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Rosalia Walsh

By Lucinda A. Nolan


M. ROSALIA WALSH (1896-1982), a Sister of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, was a twentieth century Catholic religious educator dedicated to handing on the faith to children who were not able, for any number of reasons, to attend Catholic schools. The special needs of such children gave rise to the establishment of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among the many contributions Sister Rosalia made to Catholic religious education was the systematization of the Mission Helpers' catechetical methods and preparation of manuals and textbooks for the training of catechists. Sister Rosalia embraced the catechism as the content and core of catechetical teaching, but sought viable alternatives to the common pedagogical practices of rote memorization and text analysis. The method Sister Rosalia and other MHSH Sisters developed for use in preparing catechists to teach was known as The Adaptive Way.


The Walshes of Cumberland, Maryland, were a large Catholic family, dedicated to the service of the Church and the poor immigrants of like faith who came to settle in the area. William E. Walsh and Mary Concannon Walsh raised nine children. Josephine, born April 26, 1896, was the fifth of the Walsh children and one of four who would dedicate their lives to the Church. William Walsh was a devoted Catholic who led his family morning and night in prayer in front of images of the Crucifix, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Family. Josephine Walsh attended St. Patrick's Grade School and High School. She was very bright and, like her father to whom she was devoted, loved to read (Spellacy, 69-70).

William Walsh was President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society at St. Patrick's Church in Cumberland, Maryland. He was active in the work of addressing the needs of the poor. A lawyer by profession, he voluntarily traveled on weekends to minister to the needs of Italian, Polish and German immigrants and their families. Josephine was happy to accompany her father on such visits and, no doubt, those visits were instrumental in shaping her vocational dreams. William later expressed to the Mother Superior of his daughter's religious congregation that he would be most happy to see all nine of children enter religious life. Josephine would not need much in the way of persuasion. She loved the opportunities to teach the catechism to the children of the families they visited. Later recalling the influence of her family on her decision to enter religious life, Sister Rosalia wrote:

My vocation was certainly fostered by the example of my parents who were exemplary Catholics and noted especially for their charity toward the poor… My Father sometimes associated me with him in visiting the poor and the sick, and in catechetical work. From this, probably came my desire to enter a religious community devoted to work similar to that which my Father did as a Vincentian. I believe firmly that God called me to a congregation with these four characteristics:

1. The Sisters would visit people in their homes; 2. Teach religion to those not in Catholic schools; 3. There would be no lay Sisters, and 4. The Sisters would not visit their homes every year… The regularity did not appeal to me. (AMHSH, Personal Recollections, 3)

Josephine Walsh entered the Congregation of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart on January 5, 1916 at the age of nineteen. Her pedagogical gifts were soon recognized and she was given the opportunity to give lessons on the catechism. These lessons were written for children and then read to novices while Josephine, now Sister Mary Rosalia, was still a novice herself. Shortly after making her first vows, Rosalia was given her first mission to Staten Island, New York. Residing in New York City, she traveled on Sundays with a group of Mission Helpers to teach religion after teaching kindergarten and older children all week. Sister Rosalia recalled in writing the difficulty of starting a new mission and the lack of resources for their work. She remained involved with the Staten Island mission until 1923 (Sister Rosalia's personal notes, AMHSH).

The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart were concerned about furthering the education of their Sisters and in 1923 sent Sister Rosalia to attend the Fordham University School of Social Service. After completing one year of the two-year program, Rosalia developed a severe eye condition that threatened her ability to see. She was hospitalized and eventually lost all sight in one of her eyes. She never complained, though reading, one of the great joys of her life became troublesome. She was unable to complete the course of study, and returned to the Motherhouse in Towson, Maryland, where she turned her efforts toward teaching in the Novitiate. Shortly thereafter Rosalia was chosen to organize and direct the congregation's first Catechetical Department (Spellacy, 113). While the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart had long been involved in the catechesis of children (their efforts were recognized as early as 1895), Sister Mary Rosalia Walsh would lead them into the catechetical renewal movement and in the preparation of teachers to carry it forth in the early decades of the twentieth century (Spellacy, 71).

The post World War I period in United States history found immigrant Catholics for the most part assimilated into the U.S. culture. Having contributed heavily to the war effort, Catholics now focused their efforts on national organization to provide services for the growing numbers. The organization of catechetical ministry became the task of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), which had been formed out of the National Catholic Warfare Conference when the war ended. The 1920s saw the rise of national efforts to educate the vast numbers of Catholic children who were not attending Catholic schools. Archbishop Edwin O'Hara was instrumental in the formation of the Catholic Rural Life Bureau, a branch of Catholic Social Action of the NCWC, which introduced correspondence courses in catechesis and religious vacation schools. By the 1930s, Branches of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) began springing up all over the country and in 1935 the National Center of the CCD was formed as a bureau of the NCWC. Both the CCD and its National Center would impact the life and work of Sister Rosalia and the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in the coming decades (Spellacy, 77, 100ff.).

