This September, millions of middle-school-aged, computer literate
students will be pressed into CCD and religious ed. classes, where they
will yawn and fidget through the washed-out, watered-down, bland, and
boring catechetical materials prepared for them by the liberal
That's unfortunate, because they could have a stimulating catechism
class on their computers. Though this catechesis is computerized, it has
all the personality of one of America's finest professional catechists,
Fr. Robert J. Levis of Gannon University.
The program opens with a cheery, "Hi, boys and girls. Welcome.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, I
bless you and welcome you to study about your holy faith. Children have
been learning about God, but not like this, not on the computer."
Once the Vatican approved the English edition of the new Catechism,
Fr. Levis, 74, who has devoted a lifetime to training graduate-level
orthodox catechists, moved into high gear to prepare a catechism for the
cyberspace generation, one specifically written for children.
Dedicated to Mary, "the Queen of Heaven, earth, and
cyberspace," the Catalog of Faith is a six-disc program for
sixth, seventh, and eighth graders which follows the new Catechism, and
is presented in a dynamic, even breezy, conversational manner.
"What we've done," he explained, "is simplified the
Catechism without taking the muscle out of it for the different grade
Almost every page is accompanied by a color graphic of stained-glass
windows, statuary, or other artworks from local churches in Fr. Levis'
hometown of Erie, Pa. There are even lots of smiling faces of local
Indeed, this cyberspace catechism is user-friendly. Not only is a
cheery, upbeat mood maintained throughout the 120 or so lessons, but the
program itself, Levis himself a self-taught computer novice says, is simple enough for any child
(In fact, after Fr. Levis sent a copy of his Catalog to this
reporter, it remained unopened in its package for two months, until my
eight-year-old daughter plugged it into my computer while I was away on
assignment. She figured out how to use it on her own, even though she
had never ever played with a computer before.)
And the Catalog is a joy to read as well.
For example, in part I, the Catalog moves rapidly through the
Profession of Faith, God Exists, God's Self-Revelation, Sacred
Scripture, the Holy Creed, the Holy Trinity, Creation and the Fall of
Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ and so on, following the outline of the
original Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, but each lesson
is offered in the grandfatherly voice of a teacher who loves his faith
As a prelude to teaching the existence of God, Fr. Levis explains:
All children are religious. You come from God and you return to
God. You try to serve and love God. You can know God, too, by looking
closely at all things He made, both great and small. Look up at the
billions of stars and planets in the sky. God made them all. Look down
at all the tiny bugs and crawling things. God made them, too. He made
everything, especially you! God has revealed Himself. We call this
Revelation. God spoke to people about Himself and about you....
The next page discusses Abraham and Moses, the Ten Commandments and
the Hebrew prophets, accompanied by a Renaissance-style painting of the
A color photograph of the Holy Father accompanies the next page of
the text, and the reader learns that the Holy Father and the Catholic
bishops of the world wanted the reader to learn about God and the
The first chapter ends with a statement on God's covenant with His
people, and four possible answers to some questions: false, partly
true/partly false, true, and I don't know.
A wrong answer brings the cartoon character of Brother Bartholomew to
the screen, a little, chubby religious who, says Fr. Levis, "can't
get anything right."
"He's a friendly reminder that the student didn't get the right
answer, and when he pops up on the screen, the reader knows he has to go
back to review the preceding material."
A right answer immediately takes the student to the next chapter, on
Scripture, the Revelation of God's word.
What Fr. Levis offers is full-strength Catholicism:
"Who is the most important person in religion?," he asks
his young computer whizzes.
"Who tells you all about God? Who tells you what you are, where
you come from, and where you are going? Who taught you the Our Father?
Who is the central Person in the Gospel? Who is more important than
Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament? Who promised to save you?
Who gave you the sacraments? Who loves you even more than your dear
"The answer is Jesus Christ. All these chats we are having are
about Jesus. Every page and every idea is about Jesus. More than
anything else, I want you to know Jesus Christ our Lord and to love Him
more each time you turn the computer on to read this."
Not A Game
"It's not a video and it's not a game," Fr. Levis told the
Wanderer in a recent interview. "This is catechesis in the medium
kids are used to.
"This is the very first interactive catechetical project in the
world as far as I know," he said.
The idea for the interactive computer catechism came to him last year
when he was returning from a catechetical conference in Australia.
