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Thomas Zanzig

By Wendy Scherbart


Thomas Zanzig (1946) has worked for over forty years as a leader in Roman Catholic religious education and related catechetical ministries. He is recognized internationally as a leader in youth ministry and adolescent religious education. At this writing, he is focusing his creative energies on adult spirituality and faith formation.

After spending nearly ten years as a Director of Religious Education in or near Appleton, WI, Zanzig moved to Winona, MN where he worked for 25 years as a writer, editor, and consultant in adolescent religious education for Saint Mary’s Press. He has authored or served as managing editor of a variety of highly popular religious education materials for use with junior and senior high school youth: textbooks on Christology and Catholic identity used widely in Catholic high schools throughout the United States and Canada; two senior high parish religion curriculums; a junior high parish religion curriculum; and a high school confirmation preparation program.  

As noted, in recent years Zanzig has focused on the development of resources and services in the areas of adult spirituality and adult faith formation. That work includes the development of a unique model for understanding the dynamics of spiritual transformation. For more than three decades he has been a popular workshop and convention presenter and retreat director throughout the United States and Canada. He has also directed conferences on adolescent religious education, youth ministry, and spirituality in Germany, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore.



Note: The following biography is compiled and directly quotes from two primary sources: from volume two of a history of Saint Mary’s Press by Jerry Windley-Daoust titled, Touching the Hearts of Teens: Saint Mary’s Press, 1943-2001 (2009, Saint Mary’s Press, Winona, MN); and from a curriculum vitae posted on Zanzig’s website, Permission to use this material has been granted.

Thomas Zanzig was born on July 26, 1946 and raised in Appleton, WI.  He was the sixth child in a family of seven. His father was a non-practicing Lutheran, but his mother was a devout Catholic who saw to it that the children attended Catholic schools. He was educated in Catholic schools from grade school through university.  As a sophomore at Appleton’s Xavier High School, he was warned that he could be expelled due to drinking and partying.  One of his teachers at that time, Brother Lawrence (later known as William McDonald) suggested he join a group called Young Christian Students (YCS).  Zanzig’s participation in that group, together with a silent class retreat he made at the end of his senior year, sparked an “amazing transformation” in him.  By the time graduation neared, he had decided to join the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the religious order who taught at his school.  

Zanzig only stayed for a few months at the Brother’s novitiate in Winona, Minnesota in 1964.  But during that brief time he confronted and began to overcome a speech impediment that had started in eighth grade and caused severe panic attacks whenever he was asked to read or speak in class.  As he left the novitiate, he vowed to never again avoid public speaking out of fear. Shortly after Zanzig returned home to Appleton, a priest friend asked him to give a witness talk at a then new kind of experiential youth retreat. “I found myself giving a talk about Jesus,” Zanzig recalled, “and there was thunderous applause at the end. That was the start of my working with kids.” 

Zanzig attended state universities in Wisconsin for two years. During that time he also participated in a Cursillo, an intense retreat experience for adult Catholics. He was then invited to become a member of teams of men who helped lead that experience for others. During one of those events he met and became friends with a successful businessman who was an alumnus of Marquette University in Milwaukee. The friend offered to help finance Tom’s attendance at Marquette, and in 1969 he graduated from there with a degree in theology and sociology.

After graduation, Tom took a job as a Director of Religious Education at Holy Name Parish in Kimberly, WI.  While in that role, he met Richard Reichert and several other leaders in the local religious education scene. “They were working on a new way of doing religious education,” Zanzig says, “and they asked me to be part of the development team.”

The Director of Religious Education in the Green Bay Diocese, Fr. David Kasperek, initiated the project and formed a development committee to address the chaotic state of religious in the immediate postconciliar years.  Six to eight people formed the committee’s core, meeting for several days at a time over several years. The group’s goal was to synthesize the latest research in the fields of developmental psychology and epistemology with recent developments in Catholic theology. Zanzig says he mostly listened during the long discussions, learning much more about education and ministry than he had during his formal theology classes.

The new approach to religious education created by the project team came to be known as the Green Bay Plan, and it would eventually serve as one of the foundational elements of the materials developed by Saint Mary’s College Press.  “The Green Bay Plan was really a curriculum guide for preschool through adult education,” Zanzig says, “and the attempt was to integrate all [the research] so that we were teaching the right stuff at the right time in the right way.  We constantly asked, What theology is appropriate to teach kids at this age and using what methodology?” The final plan, summarized on a huge chart and described in several mimeographed books, was eventually disseminated internationally. 

In 1971 Richard Reichert was asked to join the staff of the Green Bay Diocese to help complete work on the Green Bay Plan. He encouraged Zanzig to apply for the position Reichert had held as Executive Director of of the Appleton Catholic Education Council (ACEC), a consortium of five parishes who joined to improve the religious education of Catholic public high school youth in their parishes. Zanzig resisted applying for the job, feeling his limited background and experience didn’t adequately prepare him for it. But with Reichert’t encouragement, he applied for the job, got it, and moved back to Appleton.

[Editor note: You may want at some point in this discussion to include a link to the profile of Reichert on your website.]

In his new position, Zanzig began using the Green Bay Plan to develop lesson plans for and train the volunteer catechists he now supervised. The experiential learning strategies he employed in the lesson plans proved to be hugely effective with young people. Zanzig then added overnight and weekend retreats to the program, and after a slow beginning they attracted more and more young people. Participation further increased when the Green Bay Diocese made it a policy to confirm high school youth, and Zanzig was responsible for their sacramental preparation. Within a few years, the ACEC programs were attracting up to 700 young people from 9th through 12th grades.

It was at this time that Saint Mary’s College Press (the college reference would later be dropped) and Zanzig first connected. The Press or SMP, as many abbreviated it, was owned by the Lasallian Christian Brothers (more formally, the Brothers of the Christian Schools), and the company’s primary mission was and remains to enhance the religious and spiritual formation of Catholic youth. At that time, the Press published a professional journal called PACE, for Professional Approaches to Christian Education. A subscriber of the journal contacted its editor suggesting that they invite Zanzig to write an article on the program he had developed. In 1975, the editor of PACE invited Zanzig to write a two-part article titled, “The ACEC Experiment.”  That article was the beginning of what would become a meteoric career for Zanzig at Saint Mary’s College Press.

After he described his experience in PACE, the president and managing editor of the Press visited Zanzig in Appleton and encouraged him to develop his lesson plans into a manuscript for possible publication. Again somewhat reluctantly, Zanzig agreed to try. While still working in Appleton, he wrote up the material for the 9th and 10th grade levels; the remaining materials would be completed later. The result was a series of teaching manuals for volunteer catechists called Sharing the Christian Message, then abbreviated as “the Sharing Program.”

As noted, the Sharing Program was published over several years, beginning in 1976 with the ninth-grade manual. By 1980 the Sharing program would lead the Press’s best-seller list and was being used by some seven thousand parishes across the country. More significantly, it began to establish the Press as a leader in parish religious education; participants at the 1981 Los Angeles Religious Education Conference gushed over the program, as Brother Damian, the President of Saint Mary’s College Press, reported in a company memo:

“Worth noting also is the overwhelming unanimity among professionals, publishers, and people working in parishes of their opinion that Tom Zanzig‘s Sharing program is the best catechetical material for youth in the parish setting. The manuals rely heavily on the active learning approach. A number of people also use the program in high school settings. More important, [Tom] introduced religious educators to a new way of handing on the faith, effectively transforming adolescent religious education in the United States as much as Brother John Joseph [an earlier education pioneer in the Christian Brother’s history] had. It is no wonder that he was frequently mobbed by adoring fans at religious education conferences.”  Windley-Daoust, Jerry (2009) Touching the Hearts of Teens: Saint Mary’s Press, 1943-2001. Winona, MN, p.56.

The program succeeded for the simple reason that it met the needs of parish directors of religious education. John Vitek, who would one day succeed Brother Damian as president of SMP,  used the Sharing program during his five year tenure as a youth minister for a suburban Minneapolis parish.  “It was a program that brought issues to young people together with sound theological reflection.”  Zanzig explains, “There was this critical mass of people who knew what we had been doing wasn’t working but didn’t know what was needed. The Green Bay Plan was the theoretical answer to all that questioning. When the Press started to provide materials that were really well grounded in good psychology and good educational theory, that’s when sales really started to take off.” 

Zanzig thinks that his lack of formal training freed him to accomplish what he did. “I’m pretty convinced that it was because I didn’t know what I was doing that I could come up with something new and fresh,” he says. “The only way I could learn it was working with kids and having to come up with stuff.”  The Sharing Program was revised in the mid-80s and later replaced by the Horizons Program.

