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Mar 06
New Parish-based Program Puts Catholic Families at the Centre of Evangelization

Patrick Douglas, Associate Director of Family Life Ministry in the Office of Formation for Discipleship, shares exciting news below about the Early Catholic Family Life pilot project. This project invites parishes to support young families in the faith. Patrick and his wife, Carissa, are parents to 13 children and are passionate about new ways to evangelize with families.

It seems there are constantly new attacks on the family. We see the results all around us: marital breakdowns, young people engaging in socially destructive behaviours and an exponential increase in child and teen suicides. There are grim reports about the rise of the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) and declining church attendance.

How are parents – and those on the forefront of evangelization efforts – to stem this tide and restore hope for families and the Church?

I believe a critical starting point is forming and equipping young parents to build an authentic Catholic family culture where they are able to pass the faith onto their children.

We know that new parents need support, but what support do parents want?  According to a 2015 survey by the Strong Catholic Families National Initiative, the top three messages that parents/grandparents want to hear from the Church are: 

  1. You are always welcome at our church 
  2. How can our church help you/your family live out your faith in the world? 
  3. Parents are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children

In short, belonging leads to believing. We all want to be known. That’s particularly true for young parents who don’t always know where they fit in the church. After all, it can be difficult enough to listen to the Word of God with babbling babies and/or testy toddlers. 

These young parents find themselves asking: Where can we find additional support and accompaniment?  Where can we find other parents who can relate to the joys and struggles of family life (and who can grow with us)?

Similarly, parish leaders are often unsure of how to engage young families. In the Office of Formation for Discipleship, we’ve consulted with many parishes and the consensus is there is a gap in connecting with families between Baptism and First Communion.

Support is Here

To help both new families and parishes with these challenges, the Archdiocese of Toronto launched a pilot project in 2018 called Early Catholic Family Life (ECFL). This program, which originated in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, equips parents and their children (ages 0-5) to learn about the Catholic faith and develop the skills to share it with others.

Fr. Warsito has a laugh with children attending an Early Catholic Family Life program
Fr. Warsito has a laugh with children attending an Early Catholic Family Life program.

ECFL is typically offered as an eight-week, two-hour class. It incorporates early childhood activities that are faith-based and fun for families. 

Each class begins with a parent-child interaction component focussing on a particular topic, followed by a snack break when parents slip away to a separate space for adult discussion time on the same faith topic. This is where the magic happens – participants share experiences, learn from each other and develop friendships in a supportive parent community. During this time, early childhood leaders and assistants lead the children through more engaging activities and songs. 

Participants learn about their vocation as parents, develop a vision for their family and are inspired to grow in their own faith, all the while deepening their relationship with the parish.

There is also an opportunity for authentic intergenerational ministry in the ECFL teams. Young adults who lead or assist in the early childhood activities get a taste of what family life looks like. And mid-life or mature adults who have a love for families can offer their gifts and mentorship. 

Parishes at the Forefront of Support

Currently, 12 parishes have been trained to offer this program, thanks to generous donors of the Family of Faith campaign. Those parishes are:
  • In Barrie: St. John Vianney 
  • In Mississauga: Cristo Rei, Sainte-Famille and St. Mary Star of the Sea 
  • In Newmarket: St. John Chrysostom 
  • In Oshawa: St. Joseph the Worker 
  • In Scarborough: St. Thomas More and St. Barnabas 
  • In Toronto: St. Patrick’s, St. James, Our Lady of the Assumption and Our Lady of Perpetual Help 

Impact on Parents and Parishes

Our initial evaluation results from participants in the pilot parishes have been overwhelmingly positive. All of the parents who completed the program said they would recommend ECFL to other parents.  

One parent shared:  “The program has helped in deepening our faith; it has brought about a new interest/eagerness. The discussions we had with other parents oftentimes resulted in us continuing the discussion (at home).” 

Fr. Aegidius Warsito, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, which participated in the ECFL pilot project, sees the fruits of the program starting to emerge in the life of his parish. 

"When a parent doesn’t know how to explain an aspect of the faith to their children, this program can help a lot,” said Fr. Aegidius. “Parents [in the program] have now offered to share their gifts and become catechists of the RCIA program.”  

St. Thomas More Parish plans to offer the program again in May and June this year.

We are Seeking More Parishes to Partner with Us  

I am excited to grow the ECFL program. Our office provides training and support to parish leaders to help them get started with the program and to teach them how to sustain their support of young parents after the training is over. I am moved by the deep faith and love the parish staff and volunteers have for the families they minister to. These core teams, rooted in prayer, have developed friendships through ECFL.

We hope your parish is interested in participating. We look forward to sharing more on this exciting initiative and other ways we can support families.  

For more information on Early Catholic Family Life in the Archdiocese of Toronto, please visit or contact Patrick Douglas at or 416-934-3400 ext. 509.


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