At the annual fall meeting of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership on Nov. 21, the NCCL’s board announced that Margaret Matijasevic, San Fernando regional coordinator of Religious Education here in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, would be the national organization’s next executive director starting Jan. 5, 2015.

Matijasevic — the first woman to head the NCCL, which was founded in 1967 as a result of Vatican II’s call for a more holistic catechesis — told members how just the week before a local religious educator had shared her faith journey over a meal. It was a story of discernment, with a deep seed instilling a sense of restlessness as God was preparing her heart for “newness.”

“Recall that story, that moment when you took the risk to say yes … and you will know who I am before you today,” she said. “Newly named as the executive director of NCCL, but really just a woman on the journey of faith, gifted with certain charisms that have been fostered and nurtured by various others who have graced me with the gift of gently walking alongside.

“I’ve been praying. And I pray my role in the listening is an authentic one … one that has brought me here to now walk with you … into a new curve on the journey of NCCL … one that we all are generously requested to explore together. At times I might take huge strides and other times delicate steps, but many times you will find me paused … mindfully listening to the encounters of Christ all around. But in all that … I know we will discover God’s grace together in amazing ways.”

The 35-year-old woman’s own professional journey began as a religious studies teacher and campus minister at Sacred Heart High School in Lincoln Heights and Blessed Junipero Serra High School in Gardena. From 2004 to 2006, she was director of religious education at St. James the Less Parish in La Cresenta, and the following two years served as the junior high and confirmation coordinator at St. Bede the Venerable Parish in La Ca√±ada Flintridge.

For the last 6 1/2 years, the Valley Girl has been coordinator of religious education for the archdiocese’s San Fernando Region.

Experiential education

“The Baltimore Catechism” was the de facto Catholic school and catechism class text from 1885 to the late 1960s. That’s when Vatican II ushered in a non-memorization-based question-and-answer experiential religious education, which was focused on developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through a life of prayer, justice and service.

“Hopefully, that’s been happening,” a laughing Matijasevic told The Tidings. “I mean, you can’t put catechesis into an old model of teaching. You just can’t. It has to be experiential. It has to be coming from a person’s lived experience.

“But we’re saying our current lived experience is this tension of growing media and technology, and our inability to control it. So what kind of implications does that have on dioceses and even on parishes? Obviously, right now, we’re in a new place with technology. So how does that affect catechesis?”

Having served for four years on the archdiocese’s C3 (Catholic Communications and Collaboration) pilot project to enhance technology and professional development at parish, school and administration sites, the religious educator believes she is well positioned to help shepherd NCCL into the future.

“I think it’s an exciting time to be in religious education,” she stressed. “I mean, if we’re really going with the spirit of Vatican II, the person’s lived experience of God and their relationship with Jesus, that’s happening all the time — whether technology is moving or not. It’s just us learning as a Church to be OK with that shift, you know, that we can’t control somebody’s living experience.

“But we can offer ways for people to recognize God’s movement in their lives. And I think with media it’s really going to shift into how do we empower people to vet content appropriately themselves, while also recognizing God’s movement in their own lived lives despite whatever chaos is brewing around them.

“So it’s really a shift in how we have been doing catechesis or journeying with people in their faith lives,” she pointed out. “I mean, it’s moving, and it has been moving.”

Better networking

Soon Margaret Matijasevic will be moving with her family to Washington, D.C., to start her new ministry. Not only will she be making sure the nonprofit NCCL is running effectively, bringing in new members and funding sources, she’ll also be overseeing the nonprofit’s magazine, Catechetical Leader and email publication, CL Weekly.

She wants to start an “Intranet” forum, where religion educators can readily share their workload by collaborating more easily online. In addition, there’s better networking with the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and other organizations to promote plus long-term strategic planning.

“I think NCCL will really benefit from a different generational perspective,” she said. “It’s been thriving because of the legacies that have gone before. I mean, if you look at Sister Edith [Prendergast, director of religious education for the Los Angeles Archdiocese] and people of her caliber who have really pushed catechesis to where it is today, that has been the heart and pulse of this organization.

“But many of her generation are retiring. And so there’s this need to move it forward, but not without definitely being founded and rooted in its history. I was born after Vatican II, so my experience with the Church is far different than the generation right before me. And the organization reflects that.

“So I’m a product of these people, their catechetical movement and imagination,” she noted. “So it’s an honor to say, ‘I’m the fruit of your labor.’ And, hopefully, I can do justice to this new role.”