In 1978 Tom, exhausted and financially strapped, decided to resign his position with the Appleton Catholic Education Council.  He had married in 1968 and was the father of two young children. He came to the conclusion that he couldn’t maintain the workload and the income that came with the job as it had evolved and be the kind of family man and provider he wanted to be. He sent a copy of his letter of resignation to the Press so that people there would hear the news from him rather than from a third party.  He promised to finish his work on the Sharing program in spite of his resignation from ACEC and, presumably, his departure from religious education as a career path.

The news of Zanzig’s resignation intrigued Brother Damian and other SMP staff, who didn’t waste any time contacting him about the possibility of working at the Press.  Sister Maureen Murray, then managing editor, had seen him work “very, very hard” on the Sharing program, trying to get it just right.  He impressed her as “very alive and very excited about developing things.”  She thought he would be a good fit with Steve Nagel, the development editor, who also had a lot of energy and vision. Nagel felt the same way. “We hit it off pretty well,” Nagel says.  “so it wasn’t a difficult decision to bring him on.  There weren’t even any yellow flags.”

Zanzig was immediately interested in the prospect of being hired at Saint Mary’s Press. When he resigned from ACEC, his only fallback plan was a job at Presto Products, a company owned by the longtime friend who had helped pay his way through Marquette.  After Nagel contacted him by phone, Zanzig wrote an enthusiastic follow-up letter that ran four pages, typed, single-spaced. The bottom line was that he was interested in joining the Press—but as a salesman rather than an editor.

I know I have the native ability to be a super salesman for some company. I’m not all that convinced of my abilities as an author.  Maybe there was a subconscious feeling on my part that, as my editors and publishers, you people were supposed to tell me I was doing well . . . I decided to leave ACEC with a real sense of a God who I am convinced loves me.  Because of that conviction I’ve been comfortable with my decision, certain that an opportunity would be presented to me to continue to live out my faith in a creative way and yet hold my family together and my values in perspective.  I can’t help but see our professional relationship as just such an opportunity.

The advisory board of Saint Mary’s Press had a general sense that Zanzig “could help put the Press back on its feet.”  But in negotiating with the Press before accepting a position, Zanzig required that SMP match the annual salary he had been making after seven years as director of ACEC, $18,000. That was more than any other SMP employee was making at the time, but he felt that he couldn’t ask his family to both move away from their hometown and take a cut in income. However, with the support of the advisory board, the Press accepted Tom’s condition and hired him. He moved his family to Winona. MN in July 1978. “It was kind of like putting all our money on a blue-chip football player,” recalls Joseph Froehling, who was part of the advisory board discussion. “We were all scared of spending so much money.  But it paid off.”

Zanzig began his career at Saint Mary’s Press in sales, and discovered that the reaction to the Press’s new line of high school texts, collectively called the Journeys program, was negative.  They were “non-text textbooks,” with minimal student content packaged as individual pamphlets in large envelops.  “There was a lot of insistence back then that we move into the mode of textbookless courses,” Nagel recalls.  “These were programs developed by very creative teachers, and very creative teachers don’t like textbooks.  But as the years went on, it became clear that a lot of teachers wanted the kind of help that textbooks provide.” 

The fact that the first two texts in the series fell far short of their projected sales suggested the lack of enthusiasm for them, but Zanzig got a much clearer message from the practitioners he met.  “I would say, “Here’s our newest product,’ and I actually had some diocesan directors say, ‘You‘ve got to be kidding me.’”

Zanzig‘s report back to the Press was characteristically blunt. “The reactions to Journeys were quite poor. It may have been difficult to hear, but it was essential to helping people at the Press recognize that teachers were once again asking for conventional student textbooks.”

It didn’t take long for the Press’s management to accept the market’s verdict, and they made a commitment to start creating courses based on more conventional texts but strongly focused on the developmental characteristics and pedagogical preferences of adolescents. It would be that balanced approach—solid theological content presented with a deep understanding of adolescent development—that would eventually make SMP the preeminent publisher of high school rigious education materials.

To begin its move in the new direction, the Press turned to one of the key architects of the Green Bay Plan, the model of the kind of integrated materials they wanted to create. That person was Richard Reichert. The Press recruited him to write a short elective course titled, Making Moral Decisions.  The course was well reviewed and sold well enough to prove the wisdom of shifting toward such materials. The editorial question then became, What course do we create next?

The answer to that question almost fell into SMP’s lap. Zanzig, still working as a sales representative, was attending and exhibiting the Press’s limited resources at a religious education conference in Pasadena, California, when a “cute little nun in full habit” approached him. “Her name was Sister Gloria Jones” says Zanzig, who has kept in touch with her for many years since that first meeting.  “She came up to me at this exhibit and said, ‘You know what we really need?  We’ve got all these kids coming into our high school from these diverse backgrounds—they don’t have any common language or backgrounds—and what we need is a basic survey course that would bring them all onto the same page.’”

When Zanzig returned to Winona, he joined Brother Damian and Don Curtin, SMP’s mnarketing director, on a business trip to the Twin Cities.  On the drive there, Tom shared the story of his encounter with Sr. Gloria. He tells what happened next:  “About a week later, Damian took me to lunch and said, ‘Remember you were telling Don and me about this book?  Why don’t you do it?’  I remember stopping and thinking, ‘Geez, I’ve never written a book like that or even taught in a Catholic high school.’” Damian responded to Zanzig’s hesitation by pointing out that he clearly knew his theology and he understood how to teach kids. Why would teaching kids in a Catholic high school be so different? Tom told Br. Damian he would think about what he might do if he were to develop such a course.

Not surprisingly, Zanzig fell back on what he knew and proposed a course modeled after his Sharing parish program. After all, they knew that some high school religion teachers were already using the program in their classrooms.  Zanzig outlined his proposal in an April 1979 memo to the staff, “A Religion Textbook and Teaching Guide for a Freshman Survey Course on the Meaning of Catholic Christian Faith.” He explained:

Our contact with the schools has indicated the desire among many teachers and administrators for “a kind of survey course,” one that involves a review of basic Christian doctrine and also opens the students to opportunities for growth in faith afforded them by attendance at the school for the next four years.  The question is what kind of course is needed?

The memo went on to outline four characteristics of the proposed course, including that “it begins with, and never loses sight of, the students themselves—their perception of themselves, their relationships with others, the characteristics of their stage of development, their common problems, their attitudes toward faith and religion.”  He also suggested that the proposed course present “solid information... in a wide variety of ways, using teaching techniques which involve the students and the teachers in many different ways in the learning process.” Those particular elements of the proposal—its focus on the student and its use of active learning strategies—would become characteristic of the Press “brand” over the next twenty years.

Zanzig worked on the course at home, on his own time, under a royalty contract; that way he could stay focused on marketing issues at work.  He wrote it on a Smith Corona electric typewriter he had brought with his first royalty check from the Sharing program.  He used correction tape to erase mistakes; he literally cut and pasted sections of the manuscript together.  He wrote three or four drafts before turning it over to the editors. The writing alone took more than a year.

Zanzig’s attention to detail apparently paid off.  Published in spring 1980, Understanding Your Faith (in later revisions, Understanding Catholic Christianity) sold twenty-five thousand copies over the summer of 1980 alone. By 1986 it had sold two hundred thirty thousand copies, netting one million dollars. Amazingly, the popularity of the course would be sustained for more than twenty-five years.

Understanding Your Faith was barely off the presses when Brother Damian took Zanzig out to lunch again.  Zanzig recalls, “He said, ‘I really liked the chapter you did on Jesus [in Understanding Your Faith]. Why don’t you do a course on that?”

Zanzig knew that a course focused solely on Christology demanded much more, theologically and pastorally, than a survey course on Catholicism.  For one thing, the theological and biblical environment had shifted dramatically even since his days at Marquette. The Second Vatican Council had endorsed the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.  Since the turn of the century, Protestant Scripture scholars had been using this method to get a better picture of Jesus by taking account of his historical and cultural context.  By the late 1960’s, most Catholic scholars had also accepted the historical-critical method.  The surge in critical scholarship around themes like Christology was unprecedented. Before committing to develop the course, Zanzig told Damian, he would need a lot of time, up to six months, just immersing himself in that scholarship.  Damian, recognizing Zanzig’s track record as a writer, told him to do whatever he had to do to create a solid course.

The picture of Jesus that emerged from Zanzig’s research—as one who interacted with his world, rather than standing aloof from it—greatly appealed to him. But he struggled to imagine how he could translate that understanding of Jesus into a course that would appeal to young people.  Then he ran across a book by the Catholic biblical scholar, Donald Senior, titled, Jesus: A Gospel Portrait. Zanzig explains what happened: “I was reading that book in the waiting area of an airport on my way back home from a trip, and I said out loud, ‘This is it! This is the way I want to write.’  Senior wrote with such clarity and a kind of poetic quality that’s not over the top; it’s just beautiful writing.  I went home and told Damian, ‘Now I think I know how to do it.’”

