September 8, 2023

Catechesis Supplement

Catechetical leader points people to Christ and the Church through storytelling

In 10 years of ministry as director of adult faith formation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, Sandra Hartlieb often brought the Gospel to life through storytelling. (Submitted photo)

In 10 years of ministry as director of adult faith formation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, Sandra Hartlieb often brought the Gospel to life through storytelling. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The Christian faith that began 2,000 years ago in Palestine and has spread to the ends of the Earth is rooted in a story—the story of God’s love for humanity told in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sandra Hartlieb has been convinced for some 50 years that the Holy Spirit has empowered her to draw others to Christ and his Church by sharing that story.

Beginning in the early 1970s as a young wife and mother in Indianapolis, she began working with other people to dramatically act out Bible stories—a ministry she continues today.

For the last 10 of those years, Hartlieb served as the director of adult faith formation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, incorporating her interest in Scripture and drama into her ministry there.

Hartlieb was recently honored with the archdiocese’s 2023 Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein Excellence in Catechesis Award for her years of catechetical ministry at St. Lawrence.

Ken Ogorek, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Evangelizing Catechesis, presented her with the award at a June 24 Mass at St. Lawrence Church. The Mass preceded a party celebrating her retirement—but the award was a surprise.

“Sandra has been very generous with her time and talent over the years,” Ogorek said. “Her knack for creatively portraying key figures in our faith—for example, the Blessed Virgin Mary—engages the imagination in ways that help deepen faith and devotion. Sandra has been and remains a blessing to many folks.”

Hartlieb described the moment when she realized that Ogorek was at the Mass to give her the award.

“I just wanted to shrink in my seat because I don’t need to get awards,” she recalled. “I feel so blessed and called by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel. I choose to do that through storytelling and teaching. That has blessed my life for a very long time.”

As director of adult faith formation at St. Lawrence, Hartlieb oversaw the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and Bible studies. She also helped adults with developmental disabilities grow in their love for Christ and the Church.

She said that guiding adults into the full communion of the Church through RCIA provided her with many “monumental moments in my spiritual journey.”

Hartlieb recalled working with a Muslim man who had married a Catholic woman and who initially participated in RCIA simply to learn more about the faith of his wife.

Later, though, he fully embraced the Gospel and was received into the Church.

“He told me that, as a Muslim, he was a slave to Allah, but as a Christian he would be a child of God,” Hartlieb said with emotion. “That he began to understand, that was the reward that I got. It meant so much to me.”

In helping the adults of St. Lawrence explore Scripture, Hartlieb often taught them through her love of storytelling and drama—a love she’s had since she was a child.

“I feel that people remember something better when they hear it in a story,” she said. “That I could help people to want to open up their Bibles was beautiful to me.”

Helping people in RCIA and Bible studies happened in a very different

way in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had never heard of Zoom before COVID hit us,” Hartlieb said of the online video conferencing platform. “Just to have to learn this technology was amazing. But what I found out was that you could reach people that you would never have had sitting in a room.”

People far beyond St. Lawrence took part in their online Bible studies the parish offered during that time. And online-streamed RCIA sessions allowed people to participate in them when they could not attend them—a practice that has continued at St. Lawrence.

“Several people had never signed up for a traditional Bible study and sat in a classroom for one,” Hartlieb said. “But this was a medium that worked for them. What a tool for evangelization that this could be. That had never occurred to us before.”

Father Thomas Schliessmann hired Hartlieb when he was St. Lawrence’s pastor.

“She was very personable and worked one-on-one with a lot of people,” said Father Schliessmann, now the pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “She was very hands on and creative.”

Even though the way catechetical ministry was carried out during COVID stood in stark contrast to the way it had been done previously, Father Schliessmann noted that Hartlieb took the changes in stride.

“It just seemed to flow from her,” he said. “She had everything in place, sending out links, making sure that I was there when I was doing talks, getting handouts by e-mail to people in advance.”

Whether meeting with people in person one-on-one or in groups, or leading online faith-formation sessions, Hartlieb encouraged catechists to remember that faith comes to life in people when “they make a connection with a person and that person connects them with Jesus Christ.”

“The important thing is to make connections with people,” Hartlieb said. “Start out being a good listener. Find out how your story connects with other people’s stories. That’s the way we share faith.”

(For more information on Sandra Hartlieb, visit


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