The Pastoral Center receives $1.25M grant

Funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. will help Catholic parish leaders coach parents

Family Praying (BigStock)


  • The grant will dramatically extend the Pastoral Center’s ability to train, equip, and support parish leaders in English and Spanish to better partner with parents to pass on faith to their children.
  • It will enable the Pastoral Center to reach out to every diocese in the United States to offer support and training for parish leaders as they seek to move toward a whole family catechesis model.
  • The funds will also support the ongoing creation, development, and translation of Growing Up Catholic resources, which offer practical resources for parishes to help families share their faith at home or at parish-centered family events.

Contact: Paul Canavese,, 844-727-8672

December 13, 2023

Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded The Pastoral Center, a non-profit publisher based in Alameda, California, a $1.25 million grant as part of its Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. With this financial support, The Pastoral Center is launching the Growing Up Catholic Community Initiative to support Catholic parish leaders to coach parents and caregivers to share their faith and values with their children.

Since its founding in 2006, The Pastoral Center has inspired, trained, mentored, and equipped thousands of ministry leaders in Catholic parishes, schools, and dioceses. In 2008, the Center launched its Growing Up Catholic ministry to help these leaders engage, coach, and encourage parents and caregivers to become the primary voice that passes faith onto their children.

Family Session

“Over the past 18 years, we have learned a great deal from parents, ministry leaders, and the growing body of research on the role of parents in faith transmission,” says Bill Huebsch, President of The Pastoral Center. “We believe that parents deeply desire to play a stronger role in the faith formation of their children. However, parishes often don’t know the best ways to accompany them and partner with them in this. We believe that helping shape the spiritual lives of parents is how we shape their children’s faith. Early childhood and elementary faith formation should be parent-focused and parent-driven.”

The five-year grant will dramatically extend the impact of The Pastoral Center’s mission to two audiences. First, it seeks to inspire, train, mentor, and equip thousands of Catholic parish leaders in their ministry to support parents, caregivers, and families, with a special intention to reach underserved, understaffed, under-resourced parishes across the United States. Second, the Center seeks to engage, coach, and encourage parents and caregivers from diverse family settings.

The Pastoral Center plans to use funding from its grant to:

  1. Create and refine a comprehensive leader support framework in English and Spanish to train parish leaders to coach parents to share faith with their children.
  2. Expand its library of parent-centered resources for leaders to provide to parents, increasing the number available in Spanish.
  3. Reach out to every diocese in the United States to offer support and training.
  4. Closely train, mentor, equip, and accompany 150-200 parishes in 15 diocesan cohorts using the leader support framework.
  5. Train and support hundreds of additional parish leaders through diocesan conferences, a virtual training center, and the already-existing leader support phone hotline.

History and Purpose

Family Advent Session

Since 2006, The Pastoral Center has designed various tools to:

  • Put parents at the center of the parish faith formation process rather than on the periphery.
  • Help parents practice sharing faith with their children—with engaging step-by-step processes and parish support rather than simply expecting them to share faith with their children at home.
  • Gather parents for focused, supportive small group discussion on issues most important to them, at the intersection of practical parenting and faith (e.g., finding healthy limits for screen time, sports, and other activities).
  • Coach and equip parents to bring faith practices into home settings (including prayer, Scripture, faith sharing, and reclaiming family time)

Over the years, The Pastoral Center has learned how to coach parents well in ways that attracted the parents and worked for parish leaders. They created compelling resources, particularly in the Growing Up Catholic line, that parents can use in a parish event and then take home. They learned how to open up conversations about faith in households. In the last ten years, the Center has broadened its whole family resource offerings, primarily to serve leaders who have embraced this whole family catechesis model and asked for more resources.

As we emerge from several years of low participation in parish life during the recent pandemic, many families are not returning to regular attendance at Sunday services and participation in parish faith formation programs has decreased. It has become more apparent than ever that if we believe what the Catholic Church teaches—that parents are the primary ones to share faith with their children—parishes need to partner with and coach parents to help them succeed in this role. Churches are waking up to the need to put parents at the center of their children’s religious education programs. As they do that, they are looking for help, encouragement, and resources to make this shift, not only to serve parents who are already highly engaged with their faith but especially those who are on the less-engaged end of the spectrum.

“The need to support parish leaders in this approach is stronger than ever,” notes Paul Canavese, Executive Director. “After many years of testing and incorporating feedback, we have a methodology and tools that we know work well. We are grateful for Lilly Endowment’s grant, which will help us to systematically scale our impact.”

Collaboration and Evaluation

The ministry of The Pastoral Center focuses on partnerships, primarily with diocesan and parish leaders. Because parent-focused ministry ultimately comes down to parish and school leaders, the core of its mission is about reaching and serving them well: “Pastoral ministers helping pastoral ministers.”

Dioceses are essential partners in this ministry, and the Growing Up Catholic Community Initiative is especially designed to replicate the Center’s successes in working with dozens of dioceses through the years to reach parish catechetical leaders and host pilot programs.

The heart of the initiative is collaboration with parishes and schools. The initiative will offer training, focused mentoring, and formation resources at no cost to up to 200 parishes participating in its cohort program.

The Pastoral Center will evaluate the impact of their training and support with quantitative and qualitative performance measures. The grant funds staff and resources to conduct and assess research and evaluation to learn, for example, if and how coaching parents changes the way parents interact with the parish and if the programming offered has served to evangelize parents and helped to shape the faith of children in that home.

Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative

Family at Mass

The Pastoral Center is one of 125 organizations that have received grants through the Christian Parenting initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the organizations are affiliated with mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the organizations are rooted in Black, Hispanic and Asian Christian traditions.

“We’ve heard from many parents who are seeking to nurture the spiritual lives of their children, especially in their daily activities, and looking to churches and other faith-based organizations for support,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These thoughtful, creative, and collaborative organizations embrace the important role that families have in shaping the religious development of children and are launching programs to assist parents and caregivers with this task.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting efforts to help individuals and families from diverse Christian communities draw more fully on the wisdom of Christian practices to live out their faith fully and passing on a vibrant faith to a new generation.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.