Indeed, the NO Mass is one pope and one generation away from extinction and, as far as I am concerned, it cannot come quickly enough. Deo gratias!

  3. “Thank you for helping me to love Jesus.”

    If ‘The Word of Life’ program leads our children (and us) into deeper love, listening to, obedience to, and following Jesus Christ, then it is indeed what our ailing Church needs. Centrally, this is soul saving! For no one comes to The Father but through Jesus; no one receives The Holy Spirit of God but through Jesus.

    John 10:27-30 summarizes the magnitude of what Jesus Christ does for us.

    Ever in the grace and mercy of The Lamb of God; love & blessings from marty

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