Jesus of History, Christ of Faith: A Gospel Portrait for Young People became the first Catholic high school religion course to use the historical-critical method in its presentation of Jesus.  Zanzig gave a workshop during the 1982 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress titled, “Who is the Jesus We Are Teaching?”, that captured the spirit and theoretical framework of the course.  The conference catalog promised that Zanzig would discuss how the latest Jesus scholarship ought to affect religious education.  One thousand people signed up. “I was never more scared to give a talk than I was for that one,” Zanzig says.

In his talk Zanzig outlined two ways of teaching Jesus.  The first, dubbed “high Christology” by scholars, portrays Jesus as he had come to be known through the faith the Church over the past two thousand years; it tends to focus on doctrine concerning the divinity of Jesus.  This was the approach that Zanzig and most of the conference participants were taught as kids.  The second approach, often referred to as “low Christology,” focuses on developing a portrait of Jesus from the Gospels and their historical and cultural context; consequently, it tends to focus on his humanity.  Zanzig concluded the talk by arguing that young people will respond better to catechesis that begins by focusing on Jesus in his humanity before it develops an understanding of his divinity.

“I said that this is the way Jesus’s followers came to know him, and this is the more logical way for students to learn about him.”  Zanzig notes.  “Our teaching needs to be more historical and rooted in the life and times of Jesus, more biblical than doctrinal... and it would have to be more personal, asking ‘What does this mean for our life?’

“Well, I got done with that talk, and the place exploded with this standing ovation that just went on and on.  I can remember sitting on stage just shaking, wondering what had just happened.”

Jesus of History, Christ of Faith took the same approach that Zanzig advocated in his talk.  It began by posing to the student reader the question that Jesus asked the Apostles, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15).  To answer that question, the course took students back to the time of Jesus, spending several chapters on the geographical, historical, social and literary background of the Gospels to serve as a lens through which students examine the life and mission of Jesus in the rest of the course. 

Zanzig felt personally transformed by his work on Jesus of History, Christ of Faith, and when it was released later in 1982, many readers had a similar experience.  Over the years, it has even generated letters from readers who said it changed their lives.  “I’ve heard from teachers who even as adults say, ‘When I was in high school I used your book, and it’s the best textbook I ever had;  I’m going to teach your book as long as I can get copies of it,” Zanzig says.

Not everyone was so laudatory.  Although it sold between twenty and thirty thousand copies annually for more than twenty years, critics thought it overemphasized the humanity of Jesus.  By the end of the decade, some would be denouncing it and it author as heretical.

The teaching manuals that Zanzig created for the new textbooks were also good examples of SMP’s commitment to quality. Tom always said that effective and helpful teaching manuals, not textbooks, were the real heart of the courses he developed. The Press also started to invest more in the design of its books. A later edition of Jesus of History, Christ of Faith won the 1999 Certificate of Merit for the Premier Print Award from the Printing Industries of America. Chosen from thousands of entries, the Premier Print Award goes to those firms who demonstrate a unique ability to create visual masterpieces.

Both Understanding Your Faith and Jesus of History, Christ of Faith were widely adopted and used in hundreds of schools throughout the U.S. and Canada. “Both texts were hallmark titles that moved us into domination of the high school curriculum sector,” Nagel says.  “They set the standard for theology and pedagogy [at the Press] for the next twenty years.”

Barbara Allaire, a development editor for high school religion textbooks at Saint Mary’s Press in the late 80’s and 90’s, says, “Tom had his own way of integrating good theology into his ‘talking with kids’ style in Jesus of History, Christ of Faith and Understanding Catholic Christianity.”

But the courses were notable for another reason as well: their popularity and student-centered approach would later make them lightning rods for critics of the post-Vatican II catechetical approach they embodied.

Over the years, Zanzig developed another passion in his catechetical ministry. Though always proudly identifying himself as first and foremost a religious educator, he grew to strongly support the church’s evolving commitment to total, wholistic youth ministry. The U. S. Catholic bishops affirmed the development of youth ministry programs with their release of A Vision of Youth Ministry in 1976. But the movement toward youth ministry had its critics, and when he first encountered it during his years in parish work, Zanzig was among them.  “I was quite defensive about the whole concept of youth ministry when people started pushing it, because their rationale was that religious education was so bad it was pushing kids out of the Church,” he recalls.  “I initially resisted youth ministry because I thought youth ministry was attacking religious education.” 

Eventually, though, some parishes and dioceses began to apply the Catholic principle of “both-and” thinking to the problem, and so did Zanzig. “Somewhere along the line I had this kind of awakening, realizing that the reason my religious ed. stuff was working was because I was doing a lot of relationship building and active learning, and a light went off:  we’re not doing different stuff, we’re doing the same stuff,”  Zanzig recalls. “What I think was absolutely pivotal for SMP as a company was that we started looking at religious ed. through the principles of youth ministry.”  An insight by Tom Everson, then the director of religious education for Boys Town, became Zanzig‘s mantra: “When youth ministry and adolescent religious ed. are both done well, it’s very hard to tell them apart. If you’re doing very good religious ed., people will look at it and say these kids are really getting good youth ministry, and vice versa.”

Zanzig became such a passionate advocate of this blended approach that he convinced Saint Mary’s Press to sponsor a series of workshops at the Dunrovin Christian Brother Retreat Center in Marine-on-Saint Croix, Minnesota, that brought together key leaders in religious education and youth ministry, primarily at the diocesan level. “The whole point was to get the diocesan leaders of those two often conflicting ministries together to develop a unified vision of what ministry to adolescents should look like,” he says. “We hoped that we would get thirty [participants], and we ended up getting ninety.”  Instead of conducting just one such gathering, SMP would sponsor three of them.

The first two Dunrovin workshops were held in summer 1985, and another was held the following year.  They were intense, weeklong experiences that mixed presentations by Zanzig and others with small-group work.  One afternoon, for instance, youth ministers and religious educators sat down together to develop a common four-year scope and sequence for parish religious education.  Despite the twelve-hour days, many participants found the experience invaluable.  Marilyn Kielbasa and Brian Singer-Towns, both of whom would later join Saint Mary’s Press as development editors, remember the retreats as being “huge” in their professional lives.

The Dunrovin workshops provided no immediate payoff for Saint Mary’s Press; they were seen mainly as a service to the field.  But without that outreach and the insights it generated, the Press probably would not have developed Discovering, which would become one of its all-time most successful parish programs.

It was at Dunrovin that Zanzig met Mike Carotta, religious education consultant for the Diocese of Indianapolis, who had just published a book about parish ministry to junior high school students.  One evening during the workshop, he and Zanzig walked around the lake at the retreat center “dreaming about what a junior high school program might look like,” as Zanzig recalls.

Zanzig had been advocating better ministry to junior high school students for a long time, spurred on by what he was hearing from parish leaders around the country.  As the keynote speaker at the 1982 Catholic Youth Organization national conference, he had included ministry to junior high school students as one of three challenges to youth ministry. “By the time we see kids in senior high,” he told the participants, “we’ve already lost them.” Carotta was a kindred soul in that regard. 

The ideas shared by Zanzig and Cariotta at Dunrovin were the seeds that became the Discovering program. When Zanzig debriefed the Saint Mary’s Press staff about his Dunrovin experience, he mentioned the conversation with Carotta and proposed that they continue to explore the area of junior high ministry. Soon after, the Press offered Carotta a work-for-hire contract to research a possible junior high program. They also contracted Dolores Ready, Carotta’s editor from a previous writing project, to work with him on the research projecty.

Under Zanzig‘s direction, Carotta and Ready spent the better part of 1986 doing listening sessions around the country.  They found that parish workers were unhappy with the repurposed Catholic school textbooks that publishers had been offering. What they really wanted was a program consisting of short “minicourses” comprised of creative student booklets as well as plenty of support for the volunteer catechists who would be responsible for most of the content delivery.  As a result of their research, the team proposed a program consisting of a series of topical minicourses, each six sessions long, with lively student booklets and substantial catechist manuals; there would also be a confirmation component. The Press enthusiastically embraced the proposal and the serious work of development began.

Zanzig and Carotta invented a collaborative process for developing the new curriculum with a whole team of writers. Drawing on his extensive network of contacts in the field, Zanzig carefully drew up a list of potential authors and invited them to join the project; every one of them agreed to participate.  In June 1988, Zanzig and Carotta brought the writers to Winona for a five-day orientation and training meeting.  That decision proved to be a stroke of genius, ensuring not only a consistency of vision and tone across the courses but also providing an opportunity for the writing team to bond and learn from one another. 

