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home : features : people of faith

9/15/2011 10:01:00 AM
RELIGIOUS EDUCATORS
What makes a good catechist?
BY CASEY NORMILE
CORRESPONDENT

Catechists are entrusted to teach the Catholic faith to the next generation. What makes a good catechist?

Ruth Moon, pastoral associate for faith formation for St. Joseph's Church in Scotia, says that "a catechist has a passion for their faith, they have a passion for young people and they are able to build relationship with them as a teacher as well as a mentor."

Ms. Moon has been a director of catechesis for the past 15 years. Back when she was pursuing a master's degree in organizational development, she never expected she would be teaching others the faith.

"I knew I would have to work on it, and work to know the teachings of the Church, but I wanted to make church a cool place to be and let religion class be something fun," she told The Evangelist.

Aside from becoming certified to teach religious education, she took the time to learn "the language" of the teens she taught. But she said the most important part of successful catechesis is the relationship.

"If you form a relationship with the kids, they'll stay with you," said Ms. Moon. "The only way I'm good at what I do is by getting to know them."

Susan Sweeney is director for faith formation at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Albany for kindergarten through fifth grade.

"There is no secret to ministry," she remarked. "I wish there was. To be a catechist, you need a strong belief in the Catholic Church, a strong prayer life and a supportive family. Be open, warm, inviting and comfortable sharing your faith."

Mrs. Sweeney began teaching 22 years ago and has worked at parishes all over the Albany Diocese. At first, she said, she simply wanted to "lend a hand" with faith formation.

She now coordinates all religious education for her parish. Mrs. Sweeney has learned that children need to have variety in the classroom as well as service opportunities to help them live out their faith and stay interested in the lessons.

"It doesn't take a certain kind of person to be a catechist, because children learn in all different sort of ways. They need different people to teach them," said Mrs. Sweeney. "The feeling you get back from the children is indescribable: When they learn and can express that back to you, there's a real sense of reward and accomplishment."

"It is an awesome thing to be a catechist," declared Jeanne Schrempf, director of the Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life for the Albany Diocese.

Those who pass on the faith "need to have an openness, flexibility and a sense of humor," she added.

Mrs. Schrempf believes a person of any age can provide religious education, so long as that person has the heart of a minister, a strong spirituality, a love for the students and the commitment to grow in understanding of theology, Scripture and themselves.

"The catechist echoes the Word of God in a new place and new time - faithfully, authentically, prayerfully, creatively," said Mrs. Schrempf. "They are not just volunteers; they are ministers in the Church."

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