Yamane, MacMillen, and Culver, in Real Stories of Christian Initiation, speak of the economic, human, cultural, and social capital (pg. x) required of successful RCIA programs. The truth is, many Catholic parishes are underfunded and understaffed on all of these levels. The aim of this book is to study normal parishes that do exceptional work. They should become models for all parishes, no matter what their resources are.
The first parish studied is St. Mary's. Its claim is that they are "about making disciples." RCIA meetings are described in great depth, as well as dismissals. One critique of this particular program is that the discussions are firmly directed, rather than flowing naturally from the participants, and based on the reflections they just heard. This is an unusual program, in that the RCIA process lasts for a full year. If someone inquires and ends up joining at mid-year, for instance, they would have to wait to gain acceptance the following Easter. Almost eighteen months is the normal RCIA stay at St. Mary's. The point is made that candidates have to "spend time wanting it." The process is then not one of education, but instead of "formation," eventually making them "disciples of Christ" (pg. 10). And to that end, it is emphasized that this process is ultimately about "conversion." This is not a lecture-centered approach. Most time in St. Mary's RCIA is spent on liturgy, prayer, and discussion, aimed especially at purification and enlightenment. The critique is strong though -- this content/ topic-driven program is removed from daily life and is group-focused over the needs of individuals. The most compelling example is that of the types of questions posed—many are "inauthentic," meaning they have actual correct answers. "Authentic" questions are recommended, but seldom used. These are questions for discussion with no prespecified response. Opinions and points of view are more valued in this latter form of question-generation.
Priests who are only "fleetingly present" are determined to be a problem. They speak on vital topics such as church history, scripture, holy orders, and reconciliation (pg. 21), but are often uninvolved in daily/weekly matters. However, they are often actively involved, making "executive decisions" that impact the RCIA program detrimentally (such as deleting some questions expected during the rite of acceptance and welcoming, and the rite of election). St. Mary's RCIA is summarized as "ambitious but dependent" (pg. 26).
St. Mark's parish is the next to be studied. It is not known to be progressive; Post-Vatican II is not a term associated with its functions. The parish motto: "Being Faithful to the Past... While Connecting to the Future" (pg. 33) sums it up. The pastor who heads this RCIA program embraces this way with pastoral/nondogmatic traditionalism. He is hard working, hands-on, and holds the heart as central to his ministry ("people hold questions in their hearts, concerns weigh on their hearts, we pray in our hearts," pg. 35).
The director of RCIA embodies "devotional Catholicism" which was popular up through the 1950s. Devotion to saints such as Anthony and Ann as well as the Sacred Heart of Jesus are central. Four defining emphases are "church authority, sin, ritual, and an openness to the miraculous" (pg. 45). "Penitential" and "mystical" are words used to describe the director's style. "Genuine" would be added to this list by the present author, given the moving examples of the expression of faith outlined in this chapter. The "power" of prayer is the focus of many a meeting at St. Mark's. However, it is seldom actively used as a tool at those meetings.
St. Innocent is then studied in-depth. Two priests run this large parish, one progressive, 60s-type, and one conservative, traditional-type. An affluent parish (deemed to be "afflicted somewhat by affluenza," pg. 57), people are a bit detached from poverty and social justice issues. "Cooperative and caring clerical involvement" (pg. 60) characterizes this program.
An assessment of St. John Bosco follows. RCIA there (and the church in general) is run by their deacon. "Task-orientation" is coupled with "emotional-expressivism" here (pg. 84). Learning is passive, and topics covered do not enter into much depth.
Queen of Peace is the last parish RCIA program to be evaluated. This is a church that emphasizes journey over destination. "It is about living one's whole life in Christ" (pg. 100). The church is the "People of God" (pg. 102), quite literally. It is education-focused, hence, "a school with a parish attached" (pg. 103). But not much more time is spent on this aspect, except for the observation that "formation is stressed over information" (pg. 119). A good part of this, in terms of active prayer, takes place during the Queen of Peace formal RCIA meetings.
Overall, the strongest recommendation made for these programs is their incorporation of "hands-on" learning experiences, in the tradition of a Chinese proverb: "I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand" (pg. 129). This book is a beginning of significant research on RCIA programs and their differences, and a deeper assessment of what makes them tick. Certain sections of this present work tend to get bogged down in minutiae, but it provides a springboard for more insightful and exhaustive studies in the future