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home : features : people of faith

9/12/2013 9:01:00 AM
TWO VIEWS: Catholic educators are catechists

Echoing the Gospel

Have you noticed the new Mass dismissals that we have now with our new Roman Missal? Two of my personal favorites are: "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life," and, "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord."

Those sentences are the heart of what it means to be part of the ministry of Catholic education. A Catholic school educator shares his or her life of faith through catechesis - a term that comes from the Greek word "katekhein," which means "to echo or to resound."

I found this resounding and echoing of the Gospel to ring true with one group to whom I was privileged to teach grade five religion at Blessed Sacrament School in Albany. The image of "resounding" played daily across our classroom. I was enriched by the students sharing their life of faith and their understanding with me as we reviewed the sacraments of our Church.

One day, while reflecting on the sacraments of initiation, we were talking about baptism. I spoke about all of us belonging to God and baptism being a formal adoption by God of the baptized person. A student named Timmy said, "I get it: God gives us His last name - 'Timmy God,' 'Alana God,' 'Sister Debbie God!'"

What an astounding understanding of the sacrament of baptism resounded in the heart of Timmy and then the rest of the class that day!

Though not all Catholic school teachers are formally charged with teaching religion, being a Catholic school educator affords us with the opportunity to be intentional about moments that lend themselves to catechesis. As a teacher of technology, one such opportunity that happens for me each year is the Operation Rice Bowl program during Lent.

I am able to begin my class with a prayer; during Lent, we pray for a different country each week. We use Google Earth to see where these countries are located, what natural resources are available there and what the local economy is like for the people of that country.

We have had discussions about what a "small loan" is for Americans and what a "small loan" is for someone living in the Dominican Republic. We are honored to be able to link our small sacrifices to helping those in much greater need than we experience.

We are gifted especially with the examples of our youngest students, the preschool and kindergarteners, with their understanding of a global family and their embracing of the concept of each person being part of the family of God.

Last year, fifth-graders from St. Mary's School in Ballston Spa produced a movie for the prayer service that concluded our Operation Rice Bowl program. It can be seen at http://animoto.com/play/b4Wc3SGhoPrDQrZxdKFAhQ.

Students and teachers begin the school year this week. It's the most wonderful time of the year when all is fresh and we together begin again this school year, glorifying the Lord with our lives.

(Sister Debbie is a technology teacher at St. Mary's School in Ballston Spa.)

Proud to teach here

As teachers, we know the responses we give at professional development days. Once I answer the, "Where is Hoosick Falls?" question, then comes, "Oh, you teach in a Catholic school." I can proudly say, "Yes, I do teach in a Catholic school."

I grew up in a Catholic household, the product of Catholic parents. I graduated from public school while my younger brother, like some of our kids in our schools, was a public/Catholic/public-school kid. He graduated from St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls, where I work now.

My parents and I would volunteer as much as we could to help the school. Having my faith instilled in me at such a young age helps me in my teaching today.

Most teachers wear many hats. In addition to teaching, we are counselors, coaches, nurturers and caregivers, but one hat that we as Catholic school teachers wear is that of catechist.

We have been charged with bringing the Good News of Jesus to our students. How amazing is that? Our students move through their education in our schools knowing who God is, seeing the beauty of all God's creation and caring for one another.

Many of our schools have small class sizes, sometimes 10-15 students fewer than our public school counterparts. Those small sizes enable us to differentiate our instruction to meet each student's needs. That also helps us to foster the uniqueness of each individual child and remind them how special they are in the sight of God.

We are not without our share of adversity. When our students have tragedy in their lives, we face them together as a school community. When tragedy struck at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., it created a wave of sadness across the country. Our school was touched by what happened and it spurred many intense conversations that involved our faith.

In my class alone, students wanted to know whether the shooter was going to go to heaven or hell because of what he did. These were seven- and eight-year-olds arguing with each other, using their faith as the basis of their arguments. It made me stand back and thank God for the opportunity to guide these young minds.

Jesus reminds us in Luke 6:40 that "a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." Our teaching ability is a gift from God. Whether we realize it or not, our students will emulate what we do. If we live our faith, serve others and lead by example, our students will do the same.

It takes a special person to be a Catholic school teacher. Each teacher in the 23 schools of our Albany Diocese have been called to do God's work with the students in our schools. 

Some teachers come and stay for a short time, while others spend their entire careers. As Catholic school teachers, we struggle sometimes, because we may not have all of the latest tools as our public school counterparts do, but we always find a way to do more with less. 

We put in extra hours to work fundraisers or open houses to help keep our doors open. We spend time in our Church communities to help bridge the gap between Church and school. Catholic school teachers are not in it for the money, but the reward of seeing our students succeed and come back year after year to visit us is worth more than any paycheck could give us. 

(Ms. Patten teaches first grade at St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls.)

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