by Elizabeth Wilson, pictures by Jean Gonzalez
As director of faith formation for Resurrection Catholic Church in Lakeland for over twenty-two years, Dan McGowan (pictured right) oversees religious education for all stages of life including: Sacramental preparation, youth and young adult ministry, adult education, and the catechumenate. His innovative and all-encompassing approach to ministry received national recognition at the recent National Catholic Educational Association Convention where he was honored with the Religious Educational Excellence Award.
“I was so surprised when I got the email that I would receive the award that I responded, ‘Is this a joke’?” McGowan remembers. “It’s super humbling because I know so many people who do such good work!”
The award may have surprised McGowan, but to those who have served with him, the recognition is well deserved. His pastor, Father Charles Viviano, has known McGowan since his seminarian days and has been impressed with the ways McGowan has adapted over the years to be able to connect with people of all ages and encourage their ongoing growth in faith.
“His belief in and promotion of Lifelong Faith Formation allows him to be creative in not only reaching out to our young people, but to their parents, grandparents and all who play a major spiritual role in their Sacramental journeys,” Father Viviano commented. “He still continues to challenge himself, welcomes challenges from others, and understands that growth is over when life is over.”
Under McGowan’s leadership lifelong faith formation has been a priority at Resurrection, clearly seen each Wednesday night when 350 children, teenagers, young adults, and adults gather at the parish hall for LiFFe night (the double F’s standing for Faith Formation). They begin together in prayer as a community and then separate to different rooms based on age.
“Faith Formation isn’t so much about teaching religion as it is about making disciples,” says McGowan. “And everyone needs to be made a disciple.”
In addition to his duties at the parish, McGowan has spoken at conferences around the country, assists with formation of catechists in the Diocese of Orlando, and facilitates classes for the University of Dayton. He stays on tops of trends in faith formation and technology and recently integrated Apple TV and Ipads into his classrooms. He says he “never met a workshop he didn’t like” because there is always something to learn and after two decades in religious education, the constant learning keeps the ministry fresh.
“He looks forward with childlike enthusiasm to incorporating new Church approved programs and cutting edge technology in order to stay connected with our ever-changing young people and to bring them into a deeper relationship with the Lord,” says Fr. Viviano.
Drawing people into that relationship with the Lord is the most rewarding part of his work, and in some families he is now passing that on to the second generation.
“I’ve been here long enough to see some of the seeds that I planted early in my ministry. They are now young adults with babies coming to the baptism class. It’s awesome!” says McGowan. “I’m called to do this. Just like a priest is called to be a priest or a nun is called to be a nun or a brother is called to be a brother, I was called to do this. It’s not a job it’s a vocation.”