In 1930, Rosalia studied the latest teaching methods in religion at Loyola College in Baltimore and enrolled in a correspondence course with Father Leo McVey through the Catholic University of America. While short of earning a degree, Sister Rosalia became immersed in both the study of methods in religious education and in how best to train catechists to use them. While studying and teaching in the Motherhouse, Rosalia began to put into writing the method the Mission Helpers had been developing since their beginnings in the late years of the nineteenth century.

Child psychology and religion (1937) became the community's first published catechetical text and the first specifically designed for those involved in the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). It was a compilation of talks given by Sister Rosalia on catechetical method for the purpose of educating lay and religious catechists who would be working with non-Catholic school students. The text was later translated into Spanish (1941). Because few women were writing catechetical texts at the time, the publishers advised Sister Rosalia not list her name as author. Instead, she humbly chose to call herself "A Teacher of Those Who Teach Religion." The language of the text is easily understandable and the tone friendly and conversational. It is directed toward those who want to teach religion to the young but have no formal pedagogical training. It seeks to combine method and practice with some basic principles of educational and psychological theory. The topics include: prayer, apperception, catechesis in the home, the use of pictures and stories, class preparation and student motivation. The small volume of sixteen short lectures was well received and the name of the gifted author was soon well known in catechetical circles (Spellacy, 119).

1938 also found Sister Rosalia auditing courses at the Catholic University of America to learn about the most current methods being used in religious education. It was also at this time that she first became associated with the National Center of the CCD (founded in 1935) and was named chairperson of the Teacher's Division of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. "Rosalia's association with the Center would last over twenty years and impact the entire catechetical movement in the United States"(Spellacy, 121). Her work on revising the Center's The school year religious instruction manual was among the most notable of her many efforts on behalf of the Center.

In 1938, Rosalia wrote The correspondence course for lay catechists, a text written from her talks in the summer Catholic lecture series at Cliff Haven, New York. These were her first public lectures outside the order. The correspondence course was commonly used as a means of disseminating catechetical materials across the country, including the most rural of areas. Toward the end of that year and into the next, Sister Rosalia worked on rewriting the methods text of the Mission Helpers. The sisters also envisioned a graded text and Sister Rosalia readied two volumes, one for grades 1-4 and one for grades 5-8, for trial use. This was published as The adaptive way course of religious instruction for Catholic children attending public schools in 1941. Six years later this work was in use in forty-four U.S. States, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and fourteen foreign countries (Spellacy, 123). In the spring of 1944 a rewriting of the method text appeared as Teaching confraternity classes: The adaptive way was published. Shortly thereafter Rosalia was invited to assist in the work on a three-volume religion course by the Maryknolls (1943-1947). These were eventually published in 1947 under the title, The religion teacher and the world.

Sister Rosalia continued her untiring efforts in the field of catechetics throughout the decade of the 1950s. In the years between 1939 and 1959, Rosalia's writings were published by such distinguished journals as The Journal of Religious Instruction, The Catholic Educator and Lumen Vitae (Clement 2000, 61).

Rosalia taught summer methods courses at the Catholic University of American from 1947 to 1957 with such "well-known experts as Godfrey Diekman, Gerald Ellard, S.J., Aloysius Heeg, S.J., Rudolph Bandas, and Joseph Collins"(Spellacy, 180). From 1953 to 1961, she trained catechists through a mission at St. Paschal's Convent in New York. She continued to write and publish catechetical manuals including one for vacation religious school and a new version of The adaptive way in 1955. From 1957 to 1958 Rosalia conducted an advanced course in methods for training lay catechists at the request of Most Rev. Walter Curtis, Director of the CCD of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. Reorganization in 1948 and again in 1952 of the Catechetical Department of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart shifted Sister Rosalia's role from Directress, to Promoter, to overseer of correspondence on a few manuals. These changes gradually reduced Rosalia's "direct influence on the sisters and her contact with national leaders" (Spellacy, 149).

The 1950s brought increased pressure for teacher certification and most colleges and universities required its instructors to have a master's degree. In 1963, Rosalia completed work on a Master of Arts degree in theology at Fordham University. She was awarded the degree on February 1, 1964. Later that year, Sister Rosalia was reassigned to the Motherhouse in Towson, Maryland. In 1966 she completed a post-Vatican II revision of The adaptive way and celebrated her Golden Jubilee. Sister Mary Rosalia Walsh served as the Librarian of the Motherhouse and became involved in social justice groups, including the League of Women Voters. She spent her last years in the infirmary and died on January 21, 1982.

Sister Rosalia and the Mission Helpers had "their greatest influence on the catechetical field from 1948 to 1960" (Spellacy, 240). Today the Sisters are involved in other endeavors to help the poor, but no longer are involved in addressing or publishing catechetical materials. Sister Rosalia accomplished much in the field in spite of the many challenges she faced. "She influenced teachers, religious, clergy, parents and children for decades" (Spellacy, 247). Sister Rosalia worked with a humble heart for the glory of God and in unity with her community to develop and hand on better catechetical methods.

