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Michael Horan

By Jane Regan


Michael P. Horan (1956 - ) was born in Dover, New Jersey in 1956.  Michael has served as a religious educator within the Roman Catholic tradition in a variety of setting: high school teaching, university campus ministry, and college professor.  In addition he is a gifted speaker, appearing at many of the major religious education conferences across the United States.  He is presently Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University and lives in Marina Del Ray, CA with his wife, Patricia.


Michael P. Horan was born on February 18, 1956 in Dover, NJ, to Edward and Marguerite De Lorenzo Horan, the third of five children. He grew up in a Roman Catholic family that was heavily influenced by the currents of the time, as the Roman Catholic Church was moving toward renewal and reform in the era of preparation for, and eventual initial reception of, Vatican Council II.  His early formal religious education occurred principally through Sacred Heart Elementary School, Dover NJ.  

The schooling model of religious education in the years prior to the council placed emphasis in the classroom on catechism and the text explanatory method; this shaped Michael’s early experiences.  However, as Michael recalls it, “Talented teachers somehow made this approach come alive.  Daily recitations of memorized answers became the graced occasions for much more that must have occurred in the classroom, because my memories of this kind of learning are fundamentally positive, due to good memories of kind, effective teachers.” 

In addition to this text-based approach to religious education, other experiences, especially liturgy and piety, played a significant role in shaping Michael’s sense of the religious.  The classroom learning was contextualized by the larger religious atmosphere of the Catholic parish, and evidence of it was also found at his family home. At that time the parish hosted practices of piety (often associated with Marian devotions) and popular religion including May processions, rosary recitation, novenas, and some Eucharistic devotions.  Participating in these practices as well as Sunday liturgy with his family shaped Michael’s foundational Christian identity.

As Michael moved into middle school years and then into Morris Catholic High School, the changes in the church brought about by the implementation of Vatican II were played out in the classroom and the parish.  The tone and rhythm of the liturgy changed as did the format of the classroom learning.  Michael’s account of this period includes this reflection: “By the middle school years the style of the religion class lessons shifted toward discussion and group activities; they sometimes included art or movement or some engagement of the body, what I would later study under the term of kinesthetic learning.  This continued and expanded in the high school years and it left a very strong positive impression on me that the study of my faith was a consoling and fortifying reality in my life.”

Reading Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as a teenager had a profound effect on Michael and his imagination about the future. He became fascinated with the rhythm of liturgy that defined or at least contextualized the monastic life.  Merton's story became a personal face of a movement to which he was attracted, which lead to his interest in the options for living in a celibate Christian community and focusing his talents on teaching. In the course of his high school years he became familiar with the community life and ministries of the Congregation of Christian Brothers.  These religious Brothers, who professed vows of poverty chastity and obedience, and did not become ordained to the priesthood, were well educated and dedicated to education and teaching. Michael enrolled in Iona College in New Rochelle New York, because it was founded and partially staffed by these Brothers, and joined the community in his college years.

After receiving his degree in Spanish and Religious Studies (magna cum laude) in 1977 from Iona College, he taught Spanish and Religious Studies at the high school level for the next six years at Cardinal Hayes High School, Bronx, New York, from 1977 to 1980 and Iona Preparatory School, New Rochelle, New York, from 1980 to 1983. While teaching high school, Michael studied during the summers at The Catholic University of America (CUA) where he received his Masters in Religious Education in 1982.  The following year, in the Fall of 1983, he began full time study at CUA where he studied under Berard Marthaler, OFMconv, and wrote his dissertation, Kerygmatic Catechesis: An Analysis of the Writings of Josef Jungmann and Johannes Hofinger as Reflected in Post-Conciliar Documents on Catechetics under the direction of Dr. Kate Dooley, OP.  He graduated with his Ph.D. in 1989.

During his time at CUA, Michael had the opportunity to work with campus ministry as a resident minister in one of the dorms, allowing him to become familiar with the dynamics of the life of college students in settings outside the classroom.  This experience would serve him well as he responded in a holistic way to the students, both graduate and undergraduates, with whom he worked in both his teaching and administrative positions as various colleges and universities.