Such intensive author training and team building are rare in the publishing industry.  The innovation was just another example of how the ministry backgrounds of SMP’s development editors and writers shaped their approach to the work, and it left an impression on at least one participant.  “I think I know now what it is that makes Saint Mary’s Press so special,” one participating writer told Tom Zanzig.  “Other publishers seem to approach books as technocrats, almost as if following scientific formulas of some kind.  But Saint Mary’s seems to approach them as artists, trying to make something beautiful and truly significant for young people.”

The first mincourse in the Discovering program, Being Catholic, was unveiled at the East Coast Religious Education Conference in February of 1989. Besides being a major new program, it was also the first program to be printed in full color. But what should have been the celebratory culmination of three years’ work quickly turned into a nightmare. The conference participants reviewing the student booklets universally panned them as too childish in their design. And, Zanzig knew, if the adults immediately reject them, the kids will too.

After the conference ended, Zanzig and Br. Damian flew back home together. Damian’s presence at the conference was propitiuous; he heard the same negative comments. He asked Zanzig what he thought they should do. As they talked, only one option seemed reasonable: though they had already printed thousands of them, they would reject the first booklet and start over. Zanzig says Damian’s support of that decision nearly brought him to tears. It represented not only Damian’s commitment to high quality materials but also his continuing trust in Tom.

When Zanzig got home he contacted the Illinois-based designer and told her that she needed to start over; he also announced that the Press was tripling her budget. In addition, as the new designs were submitted, Zanzig recruited some genuine experts to review the new designs—ten local Catholic middle school students.  He had the students rate and comment on every page of the first six booklets.  If more than 40 percent of the students had a negative reaction to a page, it was slated to be re-designed.

Again, SMP’s commitment to quality, in this case aided by direct involvement by young people themselves, worked and sales of the redesigned courses took off, exceeding all projections.  By the end of 1989, the Press had sold 23,000 Being Catholic student booklets, 19,000 of Meeting Jesus, and 8,000 of Growing Up Sexually. Another course, Praying, tallied 8,000 in sales right out of the gate.  Marketing Director Don Curtin said in the quarterly company newsletter, “Decisions [by catechists on future courses] are being made based on just the first couple of courses.  It is obvious that people have been looking for something new that meets the kids’ needs.”

According to one of the company’s 1988 quarterly reports, Zanzig helped Saint Mary’s Press overcome their financial problems “by giving the Press a clear idea of what sorts of books teachers, youth ministers, and directors of religious education needed.” By 1988—just ten years after coming on staff—his own textbooks had sold half a million copies, and he had provided the Press with the template for successful high school and parish religious education programs.

The Press would continue to grow through the 1990s. At one point the editorial development department was subdivided into market areas, and Zanzig was named the senior editor of parish high school and junior high school religious education. His marketing efforts, primarily through extensive travel doing countless workshops and conference presentations, also continued to grow.

After the great success of Discovering, SMP decided to revise Tom’s Sharing Program. As the research phase of the revision process began, the staff believed that it was a solid program that just needed some updating. However, the research revealed that the needs of those using the program—both the students and their catechists—had changed. So the staff decided they needed to replace, rather than revise, Sharing. Tom was again asked to be the managing editor of the project.

Based on what they had learned from their experience with Discovering, SMP again opted to create a series of minicourses, but in this case they would create more courses of shorter length and eliminate student booklets altogether. Significantly, few publishers would even consider such an approach, since most of the profits generated by educational materials come from student materials sold in large numbers each year. Once again, the Press took an uncharted path based on its assessment of pastoral needs.

Work began on the new series in 1990. Zanzig and Marilyn Kielbasa, a friend whom Tom had earlier recruited to join the staff, served as coeditors on the project. Together they followed a team-oriented process similar to the one used for Discovering.  It was an ambitious and difficult project. Ttitled the Horizons Program, the curriculum consists of thirty separate minicourses plus video-based teacher training resources, a large Director’s Manual, and binder of youth ministry strategies to complement the content of the courses. From start to finish, the project took almost six years.

Unfortunately after all that work, when the final components of Horizons were published in 1996, the program received at best a tepid response. This was one of the first signs that the field of religious publishing, as well as Tom’s career, had started to shift.

“The people who worked on it have great memories of that program,” Zanzig says.  “But it certainly didn’t do what we had hoped it would do . . . It took so long to develop that by the time we came out with it, I think the market had shifted.” Horizons may have been ahead of its time; programs centered on the concept of total youth ministry and intergenerational catechesis would start getting traction in parishes during the late 1990’s.

However, another Zanzig project, a senior high confirmation process, Confirmed in a Faithful Community, was perhaps the most successful new project at Saint Mary’s Press. Based on the theology and pastoral practices of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and drawing upon strategies initially created for Horizons, the program was very well received and, in its revised version, continues to be used in parishes throughout the country. “Over the years I have heard more positive feedback on the road about the confirmation program than any other thing I’ve done, probably because every parish has to do confirmation,” Zanzig says. “The whole point of it was to take initiation theology from the RCIA and build on it.  We tried to create ritual movements to parallel the RCIA without re-creating them.”

No one knew at the time that the confirmation project would be Zanzig’s last major contribution to Saint Mary’s Press. The Roman Catholic catechetical world was about to undergo a tectonic shift that would radically affect the entire Catholic publishing world. Toward the end of the 1990s, the U.S. bishops moved to directly regulate the publication of catechetical texts and, in the process, precipitated a serious crisis for Saint Mary’s Press.

All the new publishing efforts of Saint Mary’s Press during the 1990s followed the model that Zanzig, Reichert, and others had implemented and developed so successfully in the 1980s.  Grounded in research on adolescent faith development, the guiding principle of  Saint Mary’s Press model was that the situation of the students—their level of cognitive, psychological, and social development, their cultural context, their past experiences, their dreams for the future—ought to influence the presentation of the Catholic faith.  Key characteristics of that model include God’s expansive love and mercy, and a non-presumptive stance—that is, one that does not presume faith on the part of adolescents.  The materials developed by Saint Mary’s Press often focused more on the task of evangelization ( proclaiming the Good News to adolescents who have yet to receive it) than on the task of catechesis (deepening the understanding of those who have already made an act of faith).

This model, developed in the catechetical vacuum following the Second Vatican Council, worked well for Saint Mary’s Press and the people it served for twenty years.  In fact, many of the principles of that model were echoed by the General Catechetical Directory that the Vatican issued in 1971.  However, some of the Church’s more conservative leaders continued to reinterpret the meaning of Vatican II and increasingly attacked the catechetical methods favored by Saint Mary’s Press.

Although the implications of that shift only became apparent in the middle to late 1990’s, there were early signs of trouble.  Perhaps none was more dramatic than what happened at a talk that Tom Zanzig gave at a diocesan conference in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in March 1987.  As word of the talk spread, some of the diocese’s traditionalist Catholics began writing angry letters to the Allentown Morning Call newspaper, protesting that Zanzig was presenting the keynote talk.  Some even called the bishop’s private phone line late at night, demanding that diocesan staff who had invited Zanzig be fired.

Their opposition to Zanzig was rooted in their reading of Jesus of History, Christ of Faith.  When Zanzig arrived at the school where the conference was being held, a few protesters distributed leaflets that read in part: “The text ‘Jesus of History, Christ of Faith’ by Thomas Zanzig cannot be recommended for use by Catholic students as the text will only create doubts concerning key doctrines of the Catholic Faith.  By Zanzig‘s heretical treatment of our Lord as a human person, the text radically undermines in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

During the opening mass, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh ordered the protesters to stop their activities.  Later, while Zanzig was practicing his presentation in an empty classroom, he noticed a man who kept walking back and forth in the hallway.  He approached the man, asking if he could help him find someone. “The guy says, ‘I’m here for you,” Zanzig explains, “I am an off-duty policeman the diocese hired to protect you.’”

Hoping to lighten the anxious mood somewhat, Zanzig opened his talk by donning a Groucho Marx mask. “I’m sorry,” he told the crowd. “Tom Zanzig was not able to make it.  I’m Jim Bakker”—referring to the recently disgraced televangelist. The line got a hearty laugh, and the conference ended without incident. 

The next morning, the Morning Call, whose owner supported the group protesting Zanzig, featured a front-page story that selectively quoted the talk, taking comments out of context, and made no mention of Bishop Welsh’s statement.  Zanzig wrote the bishop a few days later to reassure him that the newspaper account of the talk was inaccurate.  Bishop Welsh’s friendly response hinted at the sort of criticism the Press would hear repeatedly—and with increasing frequency—in the years that followed.