The Adaptive Way

Sister Rosalia's work with Catholic children attending public schools and those who would be their catechists occurred during a time of widespread dissatisfaction with catechetical practices both in Europe and in the United States. Methods of teaching the faith remained largely unchanged for four centuries, focused as they were on rote memorization of catechetical formulae written in the dry, abstract language of Scholastic philosophy. Catechetical journals and reviews in the early decades of the twentieth century reflected a common discontent among scholars with the teaching methods being employed and the inadequacy of the catechism as a textbook. The most commonly used catechetical method at the end of the nineteenth century was one of text explanation followed by memorization. The explanation of the text was analytical and exegetical and sought to help students understand the words and concepts of the questions and answers they were to commit to memory. The following instruction for catechists is descriptive of the aridity of this method:

In the explanation the catechist should keep exactly the wording of the catechism without adding other matter, for example, from other catechisms. The content of the prescribed catechism is in itself so rich that the catechist need not waste time searching for subject matter outside it…(The catechist) should divide the answer into its component parts, first by singling out the subject and the predicate of the sentence and their modifiers and then by stressing the relative clauses pertaining both to the subject and the predicate. (W. Pichler 1907, quoted in Jungmann 1959, 177)

While the aim of the lessons was still the memorization of the catechism-this method added a deductive explanation of the abstract doctrinal formulae of the catechism. Although it expressed the noble concern of helping the children understand what they were memorizing, this method was clearly not in tune with what Sister Rosalia and the Mission Helpers were discovering about how children best learn.

At the turn of the century in Europe, The Society of Catechists in Munich and Vienna looked to secular education and educational psychology for ways to revitalize catechetical method and provide students with deeper and more meaningful applications of faith to life. Catholic historian of religious education, Raymond A. Lucker, views this shift in catechetical aim as one moving from catechesis as information to catechesis as formation (1966). The method developed by these European catechetical societies, known as the Munich (or Psychological or Stieglitz) method "was popularized in the United States by students who studied under the successors of the originators of the plan" (Collins 1966, 20). Sister M. Rosalia Walsh's understanding of the Munich method was heavily influenced by her study of the work of German priests, Michael Gatterer, S.J. and Felix Krus, S.J., who together in 1914 wrote Theory and practice of the catechism. The text addressed the key question: "Shall we keep the catechism as it is, or shall we teach it by means of Bible History?"(Gatterer and Krus 1914, 103).

The Mission Helpers' method, the Adaptive Way, was a combination and adaptation of several methods. The "adaptation" in The adaptive way also referred to the Mission Helpers' understanding that "all teaching must be adapted to the nature and needs of the child, to the subject matter, and to the circumstances under which it is taught" (Walsh 1955, 57). Sister Rosalia and the Mission Helpers "adapted" the principles of the Munich Method and the twenty-seven catechetical principles of Gatterer and Krus (Theory and practice of the catechism, 1914) and combined them with other catechetical methods of the time (Shield's Method and Sulpician Method) to formulate the aptly named Adaptive Way (Spellacy, 130-131). The process of lesson planning adapted by Sister Rosalia was additionally based on the Five Step Teaching Procedure systematized by Henry C. Morrison.

The [MHSH] method began with story rather than catechetical memorization. Through presentation and explanation, doctrine was to be brought in from Scripture, Church history, and the lives of the saints. The catechism would come at the end of the lesson rather than the beginning. (Spellacy, 131b)

Sister Rosalia wrote extensively on the process of lesson design in the Adaptive Way. Every teaching manual included a section on developing the lesson plan for the public-school children in Confraternity classes. While the catechism supplied the content, and was gradually memorized over the years, the method stressed that children first be helped to understand the material since "learning presupposed far more than memory work" (Walsh 1944, 40).

The process should begin with the identification of both teacher and student aims. For Sister Rosalia, these aims must be clear in the catechist's mind to insure the focus and clarity of all the elements of the lesson. Doctrinal content for each lesson is provided in the graded course text that every catechist using the method would have. Also in the early stages of planning the catechist should locate visual aids and materials for the class and prepare a list of the words the children will need to know in order to understand the doctrine being taught. These vocabulary words might be put on flashcards or written on a black board. The catechist might use charts, pictures, story, or discussion to familiarize the children with the vocabulary for the lesson.

The five steps of the lesson plan as explained by Sister Rosalia in Teaching religion the adaptive way (1966) are: (1) Orientation; (2) Presentation; (3) Assimilation; (4) Organization and (5) Recitation (Walsh 1943, 677ff.). A brief description of what is entailed in each step follows.


The first step of the lesson did not involve teaching. The orientation was to help the child to recall knowledge that he (or she) already had on the topic for the day. The educational principle involved in this stage is apperception, "the act or process of adding a new idea or series of ideas to an old one" (Walsh 1937, 22). The linking of the new idea to one already known by the child helped the new information to be retained and assimilated. In this stage the teacher established the necessary connection between the religious concept to be learned and the child's experience.

Techniques that enhanced the orientation process included, pre-testing, discussion, and use of images, words or symbols that may stimulate recall and recognition for association of past experiences or previously learned related doctrines with the new idea. Walsh believed this stage to be of critical importance in motivating the student for learning and grasping his or her full attention. This part of the lesson ended with an evocative question that would stimulate the student's interest in the lesson for the day (Walsh 1966, 321-322).