From 1987 to 1994 Michael taught at Iona College in the department of Religious Studies.  During this time he set in place the pattern that would prevail through all of his teaching positions: the effective combination of teaching and administration.  As early as his work at Iona College, Michael’s gifts and talents for working with others, enhancing a spirit of collaboration, and furthering a college’s vision and self-understanding came to the fore.  While at Iona College, Michael was chair of the department of Religious Studies from 1990 to 1994, member of the President’s Committee on Mission and Identity, 1988-1993, and member of the Peace and Justice Education Committee, 1988-1993.

In 1994 Michael took a leave of absence from the Christian Brothers, which culminated in his leaving the Brothers in 1995.  Michael often reflects on this association with gratitude for the ways in which he experienced and observed a holistic formation in spirituality as well as formal education in theology, while living in a community.  This holistic formation prepared and supported him in ministry during and long after his association with the community.  

In 1994 Michael left Iona College for Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  There he had the opportunity to teach both graduates and undergraduates.  In his work with graduate students, Michael has played a significant role in contributing to shaping the next generation of pastoral ministers and religious educators.  This was work he continued during the summers when he taught in summer graduate programs at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, St. Mary’s University in Winona, MN and Boston College.

While at Loyola Marymount, Michael has continued the combine teaching with administration.  In addition to teaching, Michael has served as chair of the Department of Theological Studies, director of the MA Program in Theology, and director of the MA Program in Pastoral Theology.  He is presently (2013) Assistant to the Provost where he has responsibility for overseeing and facilitating the process of implementation of the University Core Curriculum.

Contributions to Christian Education

Michael approaches his work of religious education as a pastoral theologian, that is as one who seeks to build a bridge sturdy enough to sustain the two way traffic between the theoretical world of the academy and the practical world of the minister and religious educator.  A review of his writing and presentations give evidence of three interrelated areas in which Michael has made significant contributions to the field of Christian education.

The first is in the area of adolescent catechesis.  Michael’s early experience teaching in high schools in the New York area set a firm foundation for his later theoretical work in adolescent catechesis.  His publications with NCEA and his various key notes and workshops point to the way his work with high school students focuses on translating catechetical theory for use in youth ministry.  His work bridges a gap between a vision of catechesis informed by the catechumenate and the practices of youth ministry that often illustrate that vision without naming it as catechesis.  Michael regards this as important because Catholic parishes and the ministers they hire to serve youth may lack a theoretical framework for their practices.  In addition the schooling model for religious education historically held such sway that parishioners sometimes discount or reduce the effects of youth program that occur outside classrooms. 

A second area of Michael’s contribution to religious education is in preparing ministers for leadership in the church.  This is a key focus of his teaching and Michael has served as an important resource in the ongoing discussion of how to implement the ecclesial document on lay ecclesial ministers, Co-Workers in the Vineyard. His work as consultant to the leaders of the office of Parish Life in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles included formation for priests, parishioners, and leaders in the region; he further contributed to this effort by helping to shape archdiocesan written policies that are grounded in the insights from the Bishops’ document.

The third area of expertise and contribution to the field of religious education centers on catechesis of adults.  A good deal of his presentations to professional organizations and to ministerial groups attends to this topic.  Michael’s speaking and writing follows a pattern in which he culls insights from the history of catechesis in order to inform or even re-think contemporary pastoral practices.  Building on his work on evangelization, Michael carefully highlights the ways that the “new” evangelization is effective to the degree that it attends to the catechetical context of twenty-first century adults.  He argues that many adults are not lacking information (as some Catholic leaders and writers claim), but rather they are longing for more depth and an honest way to pursue spiritual questions without judgment or control of pre-programmed answers. Michael seeks to challenge religious educators and pastoral ministers to think critically about the practices within the church that alienate adults, and to promote the thoughtful, constructive and critical functions of adult learning. For Michael, any efforts to evangelize must be preceded and informed by a respectful and thorough analysis of the context of the hearer/learner, which in twenty first century United States includes a better-than-ever-before educated laity with a capacity to question assumptions, authorities and claims. 


