Rosemarie Reed turned down the first few opportunities to be director of religious education at Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany - but when she finally accepted, she did it for 20 years. She retired this month, feeling that God is now calling her to prioritize family.
"I have never called this ministry a job," the 65-year-old said. "I just love everything about it." But now, "I want to be 'Nonna'" for seven grandchildren.
"I played school when I was little with people and stuffed animals," she said. "How does anyone know what they want to do? You just follow your heart. Nothing knocks you over the head - nothing says, 'This is God speaking to you. Listen up!'"
Still, she considers teaching her gift. In the beginning of her career, she taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten at the former campus school at Maria and at a school in Delmar. She began serving as a catechist in the mid-1980s, drawing from her memories as a child playing "altar" with a family friend who was a priest.
Mrs. Reed credits Blessed Sacrament's priests, the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, and her own family for her successful tenure as director of religious education.
It seems she imparted as many lessons as she gained. "She was very generous with her time and she always wanted us to take the lead as much as possible," said Mary Rosch, a 28-year-old alumnus of Blessed Sacrament's catechesis and youth ministry programs.
When the young adult was thinking about whether to be confirmed, Mrs. Reed was a calming presence: "She always calls herself Thomas," Ms. Rosch said. "She said she has doubt, but doubt didn't have to be a bad thing. She very much cultivated it to be a place where you could be yourself. She wouldn't judge you for anything."
Mrs. Reed remembers counseling youth with psychological problems and personal crises.
"I've seen so many people go the straight and narrow," she said. "I've had so many opportunities to intervene. I just feel so bad" for the teenagers who struggle.
It was not unusual to see teens cry at workshops or retreats when Mrs. Reed spoke about everyone's uniqueness and beauty. She regularly cried, too, when she told them, "'Don't let anyone take that away from you and demean who you are or want to be."
There was just as much teaching involved with youth ministry as other forms of instruction, she said. Taking children on service projects to food banks or soup kitchens was "teaching by example;" leading trips to the movies, restaurants, amusement parks or bowling alleys was "just being you and teaching them how to build community, [because] they're going to be friends forever."
Mrs. Reed views religious education as "the end-all, be-all. It is how we should live. It's passing on the Word."
At the end of workshops, she said, she always told participants, "'What we need to do now is go down the mountain - get out there and do it.' Everything about it is just so simple to me. We were taught how to live through the Gospels. I am nothing - not even a drop in the ocean. We are just servants doing what God wants us to do."
From the students, Mrs. Reed said, she learned patience, love, acceptance, durability, spirituality, prayer "and to accept the things we cannot change. I learned how to be a better person. You take those good qualities you see in someone else and try to put them inside your body."
She plans to maintain a presence at Blessed Sacrament in some capacity: "You're never done."