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Archives ‘Having a conversation about the Lord’

Dec. 23, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

When St. Paul said, “Faith comes by hearing” (Rom 10:17), he probably never imagined the hearing happening through a computer. While the preference for catechesis is almost always through in-person interaction, the faithful are grateful to be able to receive virtual instruction. “The word of God is not chained,” (2 Tim 2:9) and through quality teaching, curriculum and creativity, faith is still handed on.

St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish and Notre Dame, Ogdensburg
“We had an in-person parent meeting before starting to explain the program,” said Sister Bernadette Marie Collins, a Sister of St. Joseph and pastoral associate and director of Religious Education for St. Mary’s and Notre Dame. “Most parents have been willing to take on the responsibility. The whole situation may be a blessing in disguise since we always maintain that parents are the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children.”

“We are using Gospel Weeklies for grades K-1 and 4-9,” Sister Bernadette stated. “Grade two is using the program from Formed, Signs of Grace. Grade three students are reviewing reconciliation – they are behind due to COVID-19 – and then we will move to First Eucharist from Signs of Grace. If they finish, they will move to Gospel Weeklies.”

“We initiated what we call Family Faith and Fun on the Run [to disseminate materials],” said Sister Bernadette. “It is a drive through event. Our first event was held in early October. We had stations around our parking lot manned by our catechists and priests: Station 1: Gospel Weeklies and newsletter from me picked up; Station 2: Rosary materials and a rosary kit; Station 3: Blessing of families and animals by our priests (it was Feast of St. Francis) ; Station 4: Goodie bag and a service project for the year (each family took the name of one of our seminarians to pray for and keep in touch with during the year).”

Sister Bernadette said the event proved to be popular.

“We had more families show up than our registrations indicated and have received even more registrations,” she said. “Our teachers are very dedicated and willingly help assemble the materials for each station ahead of time.”

The success also involved cross-parish cooperation and additional effort to continue engaging with youth.

“One challenge has been making the home teaching parent friendly. We had help with this from Christine Ward, catechetical leader in Lisbon, who also uses Gospel Weeklies. She devised a great system to help make it easy for parents and she graciously shares with us,” said Sister Bernadette. “Another challenge is for the catechists to keep in touch with the students. We are hoping to do some Zoom meetings with them. In addition, we asked them to do periodical evaluation provided by the program.”

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Watertown
Sister Constance Sylver, a Sister of St. Joseph and coordinator of Religious Education at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Watertown is “doing a family catechesis.” The parish uses Google Meet for classes every Sunday from 9 – 10 a.m. She shared that it is “going very well, almost all of my families have chosen to participate this year.”

In the beginning, it was challenging to teach all of the age groups at once, from 1st grade to junior high. However, now that they are able to incorporate more activities it is easier to engage each student, Sister Constance said. Recently, a mother conveyed that “her son in junior high enjoys all of the classes.” It’s “a little hard to gear toward the youngest ones,” however, the older students help them with reading stories from Children’s Bibles, etc.

Sister Constance “oftentimes leaves them with an activity to do at home” and sends families an email with materials to have ready when they “come to class.”

“The ‘Tools for Parish Catechesis’ document has been a wonderful guideline for being able to do this virtually. It gives a basis, and you add activities to that,” Sister Constance explained. They use one tool from the document each week. Sister Constance also provides links to YouTube videos on the faith and has found various activities online. For instance, to teach that “we walk by faith and not by sight,” children were blindfolded and, with guidance, had to find their way to a chair.

St. Mary’s, Canton
“We’re really very pleased with our program,” extolled Father Bryan D. Stitt, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Canton and diocesan director of Worship. “It’s all new to us – the books, the program itself. What we love about it is that it’s getting parents and kids talking about the faith together. That’s the main positive point. The second positive point is that they can choose their own schedule. It doesn’t have to be a certain hour on Sunday. And the third benefit is that they’re staying in the safety of their own homes.”

They are using the “Spirit of Truth” program from Sophia Institute Press, and “it is good stuff,” Father Stitt continued. The curriculum is “very clear” while some other programs “are like looking at a strobe light, there is too much information, too much stimuli.”

The program has more of a classical bent. Students are “actually soaking it all up” and having “good conversations about faith” with their parents, Father Stitt said. “There is more art,” with this program, but less graphics; the pages aren’t “a jumble” of information.

“The main thing is to see that they are actually having a conversation about the Lord,” said Father Stitt.

Children are provided with teaching on the basic aspects of the faith. Children’s “minds are so supple, they can soak up so much, so quickly” so it is important to teach them the truth, Father Stitt said.

“Some folks just like to be able to drop their kids off,” Father Stitt noted. “And it’s a challenge for folks who have big families in different age groups because if you have four kids all at different age levels then you’re having to facilitate four different Religious Ed classes. Overall, the families really appreciate that this is happening and they know that faith is essential, especially these days.”

“We bought a book for every grade level, for every student, and bought access to the app. I think that the majority of our families are finding that the kids do better in having the book in front of them and letting the parents have the teacher view of the app,” indicated Father Stitt. “There are things that are fun with the app, when there is beautiful artwork it is more vivid on the computer screen, and you can zoom in and look at it more closely. That’s amazing. Everything is available online, but many are using the book and supplementing it with the online.”

When families use the app, the parish “office can monitor what things that they’ve completed. When they use the book, it’s mostly honor system and we ask them just to take a picture of every lesson that they do,” Father Stitt said.

The St. Mary’s Canton program is K-8, including confirmation.

“I’m trying to interact more with confirmation students with a regular Zoom meeting as well,” added Father Stitt.

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