The presentation constituted the most important part of the lesson. All elements of good pedagogy applied to the teaching of the main idea, doctrine, scripture passage, etc. The presentation may also occur within the context of liturgy or Christian witness. The purpose of the presentation was "to teach some aspect of the Mystery of Christ in ways that will engage the whole child in the desired response"(Walsh 1966, 323).

The four sources of catechesis, Scripture, Liturgy, Doctrine and Witness provided the content for the topical focus of the presentation. The catechist considered what was essential and appropriate for student learning in the doctrinal subject matter. The "means" of transmitting the content might vary from catechist to catechist. Many teaching manuals supplied the appropriate subject, methods and teaching aids for each lesson. Sister Walsh promoted the use of a variety of techniques to stimulate student interest in the presentation including the use of "story, filmstrip, discussion, song, drama, pictures and others" (1966, 323).

In this part of the lesson, Walsh stressed participation especially to stimulate students who are likely to be tired in religion class after a full day in public school. She also maintained the importance of the use of story and visual image in capturing the children's religious imaginations. Proof, or apologetic defense of doctrinal materials may be included with older children. Walsh had the sensitivity and experience to acknowledge that many questions about a particular doctrinal teaching are attempts to understand the teaching more fully, not necessarily to challenge it. A confident catechist will not be ruffled by the children's questions.

One of the most important parts of the presentation was its application. The teacher assisted the child in drawing out implications of the presentation for life when this did not occur naturally. The application of the lesson may come spontaneously from the children without any prompting, it may be drawn out by the catechist with questions or it may be simply and directly taught. Whatever method was employed, the catechist was to strive to help the students see the value of the teaching for Christian living. Walsh wrote:

The effectiveness of our presentation of Religion to the child depends on the degree to which, with the grace of God, we succeed in making Religion the paramount value in his (her) life, that which he (she) appreciates and loves beyond all other desirable things, and therefore lives. (1943, 779)

The value of the presentation for the pupil was its ability to stimulate growth in knowledge, to aid in appreciation of revealed doctrine, and to motivate for Christian witness (1966, 323).

Assimilation Exercises

The third step involves activities that help the pupil to more deeply comprehend the meanings of the presentation. This stage also provides some information for the catechist concerning how effective his or her teaching was in effecting student learning and comprehension.

Further questioning, working with the text or having students fill out worksheets aided the assimilation process. Such activities were oral or written and provided opportunities for exercises "in which the child judges, chooses, arranges, answers questions, gives reasons and motives, matches, identifies, associates, completes-in other words, thinks about and works over the content of the presentation" (Walsh 1943, 780).

Many catechisms of the day, including Baltimore catechism number one (revised edition) and Number two with study lessons by Ellamay Horan, included exercises for student assimilation at the end of each lesson. This stage helped the student's transition into the catechetical text to be memorized and assisted them in becoming familiar with the structure and vocabulary of the text. Often the assimilation exercise extended into some form of home study assignment.


The fourth step in the lesson may be understood best as re-organization of the material after it had been broken down, back into the original whole of the presentation. Ideas from the presentation were ordered by the class as a whole or by individual students on their own. When time was limited, as it often was for public school children in a parish religion class, this step may have been omitted. It was not generally recommended for younger elementary school children.

The value of organization is that it allowed for student expression of independent thought and fostered logical, ordered thinking. The means of achieving this included written or oral summaries by the students, arrangement of flashcards or key sentences and analysis of the scripture or liturgical ritual (Walsh 1966, 324-325).


The fifth and final step of the lesson actually occurred at the start of the next religion class. It was the time when "the class gives back to the catechist the material she (he) presented, and answers the catechism questions in which the doctrine is summarized" (Walsh 1943, 784). The catechist could check the accuracy of the children's learning and evaluate the home study process. When the recitation was faulty, the catechist would provide remedial help. Where recitation was satisfactory, the catechist gave approval and recognized the achievements of the pupils. Sister Rosalia taught catechists:

In Religion class it is extremely important that the pupil should want to answer well. When a spirit of achievement and success is built up in class, it helps to solve the problems of interest and attention, and the greater problem of study at home. One way to build it is to encourage. (Walsh 1943, 785)

Contributions to Christian Education

From her earliest experiences of catechizing immigrant children alongside her father to the time of her illness and death, Sister Rosalia was tireless in her efforts to promote catechetical advancement. In a field not readily open to women leaders, she quietly pioneered without calling undue attention to herself. While most of those with whom she taught held graduate or doctoral degrees, Sister Rosalia saw to updating her own education sporadically, as time, finances and responsibilities to her community allowed. At the end of her career she earned a master's degree in theology which included as part of the required credits her long list of previous scholarly activities.

While far from exhaustive, it is possible to identify several major contributions made by Sister Rosalia Walsh to Christian education. She entered the field at the time the catechetical renewal movement was occurring in the U.S. and therefore is a rich study for students of American Catholic catechetical history. Because she incorporated principles of progressive education and insights from educational and developmental psychology, many of her methods of teaching and planning still have a timely ring.