I regret that you were not made to feel very welcome by a few local people at the time of your recent visit to Allentown.  It is indeed unfortunate that people such as they are working so hard to compromise your potential for advancing the cause of the religious education of our young people.

    If I may make a suggestion for lessening the possibilities of that compromise, it would be that you tighten up your textbook language a bit.  I make that suggestion because it is the vagueness in your language that lays you open to attack.

             The bishop then quoted the protester’s charge that Jesus of History undermined the divinity of Christ.  He continued:

Intrigued by the statement, I checked the passage in the book to which it refers.  I found that you presented the Monophysite position as follows:

            “...Another group of devout people proposed that Jesus possessed a divine nature only and...He was not truly a human person.”

            By setting up the Monophysite position in that way, the Council of Chalcedon which condemned it appears to be condemning the statement that Jesus was not truly a human person. That misapprehension is strengthened even further by stating the position of Chalcedon without reference to “divine person” and human nature.”

The result of all this is their claim that you present Jesus as a human person.  I am satisfied that you do not, but I do think you should try to prevent this misunderstanding and others which have a similar origin by tightening up your language particularly in those critical statements of official Church teaching.  (Bishop Thomas J. Welsh to Thomas Zanzig, Allentown, PA Apr. 2, 1987.)

The primary focus of most mainstream religious educators, and of Zanzig‘s text, was on fostering a living relationship between teens and Christ.  Clarifying fine theological distinctions was not necessarily a high priority. But the bishop recognized a growing reality. Doctrinal precision and orthodox language was a high priority for those Catholics who feared that orthodox Catholic beliefs and practices were being lost in the wake of Vatican II and who hoped to restore elements of the pre-Vatican II Church.  Increasingly, these restorationist Catholics were banding together in grassroots groups like the one in Allentown.  Like the Allentown group, they did not hide their anger at what they perceived to be attacks on Catholic orthodoxy.

“A Bishop would have to lose his Faith or be deceived to put his name on the Religious text, ‘Understanding Catholic Christianity.’” That was the charge made by one restorationist group, Catholics United for the Faith, in a 1989 newsletter.  Referring to the diocesan censor for the text, the newsletter asked:  “SHOULDN’T HE BE TAKEN TO TASK?” (Catholics United for the Faith, “Newsletter,” undated, Plandome, NY.)

Then there was the thirteen-page letter about Understanding Catholic Christianity by a woman from Hillsboro, Oregon, who contrasted certain passages of the text with language from official Church documents.  Besides her theological critique, she highlighted a number of terms from the text related to sexuality—ovulation, vagina, testicles, puberty, ejaculation, and so on---and contrasted that list with a list of terms that she thought ought to be included in the book, such as angel, Assumption, Council of Trent, heaven, hell, indefectibility, mortal sin, original sin, perpetual virginity, preternatural gifts, and virtue.

She sent her critique of the text to Sr. Lucide Maytrott, OP, chair of the theology department at Saint Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, New York, who in turn forwarded it to Saint Mary’s Press along with a request for a defense of the textbook. (Sr. Lucide Maytrott to Don Curtin, Nov. 8, 1989.)

Zanzig sent a three-page typewritten response—brief, by his standards. “Quite candidly... I doubt that any response by me will satisfy the concern of [the letter writer],” he said, calling her theologically biased by a scholastic, pre-Vatican II theology. “Significantly, [she] makes absolutely no mention of the students for whom the text has been developed. She never even considers their developmental characteristics and abilities, their needs, or the fact that the text is meant to serve as an introduction to what will be a four-year curriculum in the school. In other words, she totally disregards an essential dimension of all effective education—that is, sensitivity to the starting point of the learner. (Tom Zanzig to Sr. Lucide Maytrott, Nov. 14, 1989.)

It would be easy to dismiss the letter writer, with her concern that ninth graders know about indefectibility and preternatural gifts, but the letter foreshadowed Church leaders’ growing concern with the state of catechesis.  In fact, the Diocese of Winona, which reviewed all Press textbooks for doctrinal error, had already sent a copy of Jesus of History, Christ of Faith to Rome in May 1987.  The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), reviewed the textbook and sent the Press a one-page letter listing four minor deficiencies to be corrected in future editions. The future pope let the Press off relatively easy. Within ten years, though, the conversations that people at the Press would be having with certain U.S. bishops would much more closely resemble the exchange with the folks from Catholics United for the Faith.

The catechetical renewal movements that began with Pope Pius X’s 1905 encyclical On Teaching Christian Doctrine had largely been led by religious educators who ministered to young people in the field.  By contrast, the second wave of catechetical reform that began with the 1977 bishop’s synod on catechesis was largely led by the Church’s official hierarchy.  To a much greater degree than the first reform movement, the new effort was driven by fears that Catholic faith and identity were being eroded by secularizing influences.

For many Church leaders, the most obvious way to combat the growing influence of secularism was to reinvigorate catechesis.  But while documents calling for a renewal of evangelization and catechesis tended to be holistic in nature—much closer to the approach favored by Saint Mary’s Press—in actual practice, the hierarchy focused more narrowly on improving young people’s knowledge of the content of faith.  To do that, Church leaders turned their attention to catechetical textbooks, which they assumed to be the ultimate source of adolescents’ knowledge of the faith. 

The Press was not indifferent to wider concerns about the state of catechesis. Editors of the period generally acknowledge that some materials developed in the 1970s and 1980 could have been more theologically rigorous. Zanzig recalls:

I think when we first started back in the seventies, in the early days of the renewal of adolescent religious education, we probably went too far in terms of the relational side of things and the experiential, fun side of things.  Every time I revised a program, I looked back at what I had done before that, and I was always somewhat embarrassed, because it always looked a little shallow and a little lightweight.  I would not argue with those who said that we threw the baby out with the bathwater.  But as we went on and learned more, we got better and better at integrating solid content with good methodology. By the 90s, I think we were doing consistently solid, balanced, wonderful work.

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church was officially promulgated in 1992, Pope John Paul II promised that it would provide “a catechesis renewed at the living sources of the faith.”  

Two events in 1995 increased apprehension about how attempts to reform catechesis would affect the Press.  In January, the New Orleans chapter of Catholics United for the Faith requested that the archdiocese review all catechetical materials, which it then did, resulting in a list of catechetical textbooks acceptable for use in the archdiocese.  Saint Mary’s Press textbooks were not on the list.  Voicing criticisms that would later be echoed by bishops on the national level, the archdiocese rejected Jesus of History, Christ of Faith on the grounds that it did not sufficiently emphasize the divinity of Christ.  Later the Discovering program was subjected to the same sort of reviews—a “debacle,” as Marilyn Kielbasa remembers it.  “That was a horrible experience to go through,” she says. Kielbasa and others began to feel as though the Press was under siege, and unfairly so:  “There were bishops who held Tom responsible and the Press responsible for the [religious] illiteracy of Catholic kids.”

Brother Damian expressed similar sentiments. “The priest who is censor for the Diocese of New Orleans seems to have a problem with anything Tom Zanzig does,” he told the board of directors.  (Saint Mary’s Press, minutes of meetings of the board of directors, Feb. 14, 1996.)

All of the materials Zanzig created for Saint Mary’s Press had received the Church’s official imprimatur. Beginning in the mid-90s, in addition to the review for the imprimatur, religious education publishers have been “invited” to submit their materials to a committee under the auspices of the U.S. bishops Office for the Implementation of the Catechism. Originally called the Ad Hoc Committee for Conformity to the Catechism, the Committee developed a review process designed to ensure that the content of published materials conforms to the orthodox teaching of the Church as reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church—the English translation of which was published in 1994.

In June 1995, the U.S. bishop’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church established the Office for the Catechism to help it review textbooks for their conformity with the Catechism.  Publishers, whose work received the declaration of conformity, had taken an apologetics approach to their materials. But key aspects of that approach were difficult to reconcile with the pedagogical model that the Press had been following for more than twenty years. “All through the seventies, all through the eighties, the people who led the Press all shared a strong sense of the need to become as inclusive and ecumenical as possible,” Nagel says. “And then it changed, and that spelled the end of all our careers, to be honest, because when you spend your whole life headed in one direction, to turn around and change direction is pretty tough.”

During the first several years of the review process, the Committee focused its efforts almost exclusively on grade school curriculums; publishers of high school materials were initially not asked to submit their materials for review. When the Committee did start reviewing high school materials, SMP staff consulted with the Committee on the review of its older products. The Committee determined that it was more reasonable to create new products than try to revise older materials to accommodate new guidelines. As a result, with the exception of a revised version of Confirmed in a Catholic Community (which has been found in conformity), most of Zanzig’s SMP materials have not been reviewed for conformity. Although the review process was ostensibly voluntary, an increasing number of bishops across the United States were requiring the parishes and schools in their diocese to use only catechetical materials that had received a declaration of conformity. That made a declaration of conformity a practical necessity for anyone wishing to sell catechetical textbooks nationwide. And, as expected, sales of all Tom Zanzig’s SMP publications have greatly diminished over time as the company replaces them with new materials.

