Gerard Peter Weber
By Daniel S. Mulhall
Reverend Gerard P. Weber (May 8, 1918 – December 22, 2009) was a prolific author of catechetical materials as well a variety of adult resources and trade books. Fr. Weber or Gerry to everyone he met, was a Roman Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago for more than 66 years. He was the author or co-author of four catechetical series for children and the editor or general editor of two other programs. In addition, Fr. Weber was the author or co-author of more than 15 catechetical books and video series for adults. His creativity and worked shaped all the catechetical resources produced following 1958, and his innovations were widely copied by others who created similar products. Fr. Weber died on December 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, CA. and is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Gerard Peter Weber was born on May 8, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Jacob G. Weber and Marie Henrici Weber. Gerry was oldest of three children born to Jacob and Marie. His childhood was a typical childhood for a boy growing up in a Catholic home in Chicago during this time. He was raised in Catholic beliefs and traditions by his parents, and attended Catholic schools, where he became an altar server. Upon finishing 8th grade Gerry entered the Chicago seminary system, first attending Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary for high school and then St. Mary of the Lake University/Mundelein Seminary for college and graduate school. He was ordained on May 1, 1943, an event dear to his heart. He loved being a priest, and he loved being a Chicago priest. Until 1972 Fr, Weber served six parishes in the Archdiocese. Even though he began to work outside the archdiocese (with the permission of Cardinal Cody) in1972 and never returned (Fr. Weber would say that Cardinal Cody said he would call him back if Gerry was needed but he never called.) He was always a priest in good standing in the archdiocese and always considered himself a priest of the archdiocese.
Fr. Weber was shaped by his years in the Chicago seminary system. He was a student there during the years when Msgr. Reynold H. Hillenbrand was the rector. During Hillenbrand’s term as rector Chicago became a hotbed for Catholic outreach and Catholic action. Hillenbrand was greatly influenced by Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, who created the Catholic Action movement and who popularized the “Think, Judge, Act” decision-making methodology. Hillenbrand incorporated Cardijn’s methodology into the seminary program at St. Mary of the Lake, and his students were immersed in such groups as the Liturgical Movement, Young Christian Students and Young Christian Workers, the Christian Family Movement, the Catholic Labor Alliance, and the Cana Conference. Under Hillenbrand’s guidance, seminarians learned to champion the cause of organized labor, race relations, the role of laity in the Church, and, especially, the role of women. Throughout his priesthood and throughout his life, Fr. Weber was actively engaged in most of these endeavors. Much of his work was aimed at preparing the laity to take their rightful role in the Church and in the world.
For the first couple of years following ordination, Fr. Gerry was a typical pastoral associate. At that time that meant that he behaved himself and did what the pastor ordered. In Chicago, that meant that Fr. Gerry quickly became a chaplain for his parish’s Catholic Action and Christian Family Movement groups. He also became involved in the religious instruction of children in the Catholic schools and religious education programs.
From his work in the Christian Family Movement he became very committed to the role of parents in the faith formation of their children. From CFM he also learned that Catholic lay men and women were very gifted and talented, and that while they may not have had the theological training of the young priest, they were pretty well informed on many issues and so didn’t need a young, wet-behind-the-ears priest telling them what to do. Both of these seminal understandings reappear continually in his later writings, long before anyone else ever thought these issues were important.
Fr. Weber’s first foray into published writing began in 1949 when he founded the magazine Apostolate for the chaplains of the Catholic Action Movement. He would continue to edit this magazine until 1954. From his training at the seminary and his work in with Catholic Action, Fr. Weber honed a keen sense of social justice. In his parish assignments he became a vocal and active advocate for the poor, for fair housing, and for integration. Roman Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory, of the Atlanta archdiocese was a benefactor of Fr. Weber’s efforts. Archbishop Gregory tells the story of how Fr. Weber reached out to a poor, black, Protestant child and made him feel at home in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Gregory readily attests that Fr. Weber is the reason he is a Catholic and that Fr. Weber help him to become the man he is today.
