Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond has appointed Alice Hughes as director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, effective Sept. 1. She succeeds Carole Obrokta, who served in the role since 2004.
Hughes, 59, has 38 years of experience as a school theology teacher, director of religious education and coordinator of adult catechesis at parishes and dioceses in Pensacola, Birmingham, Knoxville and Orlando. For the past seven years she has served as director of the Office of Faith Formation and Lay Ministry Leadership for the Diocese of Jackson, Miss.
“Faith formation is womb to tomb,” said Hughes, noting that she must continually counter the misperception that religious education is “just for kids.” In Catholic schools, “faith formation” generally is perceived to end at a student’s high school graduation, while at the parish level, Catholics tend to “think it ends as soon as you receive a sacrament,” Hughes said.
“It’s hard for adults to realize they need faith formation, and to even get catechists into that mentality that they need to get certified,” Hughes said.
Studied at Loyola, N.O.
A native of Pensacola, Hughes earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and a master’s degree in religious education from Loyola University New Orleans. She also spent eight years as a Benedictine sister.
Upon assuming her new post in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Hughes plans to visit every parish and school to determine how the Office of Religious Education can best serve their needs – a period of assessment that will include meeting with pastors, principals and parish catechetical leaders.
“It took me two years to get to all the parishes and schools in Jackson,” Hughes said, pointing out that Jackson’s 103 parishes and 20 schools make up the largest geographical Catholic diocese east of the Mississippi River. “(In Jackson) it takes me four hours to go to some of our parishes,” Hughes said. “I’m going from 48,000 square miles (in Jackson) to 4,800 square miles (in New Orleans).”
Among her plans are to bring new energy and interest into the teaching of basic theology to adults, using an eight-course curriculum formulated by School Sister of St. Francis Michelle Doyle.
“It is just phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal, for (use in the teaching of) basic adult education,” Hughes said. In New Orleans, Hughes also hopes to replicate some of the skills workshops that led to her establishment of a highly successful lay ministry program in the Jackson diocese.
“I want to find out, ‘What are the gifts out there in New Orleans that have not been tapped yet?’” said Hughes, who hopes to bolster “the faith life” of the archdiocese by increasing formational, educational and spiritual opportunities for Catholics of all ages.
“If I had one overarching goal, it would be for people to fall in love with God by learning all that they can about him,” Hughes said. “I have to truly say it was God’s calling that is taking me to New Orleans. He presented me with the opportunity and called me there.”
Married to her husband, Jim, since 1987, Hughes is also a member of the executive board for CACE (Chief Administrator for Catholic Education) of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). She said she is excited to be going back to her “roots,” given that Pensacola was part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans when she was growing up in Florida in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Being from the Gulf Coast, it’s like going home again,” Hughes said.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.