Fellowship, Catechesis—and Beer!

This article was posted on: July 8, 2024

Catholicism on Tap Serves Up Intentional Discipleship

Catholicism on Tap Serves Up Intentional Discipleship

This was big—really big. Our Lady of the Falls Catholic Community in Chippewa Falls routinely hosts an intimate monthly Catholicism on Tap (COT), but the March 4th presentation attracted hundreds of people spanning many faith traditions and life experiences. Protestants, Catholics and non-affiliated gathered together—the adults attentively listening with beer, wine or an occasional baby in hand—for the largest session yet.

Pastor Troy Solava of Chippewa Valley Bible Church and Notre Dame’s own John Shakal were invited to appear on stage together for a dialogue on the ultimate source of church authority. The theme was Protestant v. Catholic Dialogue: By Who’s Authority? Word got out that there would be a “debate” on the relative importance of Scripture and tradition, and Protestants were showing an interest in attending as well. And attend they did. Weeks before, there had been a spur-of-the-moment decision to move the event to the more spacious Heyde Center next door. That turned out to be a prescient move, as approximately 340 Catholics and Protestants filled the theater that evening.

As the lights dimmed and the presenters took their seats, Father Jesse Burish, pastor of Notre Dame Parish, was invited up to the stage. The audience watched—some with recognition, some with amazement—as Father Burish extended his hand, made the sign of the cross and said, “Bless, O Lord, this creature beer.…”

Catholicism on Tap was launched on April 20, 2023, when Christopher Carstens, the director of the Office for Sacred Worship for the Diocese of La Crosse, was invited to speak at Notre Dame Parish. More than 200 people attended the event, confirming a genuine desire among practicing Catholics to learn more about their faith. As a result, COT was established, with a speaker invited to give a talk every first Monday of the month since.

John Shakal, the director of evangelization and outreach for Notre Dame, considers himself blessed to have found many high-quality speakers in the Chippewa Valley. The presenters include a mix of local clergy, such as Monsignor Michael Gorman and Father John Zweber, and lay members of the faithful, such as Molly Bushman, the president of McDonell Area Catholic Schools, and Michael Van Hemert, the director of youth ministry. This year’s presentations will cover a variety of topics, including Mary, the Holy Mass, Secular Relativism, Same-Sex Attraction, the Meaning of Suffering, Evangelization, Vatican II and the Mass, Catholic Social Teaching and the Second Coming.

Catholicism on Tap is a program that covers the topics usually taught in the classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Catechumens and candidates, who usually meet on Mondays, are invited to attend COT when presentations are scheduled. This provides an opportunity for them to learn about their faith alongside fellow parishioners. Even already-formed Catholics who attend can learn more about their faith. It also provides an opportunity for the two groups to meet and socialize. Everyone, new and old, has the chance to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the faith. John Shakal describes COT as “Christian Initiation for Catholics to get back to the fundamentals of their faith.”

Hospitality is the Key

There is something for everyone, and COT has proven to be wildly popular, which begs the question, why? According to John, “a tenet of Catholicism on Tap is to bring together the divine and the human.… It’s catechesis that occurs in the context of a cultural event.” Hospitality is the key. Kate Zweber, the volunteer coordinator, has done an excellent job of building a core group of volunteers, who purchase and serve local food and beverages. Local businesses, such as JNE Meats and River Bend Winery and Distillery, offer discounts on their products. Kate has also formed another critical group of volunteers to provide childcare, thereby allowing parents to have a “date night” while deepening their understanding of the Faith. On any given month, 20 to 30 children engage in supervised play in a nearby room. John believes that these events should be fun, where the “fun” is not used as a crutch but rather as an instrumental good to arrive at Jesus Christ and His Church. He has in mind the “fellowship and teaching of the apostles” required of Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:42.

The seating at the event is arranged around tables to promote conversation. The evening is scheduled in such a way as to ensure that attendees have ample time to socialize and engage with one another. The schedule for a typical evening is as follows: from 6 to 6:20 p.m., attendees arrive and can help themselves to food and beverages while socializing at their tables. Announcements will be made, and a priest will bless the wine and beer from 6:20 to 6:30 p.m. From 6:30 to 7:10 p.m., the main speaker will make their presentation. From 7:10 to 7:30 p.m., attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions or participate in small-group discussions. There is some flexibility in the format of the event, and occasionally, attendees will walk across the street to pray in the church or engage in group discussions during the presentation itself. In February, a session on the Eucharist was extended into a weekend-long retreat.

There’s a bit of clever branding involved in the COT event as well. Emily Wahl, a graphic designer and parishioner, created a logo for the event based on the unique lettering used by Leinenkugel’s Brewery. The brewery generously donated some of its branding along with a supply of beer for the first session. The COT logo appears throughout the community on posters and yard signs, signifying that it’s a distinctive type of Catholic formation event. While the speakers and topics vary from month to month, attendees can always expect the same warm hospitality, authentic friendship and divine intimacy through catechesis.

So far, COT essentially pays for itself. A free-will offering is collected during the event, which is usually enough to cover the expenses. Local businesses are willing to offer discounts on much of the food, wine, and beer. The speakers, all of whom reside in the Chippewa Valley, are offered a modest fee for their time. Most of the true “costs” are in terms of organizational effort and the time commitment involved in assembling a core of volunteers.

A Model for Any Parish

John Shakal explained that the Catholicism on Tap model is designed to be replicated and offered at parishes throughout the diocese. He outlined the basic requirements for starting the program: (1) a place to meet, (2) a group of volunteers to provide childcare, (3) a group of volunteers to set up for the event and to provide food and beverages, (4) someone to invite speakers and organize publicity, and (5) someone to coordinate with local businesses, especially local breweries. For parishes aiming to form their parishioners into intentional disciples through fellowship and catechesis, a Catholicism on Tap program is a great way to start.

I had a conversation with John about the future of COT. Due to the high level of interest among both Catholics and Protestants, a second Catholic/Protestant dialogue on the Real Presence is planned for August. In the future, John hopes to invite Catholic speakers from beyond Chippewa Valley, those with regional or national influence.

Most sessions of COT are recorded and made available online. You can view these presentations by following this link ( If you are interested in learning more about starting a similar program at your parish, please contact John Shakal at

Story and photography by Dan Rislove
Published in the July/August 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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