When Ed Gordon retired from the Diocese of Wilmington last month after nearly 30 years as director of the Office for Religious Education and as secretary of the Catholic Education Department, Bishop Malooly noted Gordon’s distinguished reputation outside the diocese.
The two had first met years ago when Gordon spoke in the Archdiocese of Baltimore at a meeting for religious educators at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
In thanking Gordon for his decades of service, Bishop Malooly praised the quality of the Diocese of Wilmington’s parish directors of religious education (DREs), their cohesive programs and the fact they’re well educated for their jobs.
Gordon, 65, told The Dialog, as he readied for retirement last month, that the introduction of DREs in parishes was his first priority when he arrived in Wilmington in 1982.
“I saw that outside of Wilmington and Salisbury, Md., there were virtually no DREs in the diocese. Our role had to be to support parishes and schools in their ministries, not to do it from the top down, but to help parishes be more successful.”
He also was aiming 30 years ago to “do programs that are excellent,” because “good enough is not good enough,” and to engage parents more in their children’s religious ed and adult faith formation.
In the 1980s, Gordon recruited Glen Riddle, now Philadelphia, Franciscan sisters, who agreed to teach for the Eastern Shore Religious Education Co-op. From a convent in Easton, Md., three full-time and one part-time sister taught at seven Eastern Shore parishes.
The program received funding from the Catholic Foundation, Gordon recalled.
To train DREs and catechists, Gordon also introduced an education program from Loyola University in New Orleans, Loyola Institute for Ministry on Site (LIMEX) courses that catechists took through video and texts to become certified DREs.
“We did manage to increase exponentially the number of DREs in the diocese,” Gordon said. “It takes a real long time to make changes happen. They don’t happen overnight; they don’t happen in a year.
While the credentials of religious educators improved, societal changes presented a constant challenge to parish programs, Gordon said.
These days, “the ideal family situation no longer exists,” he said. While in the past, it could be assumed both parents of a student were Catholic, now, “the domestic church is becoming interfaith.”
DREs can’t assume anything about their students’ home life, Gordon said. There’s such diversity in family situations, a DRE might tailor more than 30 different programs for religious ed students in a parish.
For the future in the church and religious education, Gordon, a Philadelphia native who spent seven years in Oblate seminary training, says, “We still need to be the church of the immigrant, to open the doors, invite people in and serve them.
“And we have to be a church that finds people who have left [the church], and walks back in with them.
“We have got to be a church that better partners with parents in religious formation from baptism on. We have to find a way to re-engage teens and young adults in years when they drift away.”
The challenge will be the lessening of institutional ties by people in our culture, he said. People “don’t like to belong and they don’t like to join.”
Although he’s retired, Gordon is staying in the diocese with his wife Veronica. They’re moving from Christ Our King Parish in Wilmington to St. Dennis in Galena, Md., where they’ll live in the Eastern Shore cottage they’ve expanded over the years and will have access on their sailboat to the Chesapeake Bay.
“I’ve found the size of this diocese is just about perfect,” Gordon said. “There are enough parishes to do things and you get to know people in the parish from secretaries, parish council members and catechists. You dig deep roots and get to know a network of people to call upon to really do the ministry we’re called to do.
“It’s been a great blessing.”