Fr. Weber’s writing reached high gear when he began to work with Fr. James “Jake” Killgallon, a fellow Chicago priest. Most of Weber’s writing from 1952 until 1983 was done in partnership with Jake. The partnership ended with Killgallon’s death. The catechism that they wrote, Life in Christ, has sold more than 2 million copies and has been translated into several languages. Fr. John Cusick notes that Fr. Weber’s book Life in Christ is the most popular adult catechism ever created in the Catholic Church.
Weber and Killgallon established the ACTA Foundation (Adult Catechetical Training Aids). Through the foundation Weber and Killgallon provided seed money to groups across the United States that were interested in developing new approaches to adult faith formation. This foundation continues in existence today. Both Weber and Killgallon were very concerned about the state of religious education in their Chicago parishes. They felt that the materials that were being used at that time, primarily the Baltimore Catechism, was difficult for students to understand and very difficult for untrained lay men and women to teach effectively. They were committed to creating a new approach to catechesis. There was only one problem: neither of them knew much about educational theory or practice. They had plenty of ideas but needed an educational professional to harness their energy and point them in the right direction.
They found their associate in Sister Mary Michael O’Shaughnessy O.P., a Dominican sister from New Orleans, Louisiana. Together Gerry, Jake, and “Mike” went on to write three totally original k-8 religious instruction textbook series for parishes and schools. While each series was original, each also was built upon what they had learned in the previous series. Some of the innovations Weber, Killgallon, and O’Shaughnessy developed are:
· Thematic approach to teaching the faith. While common today, this trio developed over arching themes for each grade level and for each lesson. The thematic curriculum that is commonly used today originated with their work.
· Engaging students in the story of faith. The kerygmatic approach to catechesis was developed throughout the early 20th century. The first movement away from the question and answer approach of the Catechism began with the Munich Method, which adapted the “educational psychologies of Johann Freidrich Herbart (1776-1841)" (Marthaler, 1983). As Maria Montessori and John Dewey argue, children learn more from doing than listening. (Ryan, 2007, p. 62). Josef Jungman took this concept in a different direction, which led to the kerygmatic approach, where the intent was to engage students with the story of faith and ignite their passion for the faith. Father Johannes Hofinger, a student of Jungman, took these ideas and applied them even more broadly, hosting catechetical days around the world to spread this new and dynamic approach to catechesis. Weber, Killgallon, and O’Shaughnessy brought this approach to US audiences.
· Detailed guides for school teachers and parish catechists that not only gave suggestions for teaching lessons but went so far as to provide actual lesson plans for teachers. In addition, because the writers were concerned about the volunteer catechists of the world who had great faith but little knowledge, the guides presented brief theological training sessions in each lesson.
Because there were other writers and publishers producing similar catechetical materials during this time period scholarly research would need to be conducted for anyone to claim or prove conclusively who developed an idea first, so no claim is made here that Weber, Killgallon and O’Shaughnessy were the first to develop these materials. It is enough to point out that they created three original series, each one a development on the one before, each one different from the one before, and that the models and methodologies they developed are still in use today.
According to Cullen Schippe, who worked with Fr. Weber as an editor, a collaborator, and a friend, Gerry’s contributions to the religious education field were significant in many ways. According to Schippe,
· Word and Worship was built on the reforms and documents of Vatican II especially in the areas of liturgy and Scripture.
· The Word Is Life was a Scripture-based series that made use of age-appropriate stories—both scriptural and non-scriptural—to teach the essentials of the Faith. It took much of its inspiration from the United States bishop’s document, To Teach as Jesus Did.
· In Christ Jesus incorporated the spirit and directives of Sharing the Light of Faith, the first National Catechetical Directory—especially in its strong Christological framework. This was the first religion series to use a wrap-around teacher edition that positioned the student text in full color on the same page as the teaching instructions. It was highly successful and inspired a transition throughout the catechetical community.
