May 29, 2023 // FEATURE

Avilla Confirmation Preparation Produces Catholic Identity  

In the Sacrament of Confirmation, recipients experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Bishop seals their acceptance of the Catholic faith. At Confirmation, recipients of the sacraments are also recognized as adults in the Church. Chad Helmkamp ensures that his students’ preparation for this sacrament consists of the beliefs of our faith and conversations about the role of the Holy Spirit within a confirmed Catholic when facing the challenges of the world. Classroom instruction and retreat encounters apply the love of the candidates for God, family, and their faith community so they can walk in confidence knowing their identity as a child of God. Helmkamp’s insight brings evidence that Confirmation preparations ought to cultivate students’ faith community and the support they have when facing challenges in their world. 

Helmkamp has been teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade religion for 21 years. For the last eight years, he has organized the Confirmation retreats for St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Avilla in partnership with other area Catholic schools. His Confirmation preparation develops from his understanding of the human person’s need to be known. 

Susan Curtis
Chad Helmkamp, Religion Teacher at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Avilla, poses with his Confirmation students at the 2023 Confirmation retreat held at Immaculate Conception Parish in Kendallville.

“At the end of the day, we all have dignity, which means ‘I need to matter.’ And we all need to be loved — we need to belong.” Helmkamp’s goals in his Confirmation preparation are that students “have an identity when they leave.” 

Helmkamp recognizes and embraces similarities between raising prepared Catholics for Confirmation and the Trinity. 

“The parents are their primary educators. It is really trinitarian. You have God the Father, God the Son, who loved each other so much they formed the Holy Spirit. If you have parents and teachers who care about what their child is doing, you have a child that is really strong.” 

The outpouring of love from teachers and parents allows students to embrace the challenges of the world through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. This serves as the foundation for formal education in theology classes for the students and plants the truths of the Church in the hearts of the candidates, which sprout during the retreat. 

Within the classroom, Helmkamp incorporates the six tasks of catechesis which intermingle with Church history, and the “Confirmed in the Spirit” booklet which guides the units. Incorporated into each unit, the students discuss knowledge, prayer, and service. 

“The beauty of the Catholic faith is that the faith does not change. The core beliefs that we have: that is who we are as Catholics. So, it is really kind of a rock-solid foundation to build off of. The Seven Gifts are going to be the Seven Gifts no matter how many generations of Catholics come.” 

The Church’s holy wisdom gives students the common knowledge they need in order to be best prepared for the reception of the sacrament. 

Each activity during the retreat focuses on one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Helmkamp plans an “anchor” or symbol to represent each gift for each activity. For example, support letters from parents are the culminating feature of the retreat. 

“That was the wonder and awe because of our parents. It sets it concretely for the students. ‘Hey, we are all in this. I have a huge support network in my faith, and if I ever have questions, I know that there are people who love and care about me who can help me.’ The parents bless the students at the beginning of the retreat and the letters from the parents are the last thing that students receive before they go to Mass. There is a lot of parental involvement even though they are not there.” 

The Confirmation retreat ministers to the hearts of students to connect their knowledge to an encounter with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and discuss adulthood in the Church. At Confirmation, candidates receive the gifts and graces of the Catholic Church, and Helmkamp uses struggles the students have to lead and demonstrate how the Holy Spirit can aid them in the crosses they bear. 

“We take what is happening in our world and we bring that into how this activity will be, because an activity that we had done 30 years ago may not be relevant to the kid of today.” 

As the years go on, the world has changed, but the Church’s beauty and teachings continue to outline the focus of Helmkamp’s Confirmation retreat. 

To gauge what the students wrestle with, Helmkamp leads an activity where students write their struggles on sticky notes and place them on a cross. 

“I think it is eye-opening to see something you would never have a conversation with them about and now they are sharing it on these sticky notes that we as adults can actually read. So, we kind of know where their minds are at, what they feel are the problems of our world, what they feel are the crosses they carry.” 

Helmkamp said that, at times, students will share struggles that he describes as “too heavy to bear,” and that adults would never know unless students shared it with them. “The retreat gives us an opportunity to do that.” 

The presence of the families and the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Sister Theresa Renninger and Sister Deborah Funfsinn, in school and religious education programs show students the faithfulness and steadfastness that the Church gives them to “go make of all disciples” with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Helmkamp’s experience testifies that all Confirmation preparation should be concentrated on the beauty of the Church’s knowledge and be relevant to the candidate’s crosses to allow open dialogue about the reality of walking in the light of the Holy Spirit. 

Helmkamp said, “The way the gifts manifest themselves in the students is one of the greatest joys of watching it.”

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