Zanzig was just as discouraged by circumstances as were his colleagues, but working his way through that discouragement led him to consider the bigger picture. “There was a time when I tried to make sense of why all of this stuff was collapsing,” he says.  “Is it possible that this is God’s way of telling us, ‘Hey, folks, textbooks don’t work?’  From the point of view of kids’ getting the Gospel, does it really make any difference?  What’s the Spirit trying to tell us?”

As it became clear that the bishops’ review process would make it impossible for Zanzig to continue his work as a major writer for the Press, he and SMP’s management sought to find other roles and responsibilities that would employ his skills and experience. Complicating that effort was a change in management and, with it, a shift in the company’s direction and priorities. At one time it appeared Tom might take over as editor of the small line of adult spirituality books the company had been supporting for a number of years. That possibility ended, however, when management decided to drop adult resources altogether to focus on their primary mission to youth.

In March 2003, the president of the company presented Zanzig with a proposal drafted by the Board of Directors. He explained that it represented the Press’s desire to “help you start a new careeer.” The offer included a severance package and the option to spread out that amount over four years. That would allow him to stay on the company’s payroll, without responsibilities, and also to retain the company’s health insurance until he reached the age when his full pension would begin.

Though unprepared for the proposal, Zanzig now says that it was an eminently fair one that, in fact, accomplished what management intended. It essentially forced him to do what his heart had been leading him to for years—a move into adult spirituality and Adult Faith Formation as the focus of his remaining years of ministry. His new relationship with Saint Mary’s Press took effect on April 1, 2003, less than two weeks after it was proposed. The four-year term of the agreement ended in August 2007, when Tom’s formal connection with the Press officially ended.

Zanzig had worked at SMP for 25 years as a writer, editor and consultant in adolescent religious education.  He now reflects, “Looking back, I see that history as shot through with the creative work of the Holy Spirit.  Over and over again, I have thought of how the hand of God was in all these things,” he says. At the 2003 Press celebration of his 25th anniversary, Zanzig offered advice to the SMP employees: “I just said that as long as they are really true to the Gospel and the mission of proclaiming it to kids, we’d be good,” he says.  “To the extent we get caught up in management styles and business models, and then we lose our heart and soul. Then it’s just a business.”

In his current curriculum vitae, Tom writes:

My years with Saint Mary’s Press and the work we did together remain gifts of grace and highlights of my personal and professional life. I was gratified to receive a national honor in 1994 from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) for my years of service to the Church and its youth. I also received the Lasallian Distinguished Educator Award from the Christian Brothers.

I remained with SMP for twenty-five years, leaving in 2003 to start a new career in a new place, Madison, Wisconsin. Even during my last years at Saint Mary’s Press I felt increasingly drawn to adult spirituality and Adult Faith Formation (AFF) and decided to devote my remaining energy and creativity to those ministry fields. My goal when I left SMP was to continue writing but now with a focus on adults.

I assumed I could find a publishing partner for that work. However, I quickly encountered a roadblock to my new path. I learned that publishers are reluctant to invest in AFF materials; there’s simply not enough return on their investment. But I began to wonder: Why not start my own publishing and consulting company? So, I did just that.

Zanzig’s company is called, simply, Zanzig & Associates. He started the business in 2005.  Through it he has published three resources primarily designed for use by directors of parish Adult Faith Formation programs:

        Adult Faith Formation Strategies (2006): a large manual of over 170 creative strategies—group exercises, prayer services,  reflection guides, etc.—that leaders can “mix-‘n’match” to create learning experiences for use in various adult gatherings

  • Jesus the Way: the Path of Christian Discipleship (2007): a “video workshop” on Christian spirituality
  • Jesus the Christ: A Visual Meditation (2007): a prayerful, 12-minute DVD that retells the Gospel story through great art and instrumental music. In part because he created this resource with his son, Adam, Tom calls this “one of my most satisfying and gratifying projects.”

Further information about Zanzig’s adult resources can be found at his website,

In an article about his theory and practice of Adult Faith Formation that he wrote in 2012 for the journal, Lifelong Faith, Zanzig summed up his basic posture toward adult formation in the church today: 

For the majority of parishes and congregations today, the renewal or reinvigoration (in some cases, resuscitation) of Adult Faith Formation (AFF) or Adult Education is considered a high priority. This is so for a painfully simple reason: when it comes to deepening the spiritual life and religious identity of adults, most faith communities are falling short if not failing altogether.

The causes of this deepening pastoral challenge are many and complex, including tectonic and well-documented cultural shifts. No need to rehearse those factors here, much less deny their powerful effects. Yet we can’t use socio-cultural realities as cover for our own ineffectiveness. As pastoral leaders, we often exacerbate an already troubling situation by remaining trapped by counterproductive paradigms and mindsets—often at the insistence of ecclesial authorities who fail to recognize how radically the ministerial terrain has shifted.

One of our major AFF mistakes, I believe, is that we focus far more on the transmission of content than on the transformation of persons. More specifically, our adult programming too often starts with a given body of content and inevitably moves toward such academic and educational issues as curriculum design, formats and schedules, methodologies, and content delivery systems. At some point, program developers may offer a comment or two, maybe even an essay or book chapter, on adult development, androgogical principles and techniques, and so on. But the common intent of such observations, it seems to me, is to figure out a way to make the already chosen content effective or at least palatable for our adults, many of whom we probably suspect are not all that interested in what we’ll be offering.

Because our AFF starting point is content and, to a lesser degree, methodology, references or connections to the actual lived experience of the adults we are trying to serve get short shrift or lost altogether. Then we wonder why our adults either don’t show up for what we offer or, if they do begin a program, often slowly drop out.

Put succinctly, I believe two major factors in the failure of most AFF efforts are (1) our choice of starting points (content over persons) and (2) our preferred methods (education of the head rather than the spiritual formation of the total person). I advocate a radically different AFF approach, one I have come to call, a little clumsily but descriptively, community-based spiritual transformation. I suggest that our ministry among adults will succeed only if we start and stay with their lived experience of the spiritual journey and if we use strategies and techniques that help people name, reflect upon, and share with trusted others their lives as disciples of Jesus.

Tom continues to offer presentations, workshops, retreats, and parish missions related to adult formation and spirituality. Regarding future projects, over the last twenty years or more Tom has been developing a model for understanding the dynamics of the spiritual life. And in recent years he has been refining his vision of AFF and developing concrete strategies for implementing it. He intends to continue developing resources and services in those areas.

Tom concludes his vitae with a favorite line from Dag Hammarskjöld that, Tom claims, captures the attitude he seeks to have toward life and sums up well how he feels about his personal and professional journey: “For all that has been-- THANKS! For all that will be—YES!”


Note: The following comments about Tom Zanzig’s work were submitted to and shared by Saint Mary’s Press or, less often, by Zanzig himself. They represent the attitudes and feelings of those who have encountered him or his work over the years.

On Zanzig’s Published Works:

 “Your revisions to Confirmed in a Faithful Community add even more luster to the best program in the business. The guide and handbooks are both well done . . .. The sponsor guides fill a void and connect things so nicely, they are really worth the investment. In our little part of the Confirmation world, your materials and our inspired teachers have taken a program from sacramental volumes that were less than 50 per year to well over 100 each year for the past five years.”

“Adults reading the guide of Confirmed in Faithful Community can gain practical advice for their one-on-one opportunities in being a faith mentor-sponsor. I especially like the practical suggestions offered during each stage along the adolescent faith journey. The suggestions provide gradual and ever deepening nourishment for the relationship with Jesus and his church.”

“Tom Zanzig‘s . . . materials are in depth and exciting, as they draw interests from the youths themselves during lessons. It challenges our youth on the practical aspects of decision-making and Christian living. We take great pleasure in using his materials in all our secondary level catechisms.”

“Tom Zanzig has long been an excellent leader in creating a curriculum around Catholic identity for teens that is transforming, both for teens and their facilitators. Tom Zanzig knows and presents the topics of conversion and spirituality with an authenticity and quality that knows no bounds. His understanding of conversion is both inspiring and challenging.”

On Zanzig as a Speaker, Retreat Leader, and Trainer:

“With warmth, charm, and healthy challenge, Tom Zanzig has assisted generations of Catholic youth leaders in addressing the evolving needs of Catholic adolescents.”