1. The family is the primary center of religious education. Her own upbringing deeply instilled this notion into the heart of Rosalia's pedagogy. The ideal Catholic home exuded a catechetical atmosphere, where a "practical Catholic mother and father" had "received the Sacrament of Matrimony with all the graces this gives for living together in peace and union" (Walsh 1937, 29). This sacrament instills the duty of instructing the children in the faith and morals which should begin very early on in the life of the child. Conversation, prayer and patient addressing of the child's questions help the parent form the child's faith. For Rosalia, religion must be correlated with Christian living and therefore the child's primary environment for socialization is the home. When this ideal home life is coupled with the attendance of the child at a parochial school, "the child has a splendid beginning for a life of practical Catholicity" (Walsh 1937, 35).

Not all families offered this ideal catechizing environment. Sister Rosalia believed in home visitations to assist the catechist in understanding the situation of the children whom she or he taught and allowed for the education of the parents in matters such as their responsibility to bring their children to Mass and to catechetical classes regularly. The teaching of the catechist, according to Sister Walsh, was secondary to that of the parents and the parish priest. She wrote:

Our teaching is classified differently. We are to supplement what the parents give in the home. It is we who should co-operate with the home, even while we seek actively to win the home to co-operate with us, and where right order reigns, where parents are fulfilling their God-given duty of teaching their children to know, love and serve God, this is done. (1952, 174)

The goal of such "fishing" (home visitors were called "Fishers") was to create mutuality between the parents and the religion teacher so that the children would register yearly and attend regularly. Appreciating the work of each other went a long way to foster the spirit of co-operation between parent and catechist. Sister Rosalia proposed the formation of Confraternity Parent-Teacher Associations, similar to the PTAs of public schools. These associations not only benefited the religion center by supplying parent support for classes, field trips, and libraries, but also afforded the parents opportunities to learn how to better teach their children religion and assist with their lessons in the home. In some cases, as Sister Rosalia well understood, the "work of giving effective instruction to the children includes what we may call the spiritual rehabilitation of the home" (Walsh 1946b, 508).

2. Catholic pupils of public schools require a special approach. Rosalia clearly understood the missionary quality of religious education with those Catholic children who, for a myriad of reasons, are outside the parish and/or the parish school community. She was sensitive to the causes among which were (1) there was no parish school at all or it was overcrowded; (2) the parents' marriage was mixed, and the Catholic parent conceded the idea of Catholic school for the children; (3) indifference to religion; (4) lack of transportation to the parochial school; (5) poverty. She knew well the large numbers of children for whom Catholic education was not a possibility.

Sympathetic to their needs, and experienced from her childhood visitations with her father to the children of immigrants, Rosalia decided early on that her vocation was to teach these children who, in the eyes of many, were so deprived. She described them as children who are children of the Church, members of the parish, called to be saints even as their more favored brothers and sisters of the parochial school, but faced with more obstacles in striving for that blessed consummation…Each has a right to know the truths of religion that form a complete whole and make it possible to live as a child of God and member of the Church. (Walsh 1951a, 475)

If the catechist is to adapt the lessons to the situation of the learners, he or she must be familiar with the home environment, but not only that. The catechist must have a great sensitivity to the unique needs of the public school student and a great love for what he or she is doing. The students should be placed in a graded class, the same as the grade in public school, regardless of the amount of previous instruction or number of sacraments received.

Additionally, religion classes for the public school student should not be a synthesis of the parish school classes. Careful consideration of the environment, the length and days of class time, late comers, sporadic attendance are all special considerations that need to be made for students who are coming from long hours in the public school classroom. Often, the CCD classes were not given the quality and quantity of supplies that the parish school classes received. Sister Walsh, while never failing to uphold the supremacy of the Catholic school, took exception to such practices:

Effective religious education of the Catholic child of public school is a missionary work that helps to preserve, to build, or to revivify Catholic family life and parish life; it is a task that challenges the best that is in us, and should be given only the best. (Walsh 1946b, 153)

3. Sister Rosalia was a major proponent of the Munich Method in the United States catechetical renewal movement. "Such writers as J.J. Baierl, Rudolph G. Bandas, Joseph B. Collins S.S., Aloysius J. Heeg S.J., Anthony N. Fuerst and Sister M. Rosalia M.H.S.H. were among the leaders to make the Munich method intelligible to American readers" (Lucker and Stone, 243 in Hofinger and Stone, 1964). The radical shift in catechetical method in the United States during the early years of the twentieth century from memorization and text analysis of the catechism to the Munich method had its origins in Europe, specifically Munich and Vienna, and was grounded in the principles of the educational psychology of Johann Herbart (1778-1841).

"The Adaptive Way," as Sister Rosalia's method was called, was based largely, but not solely, on the Munich Method. Sister Rosalia systematized her method for the catechetical instruction of Catholic children not attending parochial schools and wrote manuals so that catechists might be trained to use it (Nolan 2006, 1-2).