· Come, Follow Me anticipated the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its structure and content. The second edition of the series was one of the first to receive a declaration of conformity to the Catechism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
· Christ Jesus the Way took its inspiration from the Catechism as well as two landmark documents, Rome’s General Directory for Catechesis and the new National Directory for Catechesis. This series was among the first to provide a complete bilingual edition (English and Spanish) for grades K through 6.
Schippe believes that one of Weber’s greatest contributions to religious education was his work with family life education. He notes that in the 1960s, Father Weber became interested in the work of Walter Imbiorski, a Christian Family Movement colleague. Imbriorski created materials related to human development and sex education for Catholic young people. Working with Imbiorski, Fr. Weber sponsored and helped develop the first K through grade 8 series, Becoming a Person (published 1969 and re-titled in the mid 1970s as the Benziger Family Life Program), specifically on these topics. Although its topic proved controversial in some quarters, the series has endured through several revisions and is still available today as RCL Benziger’s Family Life, where it now plays a key role in the Church’s emphasis on supporting families and promoting child protection and development.
While his work with Killgallon and O’Shaughnessy is reason enough for Weber’s inclusion in this project, it is not the end of Gerry’s contribution to catechesis. In many ways, his greatest contribution is the work that he produced for adults seeking to grow in their faith. His ground-breaking work, Genesis II, was the first of its kind to build film into an adult learning session. People would gather in large groups, sponsored by parishes or dioceses, to watch the Genesis II films—think reel to reel projectors—and then break into small groups to discuss the films using study guides that were provided. Even though the series lasted for about 40 weeks, people made time to participate in the sessions. Members of these groups continue to gather years after participating in Genesis II.
Fr. Weber was so taken by the success of Genesis II that he next invested in a similar video program, Romans 8. Gerry said that he thought he had discovered the secret of adult faith formation, so he paid for easier to use video, higher production values, and much more. As he unfortunately learned, the secret formula for successful adult faith formation still remains secret and Romans 8 proved unsuccessful financially. That said, Genesis II and Romans 8 set the standard against which all later adult faith formation materials can be measured. Many of the processes used in such programs as Christ Renews His Parish and Renew resemble those used in Weber’s video programming. Again, it is difficult to assess which came first, so enough here to say that standards established in those early programs remain the standards for excellent adult faith formation resources still today.
Fr. Weber worked for many of his California years as a chaplain to the Sisters of Social Service; he lived at Holy Spirit Center on their Encino campus, as scholar in residence.. There he also served as an advisor with many of the sisters. In addition, he was also very active with local parish adult faith formation groups and regularly celebrated the Eucharist at the neighboring parish.
In the last ten years of his life, Fr. Weber’s output waned as his physical health deteriorated. While he continued to consult with numerous developers of materials until the early 2000s, his contributions became less frequent and detailed. His last book, The Eucharist, A View from the Pew was published in 2001.
Fr. Weber died from natural causes on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, CA. He was buried in All Saints Cemetery in the Chicago archdiocese. Cardinals Cody, Bernardin, and George never called him back to Chicago, but God finally brought him home.
Rev. John Cusick, Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, called Fr. Weber “the most significant catechist in the American Catholic Church. In a tribute to Fr. Weber written at the time of his death, Beth Cavanaugh, a former parishioner, offered the following statement about Fr. Weber: “He was a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, an author, an organizer, a humanitarian, and a teacher. He was also a magnificent human being and a dearly loved priest.”
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1952). Manual for Christian Family Movement Chaplains. Publisher unknown.
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1958). Life in Christ. Chicago: ACTA Foundation. (Translated into Spanish, Indonesian, and Chinese. Versions also published in England and India; than 2 million copies sold.)
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1962-1967) Sermon Outlines for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Subsequently published as
· The God Who Loves Us. Collegeville. MN: Liturgical Press.
· The Love of Neighbor. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
· Our Love of God. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
· Praise the Lord. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
· Witness to the World. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
· To Be Church. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1964). Beyond the Commandments. New York: Herder and Herder.
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & Shaughnessy, M.M. (1958-1965). Word and Worship. New York: Benziger. (Eight graded religion textbooks for Catholic elementary school, plus texts for CCD students and catechists.)