Monographs and Edited Works

Horan, M. P.(1999). Catechesis as an evangelizing moment: singular challenge to a maturing church. Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association.

Horan, M. P. and J. E. Regan. (1998).  Good news in new forms: a companion to the General Directory for Catechesis. Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catechetical Leadership.

Horan, M. P. (Winter 1998). Editor. Listening: The Journal of Religion and Culture volume 33, number 1.  Theme: “Contemporary religious education in mid-life: thirtysomething years after Vatican II.”

Horan, M. P. (1989). Kerygmatic catechesis: An analysis of the writings of Josef Jungmann and Johannes Hofinger as reflected in post-conciliar documents on catechetics. Ph.D. Dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.

Textbook Series for Parish and School Use

Blest Are We. Junior High School Teacher Guide.  With Richard Fragomeni, Jeannine Goggin and Maureen Gallagher.  Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett Ginn Religion/Pearson Education, 2005.

Blest Are We. Grades 1 to 6 Parish Program.  With Richard Fragomeni, Jeannine Goggin and Maureen Gallagher.  Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett Ginn Religion, 2001.

Articles and Book Chapters

Horan, M. P. (2011). Ministry in service to an adult church: how lay ministry fosters mature faith in the  Catholic parish. In Harold D. Horell, (Ed.),  Reflections on renewal: lay ecclesial ministry and the church. (pp. 151-166) Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

Horan, M. P. ( 2009). A bold design built on rock: constructing a plan for adolescent catechesis. In  Source book on adolescent catechesis (Vol. 2, pp. 3-28).  Washington, D.C.: Partnership on Adolescent Catechesis (NCEA, NFCYM, and NCCL).

Horan, M. P. (2008) Effective practices for youth formation: is the parish up to the task? Church, 24(4), 13-19. 

Horan, M. P. (2008). Effective teaching of the theology of resurrection.  Religion Teachers’ Journal, 19(6), 16-17.

Horan, M. P.  (2008). Adolescent catechesis: an unfinished agenda. Momentum, 38(1), 48-52.

Horan, M. P.  (2006). Josef Andreas Jungmann. Edited by Kevin E. Lawson. Christian Educators of the 20th Century:

Horan, M.P. (November-December 2006). Writing home about adult catechesis and the new catechism for adults…an exercise in praxis. Catechetical Update, 17, U1-U8.

Horan, M. P.  (2005). Justice education as a school wide effort: effective religious education in the catholic school. Catholic Education: Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 9(2), 215-229.

Horan, M. P.  (2005). Toward mature faith: forming an adult church in small ways.  Church, 21(1), 1-5.

Horan, M. P. (2005). Noticing and shaping the environment in adult faith formation. FaithWorks, 7(8), 7.

Horan, M. P.  (2004). Forming an adult church after the scandal. FaithWorks, 7(4), 7.

Horan, M. P.  (2004). Mature faith questions. FaithWorks, 7(3), 7.

Horan, M. P.  (2004). Clothed in Christ all year long: How the catechumenate can inspire personalized and flexible adult faith formation.  FaithWorks, 7(2), 7.

Horan, M. P.  (2002). Egeria revisited: adult catechesis in a new time.  In Joseph P. Sinwell (Ed.),  Catechumenate: Inspiration for catechesis (pp. 7-24).  Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Education Association.

Horan, M. P.  (2002). The creed and common searching: wrestling with meaning across cultures. Liturgical Catechesis, 5(1), 8-10.

Horan, M. P. (2001). The creed and holy questioning: historical reflections for catechetical leaders. Liturgical Catechesis, 4(6), 8-10.

Horan, M. P.  (2001). Catechetical leadership in the ‘in between’ time.  Catechetical Leadership, 13(2), 14-15.