The lessons plans and teacher's manuals prepared by Sister Rosalia and the Mission Helpers largely reflect the strong influence of the Munich Method. Based on the educational psychology of Johann Herbart, the steps for lesson preparation (presentation, explanation and application) paralleled the steps of learning (perception, understanding and assimilation). The Munich Method did not intend to radically alter the content of the catechetical lesson. But the psychological method opened the door for a more suitable way of addressing Church doctrine with children, and in doing so, by giving the Bible story the place of primacy, actually did begin to reshape the landscape of the catechetical content.

The hallmark of Sister Rosalia's catechetical manuals and lesson plans was their organization around a central theme. The graded courses were concentric in content, meaning that all major doctrines were addressed each year with increasing development according to the level of understanding of the learners (Walsh 1956b, 92). As the students progressed, the doctrine was treated in more detail and scripture and history were added for the older students. The lessons were based on the principle of apperception (proceeding from the known to the unknown) and on the concept that all knowledge comes to the learner through the senses.

In later years the Munich Method would be criticized for its lack of student participation and its teacher centeredness. It began with a Bible story rather than the actual experience of the child. It failed to note the limitations of the catechism in passing on the entirety and fullness of the kerygma, the Good News proclaimed. However, over the years the revision of Sister Rosalia's texts on the Adaptive Way showed a developmental increase in her reliance on Scripture. Ultimately, the method consistently relied most heavily on the teaching experiences of the Mission Helpers.

4. The importance of the proper preparation of teachers. For Sister Rosalia, the first step in preparing children for what she called "complete Catholicity," was to prepare oneself to teach religion. To this end she set her life's work. Her professional life was lived out in the era of development of standardization and certification requirements for teachers of religion. Sister Rosalia, early in her career, saw the wisdom and necessity of training lay catechists. She began the work of training catechists as a novitiate and never ceased. Her personal sense of vocation and love of God seemed to energize her work. Hers was a natural gift, a special calling that preceded any special training which she always responsibly sought for herself. She wondered if the Church could afford to neglect any opportunities to train the catechist who is a brave person indeed-or should we say presumptuous?-who is willing to engage in a work in which right orientation of life in this world and the issue of eternity are always influenced and often decided. (Walsh 1951a, 476)

Regular class attendance, a high level of student learning, and drawing out of appropriate responses from the children all depend on a well-trained catechist. For Rosalia, there was no more important work. In an inspiring talk she said:

It is excellent to be a catechist; one may hope in the course of the years to teach religion to hundreds of children. What of training as a leader who will in turn train catechists? One such leader may train fifty or a hundred catechists within a year. These will teach thousands of children. Hundreds of thousands wait. (1951a, 476)

Each manual written by Rosalia expresses the care she would have her catechists put into preparing to teach. Though the manuals contained complete lesson plans, they also expressed the need for catechists to do background reading and to write out their own plans each week, "Careful preparation enables them to teach with strength, simplicity and clear cut accuracy" (Walsh 1951b, 119).

In 1956, Rosalia recommended to the National Catechetical Congress that two thirty-hour courses, one in content (the Revised Baltimore Catechism No. 3) and the other in method, be offered as a standard course of study for advanced preparation of lay catechists. "You ask a great deal of the catechists," a priest said to me, and the answer was, "We would rather have a few well trained, than a larger number inadequately prepared" (Walsh 1956a, 114).


Sister M. Rosalia was a leader in the field of catechetics which was, in her day, largely dominated by men. Yet she was also a humble soul, dedicated to her calling and to her community. She exercised humility and obedience to her community and vows throughout her long life. She asked nothing of others that she would not ask of herself. There was no group too small to whom she would not go to share her experiences of teaching and learning. She sought no personal credit for the endeavors she lead on behalf of her community. She lost no opportunity to make explicit the role of her community in the development of The Adaptive Way. Her individual image as model catechist was always kept within the context of the communal work of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

Sister Mary Rosalia Walsh of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart will be remembered for her many contributions to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in both the training of catechists and the writing of catechetical materials that ultimately fostered the missionary spirit and compassionate dedication of for so many Catholic children who did not attend Catholic schools.

Works Cited

  • AMHSH, The Archives of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, Towson, MD.
  • Clement, Carol Dorr. (2000, Winter). Catholic foremothers in American catechesis. The Living Light 37, 2, 55-68.
  • Gatterer, M., S.J. & F. Krus, S.J. Trans. J.B. Culemans. (1924, 1914). Theory and practice of the catechism. New York: Frederick Pustet Co., Inc.
  • Jungmann, Joseph A. (1959). Handing on the faith: A manual of catechetics. West Germany: Herder and Herder.
  • Lucker, Raymond. (1966). The aims of religious education in the early church and in the American catechetical movement. Rome: Catholic Book Agency.
  • Nolan, Lucinda A. (2006, November). Scaling the heights of heaven. In Proceedings of REA/APPRRE, Atlanta, GA.
  • Spellacy, Marie Elizabeth. (1984). The evolution of the catechetical ministry among the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart: 1890-1980, a case study. Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America.
  • Walsh, Sister M. Rosalia. (1937). Child psychology and religion. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons Publishers.
  • (1943, May, June). The lesson plan in the adaptive way. 674-680, and 775-785. Journal of Religious Instruction, 13.
  • (1944). Teaching Confraternity classes the adaptive way. Chicago: Loyola University Press.
  • (1946a). A Confraternity parent-teacher association. In Proceedings of the Eighth National Catechetical Congress, 505-508. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1946.
  • (1946b). An approach to the public school child. In Proceedings of the Eighth National Catechetical Congress, 149-153. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1951a, May). Training for leadership. The Catholic Educator 21, 475-477.
  • (1951b). Use of Confraternity teacher manuals in the Confraternity religion school in Proceedings of the Ninth National Catechetical Congress, 115-120. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1952, July). Cooperation between Confraternity classes and the home. Catholic School Journal 52, 174-175.
  • (1956a). Advanced and continued preparation and a standard course of study in Proceedings of the Tenth National Catechetical Congress 110-114. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1956b). School year instruction. The Confraternity Comes of Age, 85-97. Paterson, NJ: Confraternity Publications.



