Carl J. Pfeifer, 78; Helped Update Catechism Education

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 4, 2007

Carl J. Pfeifer, 78, who resigned from the Catholic priesthood to marry his co-author, with whom he wrote a series of influential textbooks on Catholic education, died of Alzheimer's disease July 12 at Stonehill Care Center in Dubuque, Iowa. He lived in Arlington County until last year.

In 1968, Dr. Pfeifer was a Jesuit priest working at Catholic University when he and a Franciscan nun published the first of a series of textbooks for elementary students on Catholic education and catechism. The series, called "Life, Love, Joy," represented a dramatic change in the way Catholic schoolchildren learned about their faith.

Over the next 30 years, Dr. Pfeifer and Janaan Manternach revised their textbooks, wrote widely and traveled across the world to lead seminars on Catholic education. Their books and other classroom materials, published most recently under the title "This Is Our Faith," were used in Catholic schools in all 50 states. They replaced the old Baltimore catechism, a system of learning by rote, with a dynamic storytelling approach drawing on examples from everyday life.

"What Carl and I did, which was seen as a real change, was we introduced life experience to catechetical education," Manternach said yesterday. "If we're going to find God, we're going to find God in life."

After collaborating for 10 years, Manternach and Dr. Pfeifer felt a growing attraction that went beyond their shared work and faith. In their 40s, they went through the formal process of resigning from their religious orders. He had been a member of the Jesuits for 29 years; she had been a nun for 27.

Only then did they go on their first date. They had never so much as held hands before.

"We absolutely were in love with each other, there's no question, before that first date," Manternach said.

They were married Nov. 20, 1976, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. Four priests officiated at the ceremony, and the 300 guests gave them a standing ovation, but their decision to marry was not warmly received by all.

One priest wrote a letter branding their actions "evil." Manternach's sister refused to attend the wedding, and a nun who had been a close friend said Manternach was now "dead" to her.

"Before that, I had a community," Manternach said yesterday. "Now, I had a community of one."

With little money and uncertain job prospects, the newly married couple settled in Arlington and returned to their mission of Catholic education. When the archbishop of Baltimore invited Dr. Pfeifer to speak at conference on Catholic liturgy, they knew they had found official acceptance.

Dr. Pfeifer and Manternach revised their "Life, Love, Joy" series, wrote for magazines and published books for teachers. They taught courses on Catholic education and doctrine to seminarians and, from 1967 to 1992, appeared as panelists on the weekly "Bauman Bible Telecasts," a nationally televised college religion course based in Washington.

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