"I was on a plane thinking about a query by Archbishop Barry
Hickey of Perth, who kept goading me with a question, 'What am I going
to do for the kids?' He kept asking the question, and I really didn't
have any idea. During a 36 hour delayed ride with a terrific holdover in
New Zealand, the question kept going through my mind. So, I thought,
maybe I could get the engineers at Gannon University to program
something. By the time I got to California, I had a pretty good idea of
what I wanted to do: two programs, one for little children and one for
"I wrote the text on my trusty Macintosh, and then, with the
help of photographer Paul Lorei, we got the best art we could in the
area. Then I hired a secretary, and bought a Hewlett-Packard scanner and
learned to scan a picture into the text. When it was all done, putting
text and picture together, I thought I should put in some questions to
make it more interesting and interactive. Every three screens, I put in
some questions. Then I hired an artist, Laurie Wagner, to draw the
cartoon characters of Brother Bartholomew.
"He's what makes the program so wonderful for children, who
really relate to him. They love him.
"Then a wonderful man, Stephen Brown at Gannon, a real computer
expert, helped me program the Catalog and reduce it to six diskettes. By
the middle of April, we received an imprimatur from Bishop Donald
Trautman of Erie, and on May 1st, we were ready to begin marketing the
program on IBM-compatible and Macintosh."
As soon as the program was finished, the diocesan newspaper in Erie
did a story on the Catalog, which was later picked up by Catholic News
Service, and word of the Catalog spread all over the world.
Though sales have been "gratifying, they're not terrific
yet," said Levis. But he's pleased with the initial interest. A
Hungarian Jesuit inquired about translating the Catalog into Hungarian
for use in Catholic schools in that country, and other inquiries about
marketing the program came from Canada, Australia, the Union of South
Africa, Kenya, and England.
"What I'm trying to do is combine the child's most cherished
pedagogical tool, the computer because children don't like books
anymore with the most ancient doctrines. This
is a strange bedfellowing here, and it does raise eyebrows.
"And it is definitely a commandeering of catechesis by the
orthodox. We're using the latest technical equipment with the latest
expression of the faith. What child would spend hours with a catechism?
They will with this one."
The program is very popular with home-schoolers already, but the
difficult job now, he says, is trying to get the program into the
As a longtime leader in orthodox catechesis, Fr. Levis doesn't
believe the general catechetical situation will improve soon.
"It took 50 years for The Catechism of the Council of Trent
to take hold, so I would expect it will take a much longer time for this
new one, because the cultural situation is so much more difficult for
the faith to permeate," he said.
With the exception of a few bishops, who are moving vigorously to
promote the new Catechism in their schools and religious education
programs, the opposition to orthodox catechesis remains in charge, and
is perhaps more powerful than ever.
"I don't think the Catechism has converted these people in any
way. Americans believe their culture with its sensate elements can be
part of the Christian Gospel, instead of the other way around. So I
don't expect the Catechism to be a deus ex machina and cause an
immediate change. It will take many, many efforts to bring the Catechism
into use in Catholic schools, as Cardinal Bevilacqua is trying to do in
"It's going to take a decade to get an orthodox catechism into
the schools. There just isn't the support yet."
As Fr. Levis prepares to market the second edition of the Catalog, a
program with a menu and a few other technical improvements over the
first edition, he's planning a third program, this one to evangelize
high school students.
"It will be specifically designed for students who do not want
to be confirmed, who have been turned off from the faith for some
reason, but who still have an interest in the Catholic Church.
"This new program will be addressed to freshmen and sophomores,
and will be more evangelistic than catechetical. It will recognize that
there are hundreds of thousands of baptized youngsters who are alienated
from the Church, from God, and from their families.
"I hope they will enjoy looking at this, because they still like
to play with their computers.
"In an anecdotal way, I will try to show the outcomes of four
characters from the Gospels, put into the contemporary situation. It
will illustrate various characters and show in art and text how they
end. One will die of AIDS at 27, another will be divorced and remarried
three times, another will have three abortions, and one will become a
"We'll ask the student if he wants to know whatever became of
Chad, press A, or Darcy, press B. It will be very dramatic. I'll have
them in their sin, then all of a sudden, the whole computer screen will
be filled with Christ, one will reject, one will be moved for a while,
and so on.
"With the one character who converts, I'll give a lot of
information on Penance, Confession, Confirmation. Children at this age
will be gripped by this, and this program will make them want to take
their faith seriously to be a serious adult
The Catalog of Faith for Middle Schoolers is available from
Gannon University, 109 University Square, Erie, PA, 16541-0001.