  • Archives of the Catholic University of America
  • Archives of the Josephite Fathers
  • Archives of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart (Towson, Maryland)
  • Archives of the National Center of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine


  • (1937). Child psychology and religion. (Author listed as A Teacher of Those Who Teach Religion). New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons.
  • (1938). Correspondence course for catechists, the adaptive way. New York: Archdiocese of New York, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
  • (1944). Teaching Confraternity classes. Chicago: Loyola University Press.
  • (1945-47). The religion teacher and the world. (In collaboration with John J. Considine, M.M. and Sr. M. Juliane Bedier, M.M.). New York: Bruce.
  • (1948). Hidden fields. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press.
  • (1949-53). A Confraternity school year religion course: the adaptive way. Washington, DC: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1951, 1955, 1964). The adaptive way of teaching confraternity classes. St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild.
  • (1953-54). Religious vacation school manual. (3 Vols.). Washington DC: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1956). School year religious instruction. The Confraternity comes of age, 85-97. Paterson, NJ: Confraternity Publications.
  • (1966). Teaching religion the adaptive way. (Post Vatican II Edition). St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild.


  • (1939, February, March, April). The differences that characterize the teaching of public school pupils and Catholic parochial school pupils. Journal of Religious Instruction, 9, 481-99, 585-600, 67-76.
  • (1942, June). Avenues which lead to God. Our Children, 9, 5-7.
  • (1943, May and June). The lesson plan in the adaptive way. Journal of Religious Instruction, 13, 674-80 and 775-85.
  • (1947). Teaching religion as a bond of world unity. Lumen Vitae, 2, 265-78.
  • (1948, April). Daily program of the RVS. The Catholic Educator, 18, 403-06.
  • (1950, November, December). Developing Catholic attitudes through teaching religion. The Catholic Educator, 168-71, 214-17.
  • (1951, May). Training for leadership. The Catholic Educator, 21, 475-77.
  • (1952, July). Co-operation between Confraternity classes and the home. Catholic School Journal, 52, 174-75.
  • (1952). Gleanings of the mid-century survey: ninth national congress of the CCD. Lumen Vitae, 7, 119.
  • (1954, June). Teaching religion in junior grades. OECTA News (The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association), 9, 4-8.
  • (1959, May). Fostering religious vocations in the grades. The Catholic Educator, 652-55.

Published Proceedings

  • (1938). Methods of teaching the Mass to Catholic public school pupils of the elementary grades. Proceedings of the Fourth National Catechetical Congress, 129-39. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1939). Lay teacher institutes conducted by sisters. Proceedings of the Fifth National Catechetical Congress, 81-90. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1941). The teaching value of the religion project in vacation schools. Proceedings of the Seventh National Catechetical Congress, 164-70. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1946). An approach to the public school child. Proceedings of the Eighth National Catechetical Congress, 149-53. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1946). A Confraternity parent-teacher association. Proceedings of the Eighth National Catechetical Congress, 505-08. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1951). Use of Confraternity teacher manuals in the Confraternity religion school. Proceedings of the Ninth National Catechetical Congress, 115-20. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.
  • (1956). Advanced and continued preparation and a standard course of study. Proceedings of the Tenth National Catechetical Congress, 110-15. Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press.


  • Spellacy, Marie Elizabeth. (1984). The evolution of the catechetical ministry among the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart: 1890-1980, a case study. Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America.