Horan, M. P. (1999). Faith, Religion and Theology. In William C. Graham (Ed.),  Sacred adventure beginning theological study (pp. 1-8). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Horan, M. P. (1999). Mystery of God. In William  C. Graham (Ed.),  Sacred adventure beginning theological study (pp. 17-25). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Horan, M.P. (1999). The participants in catechesis. in Thomas H. Groome and Michael J. Corso (Eds.), Empowering catechetical leaders (pp. 113-134). Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Education Association.

Horan, M. P. (1998, July). Lay pastoral theology: fostering adult spirituality in a priest short church. The Way, 38, 260-270.

Horan, M. P. (1997). Education as formation: Religious education theory as a source for educational practice.  Religion and Education, 24, 19-22.

Horan, M. P.  (1996). Catechesis, catechisms, and catechetical directories. In Martin Connell (Ed.),  The catechetical documents: A parish resource (pp. 633-639). Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.

Horan, M. P.  (1996). The General Catechetical Directory: An overview. In Martin Connell (Ed.), The catechetical documents: A parish resource (pp. 2-6). Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.

Horan, M. P.  (1995). The contribution of Johannes Hofinger as precedent for the reception of catechisms. Religious Education, 90, 303-312.

Horan, M. P.  (1995). The profession of faith. In  J. E. Regan et al,  (Eds.), Exploring the catechism (pp. 71-95). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Horan, M. P.  (1995, September). Ministry and religious education. The Catechist, 19, 8.

Horan, M. P. (1992, September). A spirituality of catechesis.  Emmanuel, 98, 374-381.

Horan, M. P. (1990). Anticipating the unknown: Vocation awareness ministry in a changing church.  Horizon 15, 37-44.

Horan, M. P. (1984). Embodiment: Ritual studies as an independent discipline. Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 8, 21-25 

Excerpts from Publications

From:  Horan, M. P. (2011) “Ministry in service to an adult church: how lay ministry fosters mature faith in the  Catholic parish.” Harold D. Horell, (ed)  Reflections on renewal: lay ecclesial ministry and the church (pp. 151-166). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Professional leadership ministry contributes to the fostering of mature adult faith, as living faith, because it offers parishioners an implicit curriculum on a contemporary theology of ministry that is more effective than the official words, but also (usually) aligned with the words.  The presence of lay professional ministers implicitly invites all lay people to consider the vibrancy of their own faith as that faith is lived, both within and beyond the walls of the parish church community. (Page 154)

In the rise of professional lay ministries, and through the witness of individual professional lay ministers, one discerns an implicit message that coheres to the explicit one: Every Christian is called by baptism to ministry, not only in the world, but also in the church. Not all people are called to professional lay ministry; indeed few are…Offering parishioners both a comfort and a challenge by their presence and example, lay professional ministers teach an implicit curriculum that enriches the imaginations of the parishioners about their own call, both in the world and inside the church… (Page 157)

From:  Horan, M. P. ( 2009) “A bold design built on rock: constructing a plan for adolescent catechesis. In Source book on adolescent catechesis, Volume 2, (pp. 3-28).  Washington, D.C.: Partnership on Adolescent Catechesis (NCEA, NFCYM, and NCCL).

Catechesis comes from a Greek word, the root of which also was used by the ancients to describe the work of poets, who stood on the edge of the stage and spoke a word that might rouse people’s hearts.  Catechesis, like the work of the poet, involves all the elements in that description: Poetry, edginess, standing in a vulnerable place, risking in order to address for others and for oneself the desires of the heart.