“Tom blends a comprehensive vision of youth ministry with his ability to clearly articulate the spiritual dimension in our lives—a combination that is professionally challenging and personally enriching. He is certainly one of the best!”

'Tom has provided our diocese with a great amount of enrichment! From days of reflection to overnight retreats, the coordinators of parish youth ministry throughout this diocese leap at an opportunity that will be facilitated by Tom. Tom has in the past few years provided a great deal of in-depth reflection and challenge for us as we seek to walk in a closer relationship with Christ. His vision and hope for the ongoing formation and conversion of all who serve in ministry is wonderful.”

'Tom has consistently ranked among our best presenters at our annual meetings. He is always well prepared, and provides information that not only makes good sense but also speaks to the ‘heart’ and ‘soul’ of what we are about in catechesis.”

“Throughout my twenty-two years in catechetical ministry at the diocesan and national level, I have known Tom Zanzig and have admired his work. Tom has been a leader in the field of adolescent catechesis and Confirmation. He is a creative speaker and an insightful thinker.”

“As a retreat leader, Tom Zanzig engages the participants in opportunities to enhance their faith journeys. Tom's sharing of parts of his own story is a witness to the power of faith in the midst of the peaks and valleys of human living, and the role that ongoing conversion has for personal spiritual growth.”

“I've never come away from one of Tom's sessions without at least one new idea, usually several. These are put into play immediately, and usually remain in use for a long time. Tom is nothing if not rubber-meets-the-road practical. Whenever Tom is speaking, if I'm anywhere in the area, trust me, I'm there.

“If I had only one choice for a keynote presenter on Catholic Identity in Teens, it would be Tom Zanzig. . . .  There's a reason we keep inviting Tom Zanzig back to our diocese year after year—he makes people think in new ways and have fun while doing it. Tom's experience, humor, and ability to intertwine story and spirituality cannot help but move a group to growth.

“Tom field tests the presence of God in his ongoing conversion. He digs into his illustrations of hungers, issues and needs transformed into spiritual growth to encourage people to observe God's work in their own families and realities. With confidence, candor, humor and sincerity Tom tells true stories; and people listen, examine and recognize themselves as favored children of God.”

“The weekend retreat was wonderful. We had a faith sharing session last night [and three of the guys who attended] shared about how important the weekend was for them. Very honestly, I knew it would be a good weekend. I had every confidence that you were a right pick for the group and the beginnings of a men's group. But you and the whole weekend went far beyond any expectations. Thank you for sharing your faith and talent with us.”


Note: With one exception (an adult version of his Christology textbook), all of Tom Zanzig’s published work during his career at Saint Mary’s Press consisted of various kinds of religious education materials—textbooks for Catholic high school students, course manuals for parish volunteer catechists, confirmation preparation programs, as well manuals for program directors for many of those programs. Such materials, particularly if they are well received, commonly go through repeated revisions over several years.

Additionally, Tom served a Managing Editor, rather than primary author, of two major curriculums: Discovering, for use with junior high parish youth, and Horizons, for use with senior high youth. For those programs, Zanzig’s name appears on the cover of every unit of material, over sixty in all. Technically, that may warrant inclusion of those units in the following bibliography. However, doing so would result in a very long and perhaps unhelpful list of publications and could give a false impression of the extent, at least numerically, of Zanzig’s published work.

For the purposes of both simplicity and clarity, therefore, the following list includes only the following information about Zanzig’s published works:

  • publications are listed chronologically
  • the title and date of the original edition of Zanzig’s major publications is given, followed by the publishing dates of revised versions when relevant
  • the series name (rather than individual course units) of major curriculums is provided along with Zanzig’s role in their development; under that are listed titles of specific units for which he served as sole or primary author

More information about Zanzig’s Saint Mary’s Press publications can be acquired by contacting that company directly. Contact:

Saint Mary’s Press

702 Terrace Heights

Winona, MN   55987



Finally, resources Zanzig created through his own company, Zanzig & Associates, are listed separately at the end of this bibliography. For more information about those materials, contact Tom directly:

Zanzig & Associates

505 Merrill Crest Drive

Madison, WI  53705


Zanzig’s Saint Mary’s Press Publications

1976          The first two manuals of Sharing the Christian Message, Sharing 9 and Sharing 10, are published; the curriculum, popularly abbreviated as “the Sharing Program,” is completed in 1979 when Zanzig writes the Sharing 11/12 double-manual after joining the company as a sales representative.

1980          Understanding Your Faith, a survey course for ninth graders, is published. Revised in 1988 and published under the title, Understanding Catholic Christianity, the text was last revised in 1997. Zanzig also authored the Teacher Manual for the course.

1982          Jesus of History, Christ of Faith is published; the text is revised twice, last in 1999. Again, Zanzig also wrote the Teacher Manual.

                      An adult version of this text, titled Jesus Is Lord!, is also published this year. The book is revised and expanded in 2000 under the title, Jesus the Christ: A New Testament Portrait.

1985-88     The Sharing Program is revised and expanded and published in four manuals titled Sharing I through Sharing IV. A Director’s Manual is added.

1989          The junior high curriculum, Discovering, consisting of fourteen minicourses and supplemental resources, is launched. Zanzig serves as Managing Editor and contributing author. He writes or co-writes the program’s Coordinator’s Manual and Teacher Training Manual, and along with Marilyn Kielbasa produces video training resources for both coordinators and teachers.

1990          Learning to Meditate, a thirty-day introduction to the practice of meditation adapted from a Sharing IV unit, is published.

1995          Confirmed in a Faithful Community is published, consisting of guides of candidates, manuals for process coordinators and teachers, and a Catechist’s Theology Handbook. The program is revised twice, once in 2001 by Zanzig and again in 2005. In the latter case, the editorial staff of SMP completed the revision after Zanzig left the company.

1996          The Horizons senior high parish program, designed to replace the Sharing program, is launched. The series consists of over 30 units of course material and supplemental resources. Zanzig serves with Marilyn Kielbasa as Managing Editors of the project. In addition, he serves as author or co-author of several units:

·      The Church: Its Wisdom, Works, and Worship

·      Jesus: His Message and Mission

·      Christian Meditation for Beginners

·      Coordinator’s Manual

·      Teaching Guide

·      with Marilyn Kielbasa, video workshops for both program coordinators and teachers

Published by Zanzig & Associates

            2006          Adult Faith Formation Strategies, a collection of over 170 learning activities, prayer experiences, and presentations published in a three-ring binder; a CD-ROM with all the activities is also included

2007          Jesus the Christ: A Visual Meditation, a 12-minute DVD using great works of art and instrumental music to retell the gospel story

2007          Jesus the Way: The Path of Christian Discipleship, a video workshop for adults consisting of three video segments, a leader’s guide, participant notebooks and a prayer CD

Excerpts from Publications

The following extracts from one of Tom Zanzig’s publications represent both his educational philosophy or approach and his writing style. All are taken from the Confirmed in a Faithful Community Catechist's Guide (2001, Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press. p. 142-143)

STEP A Dramatic Reading and Discussion: “The Window” ( 15 minutes)

1.     To fully understand the following instructions and optional approaches, take a moment to read the story” The Window” in formation resource 5-A at the end of the session. As you read it, try to imagine actually presenting the story to your group. That will help you sort out the options available to you.

2.     The story is engaging and ends dramatically.  Candidly, you will have reasonable success using it simply as is---by gathering the candidates when they arrive, by telling them to listen carefully, by reading the story with adequate skill, and then by discussing it using some of the questions suggested below. This would doubtless work as an effective introduction to the next step.

      But, oh my, the possibilities you have for really having fun with this! Imagine incorporating some if not all of these options:

·      As soon as all the candidates arrive, you excitedly shout. “Hey kids, it’s story time! Come gather ‘round!”  You might even be dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, ready to tell them a bedtime story. ( one caution on this: The story is a serious one, so you want to avoid creating the expectation of humor.)

·      When candidates gather around you, you say that all good storytelling requires cookies and drinks. ( I’d prefer milk, but they probably won’t) With that, you surprise them with cookies and punch.  The entire mood of the group shifts.

·      You prepare so well that you don’t need the script for the story.  You tell it with great flair and from memory, changing a few words here or there for the sake of good storytelling.

·      As a prop, you have taped on the wall a childlike drawing of a large window frame.

·      You recruit two candidates to mime the roles of the patients, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Thompson.  They stretch out on rows of chairs to simulate beds.  They are well-prepared and real hams, who dramatically mimic the gestures and expressions of the two characters. This helps the group keep the characters straight, increase the sense of fun, and actively engages the young people.