Selected General References on Catechetical Methodology

  • Acerbo nimis. Pius X. (1904-1905). On the teaching of Christian doctrine. Washington, D.C. NCWC, 1946, p. 19. Original text, AAS XXXVII, 634.
  • Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. (1941). De Catechizandis rudibus, The first catechetical instruction, translated by Joseph P. Christopher. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press.
  • Baierl, Joseph J., Rudolph G. Bandas, and Joseph Collins. (1938). Religious instruction and education. NY: Joseph P. Wagner, Inc.
  • (1948). The creed explained, 6th edition. St. Paul, MN: The Catechetical Guild.
  • Bandas, Rudolph G. (1929). Catechetical methods: Standard methods of teaching religion for use in seminaries, novitiates, normal schools, and by all teachers of religion. New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.
  • (1935). Religion teaching and practice. New York, NY: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.
  • (1957). Catechetical and Confraternity methods. Saint Paul, MN: North Central Publishing Company.
  • (1957). Contents and methods of catechization. Saint Paul, MN: North Central Publishing Company.
  • Carmody, Rev. Charles J. (1975). The Roman Catholic catechesis in the United States, 1784-1930: A study of its theory, development and materials. Ph.D. diss., Loyola University of Chicago.
  • Collins, Joseph B., S.S. (1953). Teaching religion: An introduction to catechetics. Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company.
  • (1957). Catechetical and Confraternity methods. Saint Paul, MN: North Central Publishing Company.
  • (1966). CCD methods in modern catechetics. Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company.
  • Hofinger, Johannes, S.J. and Theodore C. Stone, eds. (1964). Pastoral catechetics. New York: Herder and Herder.
  • Lucker, Raymond and Theodore C. (1964). Formation and training of lay catechists. In Johannes Hofinger and Theodore C. Stone, 1964. Pastoral catechetics. New York: Herder and Herder.
  • Marthaler, Berard. L. (1973). Catechesis in context. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor.
  • (1995). The Catechism yesterday and today: The evolution of a genre. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
  • McMahon, John T. (1928). Some methods of teaching religion. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, LTD.
  • Spellacy, Marie Elizabeth. (1984). The evolution of the catechetical ministry among the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart: 1890-1980, a case study. Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America.
  • USCCB. (2005). National directory for catechesis. Washington, DC: USCCB.

Excerpts from Publications

(1937) Child psychology and religion. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, Publishers.

In my personal contact with groups of lay Catechists (high school students, young men and women in business, mothers busy with their families yet anxious to help other children too, and public school teachers with a spirit of genuine self sacrifice, I have noticed two things: a beautiful spirit and great eagerness to learn (viii).

Religion should be presented to the child in such a way that will arouse curiosity, an appetite for more. This demands that what is taught be suited to the child's mental capacity, presented interestingly, and with assurance by the Catechist, who shows (to her pupils at least) complete mastery of the subject and ability to answer any questions that may be asked (68).

Long years ago the Divine Teacher of Galilee set is this example in all the ways I should like to see you imitate. He adapted His teaching to the capacity of His hearers; He used apperceptive approaches familiar to the particular group before Him, and He turned everything to account in presenting and explaining His doctrine (77).

(1944) Teaching Confraternity classes the adaptive way. Chicago: Loyola University Press.

The wrong way to use the catechism is to assign, without presentation, a certain number of questions to be studies and then "hear" that lesson…Here is the correct use of the catechism by the catechist: The catechism provides a secure foundation on which the catechist builds the presentation by means of which doctrine is made concrete and vital, and the child is led through understanding and appreciation to live what he [she] learns. This requires that the catechist explain the doctrine, apply it, make the proper appeal to the child's emotions, and set before him [her] those natural and supernatural motives that move heart and will (41).

(1947) Teaching religion as a bond of world unity. Lumen Vitae 2, 265-278.

We have spoken of methods of teaching, emphasis of the great germinal truths, selection of content, points of view in presenting, and relationship of doctrine, of the leisurely teaching required for true growth in religion, and of the absolute necessity of teaching our boys and girls that they have personal responsibility and a world mission. We have spoken of teaching them to really know Jesus Christ and through love to make Him their Model. If they do this latter they will necessarily act and action is what is needed today. . Only those who live according to the principles of Christ are apostles, apostles from whom radiate the peace of Christ and the strength that goes with it. World unity cannot come otherwise (275-277).

(1955) The adaptive way of teaching Confraternity classes. St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild Educational Society.

Teacher-pupil relationships are important. The greatest single factor in maintaining discipline is the catechist herself [himself]. Reverence for the child, sympathetic understanding of each child's particular situation and needs, help to establish and maintain an atmosphere of security and confidence. Second to this is the catechist's mastery of what she [he] plans to teach, embodied in a well-prepared lesson plan presented vividly and with authority (40).

Sister M. Rosalia Walsh. (1937). Child psychology and religion. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons Publishers.

This text represents the foundational work and educational theory upon which the Adaptive Way was built. The principles of educational and developmental psychology, so commonly understood by teachers today, is presented in their newness with the clarity and deep insight that only years of experience in teaching children can bring.

Sister M. Rosalia Walsh. (1966). Teaching religion the adaptive way. (Post Vatican II Edition). St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild.

This is the culminating edition of Walsh's classic teaching manual for catechists of Catholic children who attend public schools. It is comprehensive in scope and meticulous in detail. The Post Vatican II edition reflects development in the Adaptive Way methodology, especially in its broader inclusion of the use of scripture.

Author Information

Lucinda A. Nolan

Lucinda A. Nolan is retired Assistant Professor of Religious Education and Catechetics at The Catholic University of America. She earned the Ph.D. in Religion and Religious Education from Fordham University in New York. Dr. Nolan has published numerous articles and is co-editor of Educators in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (2009). She has taught courses in theology, religious education, faith formation and catechetics at Lewis University, Santa Clara University, St. Elizabeth’s College, Sacred Heart University and Dominican University of California.