This web site is a memorial to those individuals who were passionate about the reform of the
Roman Catholic liturgy as set forth in Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)
and who now, in eternal life, worship the God whom they served in this life.

Timothy B. Ragan

Timothy B. Ragan

“My name’s Tim and I will be your server for this weekend,” the man in the dark green apron announced to the 2000 people in catechetical ministry gathered in the hotel ballroom. He went on to say that the weekend’s menu featured whole community catechesis and everyone was invited to the table—and into the kitchen as well.

The occasion was the 2004 East Coast Conference for Religious Education in Washington, DC, and the server was Tim Ragan, its founder and driving force for the past thirty-two years. The image of ‘server’ strikes just the right note coming from this unassuming but self-assured man who’d much rather to talk with an interviewer about his work than about himself.

Despite his success in developing the East Coast Conference from the germ of an idea to a major event in the field of catechesis, he balks at being described as an entrepreneur. “It’s not my word,” he says. “For me that means somebody who wants to get into business and make a lot of money. I don’t think of what I do in terms of business.” He does concede that his organization, the National Council for Pastoral Leadership (NCPL), faces the same kinds of issues that businesses do. An observer might be forgiven for seeing his clear-eyed focus, determination, optimism, market savvy, and ability to leverage resources as classically entrepreneurial.

The genesis of the East Coast Conference was his perception of an unmet need. After leaving the seminary in 1970 “I wanted to continue with what I’d been learning,” he explains. He took a position as DRE (a new position at the time) at St. John’s Parish in Severna Park, Maryland, where he still lives. During his first year he went to a professional development conference in Florida, enjoyed it, learned a lot, and applied what he had learned. Disappointed that there was nothing similar in the Washington, DC, area, he recruited some friends, put in a little money of his own, borrowed some from his father, and organized a conference himself. “There were lots of good people in the area and a positive feeling in the air…a sense of aggorniamento,” he recalls.

“I’ve never seen anyone with such a clear vision,” says Ragan’s longtime friend and fellow seminarian, Bill Casey, in whose apartment the original plan was hatched. “Tim has vision with nerve.” That first conference, at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, had 268 registrants and thirteen exhibit tables. Georgetown University’s Monika Hellwig was the keynote speaker.

“It came off. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew what I wanted it to be,” Ragan says. “I lost money on the first conference, but that was part of the deal. I learned a lot…. What’s important is that we didn’t just do that and walk away. Most businesses take a few years to get going. If you have to be profitable the first year, maybe it’s not the thing to do.” For the second conference, he did more publicity (“hardly anybody had known about the first one”) and the attendance was 888.

In the meantime, people had started coming to him for help in organizing conferences: first came the Archdiocese of Baltimore, then a contact for the USCC National Family Life Conference and a series of liturgy conferences. His original firm, Time Consultants, Inc., at first offered services such as catechist training to parishes, but that was dropped because parish budgets did not accommodate such services. “But conferences were accepted. So you go with it,” he explains.

All this discussion of money is making him uncomfortable. To clarify his position, he tells about working with a group in Catholic and Protestant health care at a time big budget cut-backs were making members anxious about the financial future of their hospitals: “The two goals on the agenda were Mission and Budget. One woman stood up and said, ‘No. We can’t serve two masters. The budget has to fit under the mission.’” He also recounts his conversation with fellow catechetical expert Bill Huebsch on Huebsch’s farm in Minnesota. “We talked about money a couple times…Bill said ‘Gee, if I was in it for the money, I wouldn’t be doing this.’”

“You need to be realistic about money, but it’s secondary,” says Ragan. “My role is primarily pastoral—to bring the Gospel to people.”

While always retaining that vision, the East Coast Conference has evolved with the times. In putting together conferences on liturgy, Ragan became aware of the leaders and the issues in that field. Liturgy has been an integral part of the conference since the 1980’s. He reports that bringing in artists (with the help of liturgical publishers) is more and more appreciated. He also finds that his experience working with family life issues has helped broaden the conference. “The desire is to see religious education linked to other ministries in a healthy way, not separated into a catechetical corner,” he says. “The conference is getting people together—not just reading a book, but experiencing Christian community—modeling what we need to do in parishes so people can take that back with them.”

“My heart right now is in whole community catechesis,” says Ragan. “There is an urgent need to move in that direction. It applies all the principles that have come out since the Council. It puts adults at the center. It emphasizes the domestic church. But the biggest challenge is to turn around the concept that has crept into catechesis over the years: that most people don’t feel it is their obligation to preach the Gospel. And we have to be there for the whole community, not just those who come to our churches.” In other words, we all are invited to the table, and into the kitchen. Ragan is happy to be our server.

Coaxed to talk about the qualities needed to create and maintain a successful venture like the East Coast Conference, he replies, “You have to be positive, have a sense of humor. You have to focus on a goal and have a real clear idea of what you want to do—and put yourself secondary to that. Otherwise things can affect you personally.” A few challenges—a slow start, wariness from some church authorities—have not slowed him down. “As long as I’m clear in my mind that I’m trying to do the right thing—I’m not going to be deterred,” he says with confidence.

“I like the independence to be creative in what I do and invite other people into the creative process. It’s fun,” says Ragan. “Over the years we’ve changed our services but our mission has been constant: to bring new life to these people and to keep the vision of Vatican II alive…At times you work with the organization—at times you’re just called to go out and to do what we are supposed to do: preach the Gospel.”

Published in the Sept. 2004 (Vol 15, No 1) issue of Catechetical Leader; Mary Kay Schoen, contributing editor.