3.     The story can generate good discussion, which is fine.  But be aware that the primary objective here is not to unpack the story itself.  Rather, you want to use the experience of the story—that is, the power of the good storyteller, the way a good punch line can grab us, and so on---as an introduction to the discussion on Jesus the teacher.  Therefore, the following questions are rather precise and limited in scope:

·      What are the feelings you experienced as you realized what was happening when we began?  [Look for response such as curiosity, excitement, fun, expectancy.] Comment: Storytelling, especially with a real master of the art, catches our attention, stokes our imagination, and raises our expectations, often for a surprise or punch line of some kind.

·      What emotions did you feel toward the characters and their situation as the story unfolded? [Look for responses such as sadness, delight, frustration, respect, and anger.] Comment: Good stories told well always engage the heart as well as the mind.

·      What was your response to the revelation that the window opened onto a blank wall?  [Look for responses like surprise, awe (That was cool!), respect for Mr. Wilson, embarrassment and shame for Mr. Thompson.] Comment: Some stories hit us in the gut with their lessons, challenging and changing us.

Step E Presentation: The Miracles of Jesus (5 minutes)

Prepare to offer the following comments in your own words.  You may want to create an outline on newsprint to guide you and to serve as a visual aid for the candidates.  Information on the kinds of miracles that Jesus worked is included in the candidate’s handbook, on page 44.  You may want to refer the candidates to that information when you come to that point in your preparation.

  1. Note that perhaps no image of Jesus captures our imagination and challenges our mind more than the image of him as the miracle worker.  Our imagination is caught up with the scenes of power and awe---people raised to life with a simple work, blind people given sight with a simple touch, sick people cured.  Yet we remember that Jesus rejected the temptation in the desert to base his ministry on working wonders in such a way that they would overwhelm people and prevent his real message from being heard.  And the miracle scenes often confront the logical and scientific minds of today as serious questions that disturb them rather than as signs of hope that strengthen their faith.
  2. Point out that the Gospels are filled with several kinds of miracles:

a.     Healing miracles. Jesus relieves the physical suffering of people afflicted with fever, paralysis, deafness, muteness, blindness, and “leprosy,” a general name given to many kinds of skin disorders of Jesus’ day.

b.      Exorcisms.  Jesus drives evil spirits or demons out of people.

c.     Restorations of life. On three occasions, Jesus apparently conquers death itself by raising people from the dead.

d.     Natural miracles. The nature miracles are perhaps the most confusing actions of all.  Jesus demonstrates apparent control over the natural world by walking on water, calming a storm, feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fishes, and so on.

  1. Acknowledge that many people feel that we must have a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude toward the miracles---either we accept them all as historically true just as recorded in the Gospels, or we reject them all as legends or myths.  Scripture scholars today, however,

    are more inclined to look critically at each incident, analyzing every detail.  In particular,   they compare the worldview or understanding of the ways in which the body, mind, and        should work together to heal illness. In this way, scholars come to see that some of the     accounts of Jesus’ miracles record actual events, whereas others might be more symbolic             in nature.

4.     No serious scholar questions that Jesus did in fact work miracles.  The evidence is too strong to be discounted, and Jesus could not have gained such a following without profoundly impressive signs that God was backing up the words he spoke and the actions he carried out.

5.     Not all believing Catholic are called to analyze the details of each miracle story in terms of historical validity.  Nor are we expected to accept everything in the Bible as historically and scientifically true exactly as stated---the position, noted earlier, of fundamentalist Christian, Catholics are asked, rather, to try to comprehend the meaning of these miracle accounts in light of the entire ministry of Jesus.

6.     The key to understanding the miracles of Jesus is grasping their relationship to his proclamation of the Kingdom of God---the message of the Father’s unconditional love.  The miracles stories reveal in powerful ways God’s offer of complete reconciliation, commitment to the poor people and outcasts of society, and complete domination over the power of sin and its evil influences.  The miracles were a manifestation of the healing and redeeming power of God’s love, a loving power present in and reveled by Jesus---a power that Jesus called his followers to participate in.

STEP F   Forced-choice Exercise: Taking a Stand on the Miracles

                (25 minutes)

                 Before the session. Prepare five large posters, each with one of the following statements   printed on it in large letters:

·      An event that happened just as described

·      Based on a historical incident that has been interpreted to express a truth

·      A totally symbolic story intended to express a truth

·      An event given religious meaning that today we might explain scientifically

·      Not sure what to think about this

Hang one of these posters of the four corners of your room (one corner will have two posters) and, if your room has chairs, arrange the chairs in circles in each corner under the signs. In addition, make a sixth poster containing the two questions listed under part 3, and post this where all can see it. Select the miracle stories you wish to use for the exercise and prepare to present them.

This exercise is intended to show the candidates the variety of ways in which the miracle stories can be approached and interpreted.  Importantly, it also affirms that the miracle stories, regardless of the approach used in interpreting them, can reveal to us the deepest truths about God and the meaning of life.

  1. Direct the candidates to open their handbook to page 45, the list of miracles from the synoptic Gospels.  Tell them that the list is intended to trigger their memory regarding the number and variety of miracle stories found in the Gospels.  Next, read a miracle story
    1. (see suggestions under part 7), asking the candidates to listen very carefully to the details involved and to the lessons that might be learned.
  2. After each reading, give the candidates a moment to reflect on how they would judge the story according to the five options given on the posters.  When they have made a decision, tell them to move to the appropriate corner of the room to join others who agree with their assessment of the story.
  3. Have the groups quickly brainstorm answers to the following questions(these should already be posted):
  4. Why did you respond to the story as you did?
  5. What is the chief lesson to be learned from the story?
  6. Call for volunteers from each small group to share their response with the rest of the candidates.  Focus on the lessons that can be gleaned from the story, particularly noting if several groups gain the same lesson despite their differing viewpoints.
  7. Do not be terribly concerned if discussion seems weak or if the candidates’ insights are limited.  Many adults would struggle to articulate their response to such an exercise.  If discussion lags, simply speed up the process of Sharing additional stories, giving the exercise a more game like feel.  The candidates can learn a great deal just by listening and reacting, not only y discussing their choices.
  8. The cure of the leper (Matt. 8:1-4)
  9. The calming of the storm (Luke 8:22-25)
  10. The cure of the man with a withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6)
  11. The barren fig tree ( Matt. 21:18-22)
  12. The second miracle of the loaves ( Matt. 15:32-39
  13. Repeat the exercise as time permits.  To conserve time, select stories that are relatively short.  Also try to choose a variety of stories, mixing  those that appear to have a stronger historical base with those that might be more symbolic---for example, some of the cures compared with, say, the calming of the storm.  Here are some suggestions:

Windley-Daoust, Jerry (2009) Touching the Hearts of Teens: Saint Mary’s Press, 1943-2001. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press.

This book is a recollection of anecdotes and key events of the “story” of Saint Mary’s Press. In this volume you will find many references to Tom Zanzig’s 25 years at the Press as a writer, editor, and consultant in adolescent religious education.  This book is an internal resource for St. Mary Press.  Contact Saint Mary’s Press to request a copy.


Zanzig, T., Singer-Towns B. (Ed.) (2001) Confirmed in a Faithful Community Catechist's Guide. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press

This guide for catechists preparing senior high youth for the sacraments of Confirmation contains detailed, step by step plans for the twenty-three 90 minute sessions that comprise the heart of the preparation process.  You will find Tom Zanzig’s practical suggestions for the adolescent faith journey. The guide provides gradual and ever deepening nourishment for their relationship with Jesus and his church.


Zanzig, T. (2000) Jesus the Christ A New Testament Portrait. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press

Jesus the Christ bridges the past and the present. It offers a presentation of Jesus that recognizes the past but helps readers get in touch with current trends in the study of Jesus. Jesus the Christ offers a thorough, solidly researched, and clear presentation of the life, ministry, message, and meaning of Jesus.


Zanzig, T. (1982) Jesus of History, Christ of Faith (Teaching Manuel). Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press.

Jesus of History, Christ of Faith invites students to explore the life of Jesus through a Christological study of the New Testament. The teaching manual fully supports the student text and includes numbered references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayers, prayer services, review questions and answers, student activities, discussion questions, role-play situations, suggestions for interviews and guest speakers and student handouts.

For other books authored and edited by Tom Zanzig published by Saint Mary’s Press go to

Author Information

Wendy Scherbart


Wendy Scherbart is the Director for Catechetical Ministry at the Office for Parish Services in the Diocese of San Jose, CA and is responsible for the formation of the leaders in catechetical ministry within the diocesan churches. She has over 29 years of experience as a catechetical leader at the diocesan and parish level. She is certified master catechist and holds an MA in Catechetics and an MA in Education Administration from Santa Clara University.