Catechesis “happens” when a person or persons take the risk to stand on the edge.  The edge is that marginal place in which it is possible to participate and yet to observe.  From that vantage point the poet both sees and feels the heart of the crowd and attempts to speak a word from the heart.  The ancient Hebrew word for heart, leb, referred to more than the bodily organ; leb is the word used to denote the very center of the self, the source of truth that flowed through the human being like blood through the organ of the heart.  By leb the ancients meant that locus of activity and behavior as well as intention, the genesis of all that one does and is. Speaking from the center of the self to the center of another’s self is risky work.  It requires a level of presence and honesty that leaves the speaker in a vulnerable place.  The words spoken by the poet are both essential and elusive; they convey as best they can the truth in the heart of the poet.  But words hardly ever capture the full truth; they are the best we can do as humans who want to speak the truth but who are constrained by our own humanity and the limits of language.  This is true when we speak words about love or friendship, loyalty or humility, patriotism or pride, anger or desire.  Words also fail to capture the complete essence of the revelation of God in Christ.  The Christian clings to the words and yet knows that the Word of God in Christ is larger, deeper, and richer than human words.  The paradox of standing on the edge of the stage in order to speak a word that will rouse others’ hearts is that one can both participate and observe. The poet is a part of the crowd yet apart from the crowd.

Standing on the edge of the stage is both the burden and the consolation of catechetical ministry today.  Like the poet, we stand on the edge of the community not just by circumstances or always by desire, but by call.  Catechetical ministry is first and foremost a call from God, experienced in the depths of one’s heart, with that call coming to us through the ordinary persons and events that invite us to serve. A tap on the shoulder, an insight in the midst of prayer, a plea from a friend to help: ordinary circumstances often mediate an extraordinary call to stand on the edge of the stage.  Catechesis is also work – it requires not only effort but learning, not only outreach but disciplined prayer, not only celebration but self-giving.  Catechetical ministry is a response to the call within the leb, the center of the human being, to communicate with another. And that is work, hard work but holy work, revealing God to us, even as we hope to make a space for God to be heard through us.  (Page 4)

From: Horan, M. P. (November-December 2006) “Writing home about adult catechesis and the new catechism for adults…an exercise in praxis.” Catechetical Update, 17, U1-U8.

Careful study of the ancient catechumenate by scholars in the first half of the twentieth century had revealed some clear patterns about religious education that, prior to the Council, were not at the forefront in the minds or practices of its leaders.  It is not overstatement to claim that these practices revealed a different “culture” of welcoming and forming its members than the one known well by mid-twentieth century Catholic candidates (often called “converts” to Catholicism)… Many contemporary Catholic parishes have adopted the renewed catechumenate since 1972, and in the process of doing so, have reshaped the culture of sharing faith in parish life. The catechumenate has promoted the involvement of lay adults in many aspect of parish works and specific roles of service, including but not limited to welcoming the new members in sponsorship, intergrading the rites of initiation into the larger liturgical life of the parish, and affirming the need for ongoing catechesis for adults beyond their initiation.  In this sense, a “culture of catechesis” has been born, attentive to the lifelong nature of faith formation and the need to address the concerns of adults of varied stages of faith, circumstances and levels of readiness in the spiritual life. When the Vatican published the General Directory for Catechesis (in 1997), it made the claim that elements of the catechumenate function as the inspiration for post-baptismal catechesis of person of various ages, situations and stages of faith development.  (GDC, No. 91).  (Page U6)

Horan, M. P.(1999). Catechesis as an evangelizing moment: singular challenge to a maturing church. Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association.

A primer in evangelization, providing both theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between catechesis and evangelization.  This short text incudes pastoral implications as well as questions for discussion.

Horan, M. P.  (2005). Justice education as a school wide effort: effective religious education in the catholic school. Catholic Education: Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 9(2), 215-229.

This essay examines the place of justice education in Catholic schools.  Effective justice education responds to the developmental needs of the students, is reflective of the call for integrated justice education found in catechetical documents and integrates this education into the whole school community.

Horan, M. P.  (2008). Adolescent catechesis: an unfinished agenda. Momentum, 38(1), 48-52.

This is the last article in a series on adolescent catechesis sponsored by the Partnership for Adolescent Catechesis.  Horan summarizes the insights developed in the prior essays and proposes areas in need of further research and development.

Author Information

Jane Regan


Jane E. Regan is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry.  Her primary research, teaching and writing interests are in the area of adult faith formation.  She and Michael met on the first day of doctoral studies at The Catholic University of America and have been long distance colleagues ever since.