One overcast Friday in early October 2015, I was driving to Greenville, SC to attend the On Fire with Faith Conference, which was being held the next day at Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. I was 560 miles into the 562-mile journey from my home in Florida when my phone rang. It was Michael Martocchio, Director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Diocese of Charleston, and coordinator for On Fire with Faith. He informed me that Governor Nikki Haley had declared a state of emergency due to predicted flooding and the event had to be postponed.

Strangely, the storm did not affect the Clemson-Notre Dame football game the following day. “Well,” I thought, “At least I know where the Lord stands on the Fighting Irish!”

However, the forced rescheduling of the conference to August 13, 2016 had several providential outcomes. For one thing, Michael partnered with the Hispanic Ministries Conference, which had already been planned for Columbia by the Diocese’s Hispanic Ministries Department. For another, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center proved to be a larger venue for both events. For still another, I now write for the St. Paul Evangelization Society, and have the opportunity to share my experience of that wonderful, faith-building day!

At On Fire with Faith Rekindled, I presented a workshop on how to keep faith-formation opportunities from turning into “class.” Other workshop and keynote speakers also offered informative and lively talks on a variety of topics. Over the two nights I stayed in Columbia, I also had a chance to speak with Michael about his work with the Diocese of Charleston, which serves the entire Catholic population of South Carolina.

During our late-night conversations, he shared the history of On Fire with Faith, his love for working in church ministry, and what is in store for the Diocese’s future evangelization events.

On Fire “Rekindled”

Dr. Michael Martocchio

Dr. Michael Martocchio, Director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Diocese of Charleston

According to Michael, the Diocese held its first conference at Myrtle Beach in 2005.  Reflecting its coastal setting, the event was originally entitled Fire at the Beach.  Eventually, the biennial conference moved south to Hilton Head. In 2013, when it moved once again to Columbia (where there is no beach), the meeting was now billed as On Fire with Faith. After the 2015 storm attempted to extinguish the occasion, Rekindled was added to the rescheduled event’s moniker this year.

In his directorial role, Michael was responsible for planning and coordinating the event with the help of his staff and volunteers. That includes booking speakers — or, in this case, rebooking them, scheduling workshops, setting up and taking down all equipment and banners, among a host of other details.  Since the rescheduled event was held in tandem with the  Hispanic Ministries Conference, those duties were shared with Ana Hidalgo and Gustavo Valdez of the Hispanic Ministries Department for the Diocese of Charleston.

On Fire with Faith is one of several educational initiatives that help “to minister to the ministers,” as Michael puts it.

“Pope Francis has rightly pointed out that the Church must be evangelized in order to evangelize.  We try to make that happen. At the same time, many of our events (like On Fire With Faith) serve to evangelize and catechize all members of the Catholic community [in South Carolina].”

As they planned the conference, Michael and his staff also maintained the connection between the local Diocese and the Universal Church. This year’s On Fire with Faith theme, “Casting the Nets of Mercy,” reflects the Universal Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, which continues through the Feast of Christ the King on November 20th.

Michael also explained that On Fire with Faith and the Hispanic Ministries Conference exemplified the “unity set within diversity” throughout the Diocese of Charleston. In his welcome letter for the event, Michel wrote that, as Christians, “we are called to constantly, always and everywhere, proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus and to show His mercy to all that we encounter” (p.4).

During our conversation on Saturday night, Michael went on to say:

“Pairing with the Hispanic Ministry Conference this year allowed us to reach even more people at one time. But, really, what is most important is that our event highlighted the unity of the Church. Sometimes linguistic and cultural differences can separate us in practice, but it is important to remember that the unity of the Church is deeper than language and culture because it is rooted in the love of God.”

This unity was prominently displayed when all attendees concluded their respective conferences by coming together in worship at a bilingual Mass, celebrated by Most Reverend Robert Guglielmone, the Bishop of Charleston. Michael, a skilled guitarist and singer, joined the other music ministers to play for the Liturgy.

Michael’s Ministry

Michael has served as Director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for the Diocese since 2013. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology with concentration in catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Theology and a Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. In fact, during his doctoral work, Michael would travel through three different states each day. He left his home in Weirton, WV to take his wife Kristen to work in Steubenville, where she worked as a pre-school teacher. Then, he drove to downtown Pittsburgh to attend class at Duquesne.

While writing his dissertation, Michael also worked in Faith Formation and Music Ministry at a parish just outside of Syracuse, NY. Soon after his dissertation defense, he and his family moved to the South when he began working for the Diocese of Charleston.

As our conversation turned to his reasons for working in Diocesan ministry, Michael underscored the vital role that professional ministers play in the New Evangelization. “Catechesis is one of the most important ministries in the Church.  Helping people come to know more about the Catholic faith is also helping people come to know Christ better,” he said. He humbly stated that Catechesis might not be “the most glamorous job,” but it is one of the most vital for the future of the Church. His yeoman’s work in planning, coordinating, and executing the many facets of On Fire with Faith give credence to his words!

Celebrating Mercy

As our time together drew to a close, Michael shared some of the work that he and the other ministers in the Diocese of Charleston have been accomplishing during the Year of Mercy. For example, Bishop Guglielmone and Michael have been recording “Mercy Minutes,” which Michael describes collectively as “a video pilgrimage made up of short videos that highlight different corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”

The remainder of the Jubilee Year promises a brisk schedule of opportunities for educational and spiritual growth. In October, the Diocese will host an event in Charleston entitled “Calling Youth to Mission,” which is facilitated by the Center for Ministry Development.  They are also conducting ongoing Team RCIA training this November in Hilton Head.  Over two days in November, Sadlier Publishing, which produces a variety of Catholic educational tools, will be sponsoring a Catechetical Leader Day of Reflection and then a Catechist Workshop. Both events will be led and facilitated by Kathy Hendricks, national catechetical consultant at Sadlier. Additionally, The Diocese continually offers monthly webinars on catechesis and evangelization. They are available to all who register at no charge.

To hear more about Michael’s story and/or his role as Director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation at the Diocese of Charleston, he can be reached at mmartocchio@catholic-doc.org.