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & Shaughnessy, M.M. (1965). The Child and the Christian Mystery. New York: Benziger.
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & Shaughnessy, M.M. (1966-1970). Sacramental Preparation Series. New York: Benziger. (Four books each for parents and children)
Weber, G.P. (1969). Becoming a Person. New York: Benziger. Now titled (2010) Family Life, (7th rev.) Cincinnati: RCL Benziger.Originally developed by Walter Imbriorski, Weber acquired the rights to the program, adapted it into an educational series, and oversaw its continued development until his death.
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & Shaughnessy, M.M. (1970-73) The Word Is Life. Cincinnati: RCL Benziger. (Eight graded religion textbooks for Catholic elementary school, plus texts for CCD students and catechists.)
Weber, G.P. (1973, Summer). Goal analysis and religious education. Living Light 10, 200-212.
Weber, G.P. (1974, March). The domino effect and catechesis. Religion Teachers’ Journal 8, 8-11.
Weber, G.P. (1975, Summer). Becoming Christ and the process of valuing. Living Light 12, 202-211.
Weber, G.P. (1976, Summer). A breakthrough in adult religious learning. Living Light 13, 237-241.
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & O'Shaughnessy, M.M. (1980). Becoming Catholic Even if You Happen to be One. Chicago: ACTA Foundation.
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1980-82) In Christ Jesus. Cincinnati: RCL Benziger. (Eight graded religion textbooks for Catholic elementary school, plus texts for CCD students and catechists)
Weber, G.P. & Joyce, J. (1983). Change, Trust, Love. Cincinnati: RCL Benziger.
Weber, G.P.(1983, March) Sermons I have heard. Priest 39: 19-20 +.
Weber, G.P. (1983, July- August).Where are the tools? Priest 39: 40-43.
Weber, G.P. (1983, September). Our vision of the Mass. Priest 39: 9-11.
Weber, G.P. (1983, November). Homily backgrounds and holy days of December – year A. Priest 39: 21-27.
Weber, G.P. (1983, December). Homily backgrounds and holy day of January – year A. Priest, 39, 21-28.
Weber, G.P. (1984, January). Homily backgrounds of February – year A. Priest 40: 22-27.
Weber, G.P. (1984, February). Homily backgrounds of March– year A. Priest 40: 22-27.
Weber, G.P. (1984, March). Homily backgrounds of April– year A. Priest 40: 22-27.
Weber, G.P. (1984, April). Homily backgrounds of May– year A. Priest 40: 22-27.
Weber, G.P. (1984, May). Homily backgrounds of June – year A. Priest 40: 22-26.
Weber, G.P. (1984, June). Homily backgrounds of July– year A. Priest 40: 22-28.
Weber, G.P.(1984, July – August). Homily backgrounds and holy days of August-September – year A. Priest, 19-30.
Weber, G.P. (1984, September). Homily backgrounds of October – year A. Priest 40: 22-26.
Weber, G.P. (1985). The Mass: finding its meaning for you and getting more out of it. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Press.
Weber, G.P. (1985, May). A parish system of ministry to adults. Priest 41, 14-15.
Weber, G.P. (1985, August). Why do you go to Mass? St. Anthony Messenger 93: 24-27
Weber, G.P. (1985). The Mass. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. (1986). Then and Now, Reflections of a Religious Editor. Cincinnati: RCL Benziger.
Weber, G.P. (1987, March). Better use of audio and video cassettes. Living Light 23: 253-260.
Weber, G.P. (1987, November). Adult religious education. Chicago Studies 29: 59-72.
Weber, G. P., Miller, R. & Camelli, L. (1987). A sense of direction, the basic elements of the spiritual life. Allen, TX: Tabor Publications.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1987). Touchstones. Allen, TX: Tabor Publications.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1990). Breaking Open the Gospel of Luke. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G. (1990). Come, Follow Me. Cincinnati: RCL Benziger. (Eight graded religion textbooks for Catholic elementary school, plus texts for CCD students and catechists.)
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1993). Breaking Open the Gospel of Mark. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1993). Bind Us Together. Chicago: ACTA Foundation.
Weber, G.P. (1994). Breaking open the gospel of Mark. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. (1994). (Ed.). Real Life. (nine adolescent catechesis books) Cincinnati: RCL Benziger
Weber, G.P. (1994, March). Mighty proud and pretty humble St. Anthony Messenger 101:57.
Weber, G.P. (1994, April). Sloth: a melody in chains. St. Anthony Messenger 101:57.
Weber, G.P. (1994, May). Anger: sentry of the self. St. Anthony Messenger 101:57.
Weber, G.P. (1994, June). What’s enough in the land of plenty. St. Anthony Messenger 102:56.
Weber, G.P. (1994, July). What’s eating or drinking you? St. Anthony Messenger 102:57.
Weber, G.P. (1994, August). Good news and the gospel of Mark. St. Anthony Messenger 102:22-27.
Weber, G.P. (1994, August). Envy: the urge to conquer. St. Anthony Messenger 102:57.
Weber, G.P. (1994, September). Lust is blind. St. Anthony Messenger 102:57.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1995). Breaking Open the Gospel of John. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1995) Life in Christ. Chicago: Acta Publications.
Weber, G.P. (1996). The Seven Capital Sins. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. (1998). Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. (2001). The Eucharist, a view from the pew. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Excerpts from Publications
(1976, Summer). A breakthrough in adult religious learning. Living Light 13.
In adult education as in all education there is the content and the process. Many priests try to use with adults in the parish the same process they experienced in the seminary: i.e. lecture and the same content: i.e. theology, moral and scripture. They find they are less than successful. They then conclude that people are not interested. Perhaps, before deciding that adults aren’t interested they should examine both the content and the process. p. 227
… if members of the staff make an effort to find and use other learning processes than the lecture method and if they tap the recognized or realbut unrecognized interest and needsof the people, then a goodly number of people in most parishes will respond enthusiastically and they and the entire parish benefit greatly. p. 241
(May, 1985). A parish system of ministry to adults. Priest 41. 15
Adults tends to learn nothing about what others tell them they should know, as little as possible about what they must know and as much as possible about what they want to know. This want to know usually is not academic. The desire is based on a personal need to know. p. 15
(March, 1987). Better use of audio and video cassettes. Living Light 23: 253-260.
Education is what the teacher does. The teacher is concerned with presenting material in an orderly, complete and digestible way.
Learning is what the student does. Adults do not learn in an orderly, complete and entirely coherent way. They learn piecemeal because they take new information and express it in light of their present store of information and of their experience. … A good video tape is created from the perspective of the learner rather than from that of the teacher. p. 257
Fr. Weber wrote for the ordinary parishioner in the pew, often in a conversational, welcoming tone. The following list will introduce the reader to his work.
Weber, G.P. & Killgallon, J. (1958). Life in Christ. Chicago: ACTA Foundation.
Weber, G.P., Killgallon, J. & Shaughnessy, M.M. (1980). Becoming Catholic Even if You Happen to be One. Chicago: ACTA Foundation.
Weber, G.P. & Miller, R. Breaking Open the Gospel (series of four books). Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Weber, G.P. (2001). The Eucharist, A View from the Pew. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Much of Fr. Weber's best work was done in the teachers’ editions of religion textbooks. Unfortunately, most of these books no longer exist except in libraries with a collection of religious textbooks.
Daniel S. Mulhall
Daniel S. Mulhall, Catholic educator, has been involved in evangelization and catechesis for over thirty years. Mr. Mulhall has worked as a high school religion teacher, parish music director, faith formation coordinator, consultant for catechesis and R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, national speaker, writer and critic. He received his B.A. from Bellarmine University, and MA in theology from the Catholic University of America, as well as an MA in Adult Christian Development from Regis University. Currently Mr. Mulhall is Senior Editor for RCL/Benziger a Catholic resource publishing company.