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Archives ‘Where two or more are gathered in my name’

Dec. 23, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing writer

Although we live in an increasingly technological society, there is no substitute for person-to-person relationships. During the pandemic, many parents and students still prefer in-person classes. Social media often leaves young adults longing for real life social encounters.

Setting it up
We meet “at Father Andrew Amyot Parish Center in Norfolk for classes from 9:20-10:20 a.m., so all can attend the family Mass at the Church of the Visitation at 10:30 a.m. We are meeting in-person, all but one grade, as there are some medical issues,” relayed Carol O’Brien Gonthier, director of Faith Formation at the parish communities of Norfolk, Raymondville and Norwood.

“In the past we have always celebrated children’s liturgy, prior to Faith Formation on Sunday mornings,” Chris Leahy, catechetical leader at St. Patrick’s in Brasher Falls, explained. “Given the constraints now, not all of our students can attend Mass first. To supplement, I provide the parents with the children’s liturgy [video] at home every week, so that children are watching it virtually and able to understand it a bit better. Father Garry B. Giroux set it up so that the students were all actively engaged throughout Mass. Since COVID, we haven’t had students available to read. We are going to be training a whole new group. The kids are very enthusiastic. I give them a lot of credit for their willingness to step up and be part of it.”

By the same token, Marcia Bugbee, director of Faith Formation at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid, spoke of the desire for in-person classes.

“We sent out a questionnaire for parents before we started up the program and the response was – overwhelmingly – that they wanted everything back to normal, as much as possible,” she said. “So, we did a lot of changing because of the restriction of who can go into the schools; we moved the Religious Education over to the Church.”

Second grade first reconciliation and first Holy Communion class “comes to 10 a.m. Mass once a month, and then we have instructional time for an hour and a half,” Bugbee said. Grades 3, 4, and 5 also meet monthly “on a Friday evening for three hours, with instructional time and ‘up’ activities. We serve pizza. Our sixth to tenth graders come on a Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. We’ll have Mass for them, instructional time, and do a scavenger hunt outdoors. It’s Bible-based, so they look up certain verses and try to find these items in the trails.”

The youth “talk, they’re not just sitting there going through a book, you have more dialogue with them,” Bugbee noted.

St. Agnes Church sends a newsletter home with grades 2 through 5 to help keep families in the loop about instruction and assist them in reinforcing it at home. The newsletter includes a picture of what they did in class, and information about what they learned, including saints. They also send a craft or activity home, detailed Bugbee.

Programs used
“We prefer the lectionary-based approach to help make the weekly readings tangible to all,” reflected Gonthier.
Sources that they use are: LTP’s Celebrating the Lectionary, supported by the Diocese’s ‘Tools for Parish Catechesis’; Discovering the Sacraments, for sacramental classes; and Decision Point for Confirmation, a two-year program, usually beginning in eighth grade. First reconciliation and first Communion utilize Blessed, typically in first and second grade.

“When we are able to return to the Breaking Open of the Word and gather downstairs during Mass, we use The Complete Children’s Liturgy,” added Gonthier. “We also like to incorporate an underlying theme to tie all of us together. This year we are finishing Prayer.”

“The publishers have made it so that, if everything shuts down, we have easy access online,” Bugbee commented.

She described their “family friendly programs” for grade levels. Second grade uses Blessed from Dynamic Catholic and grades three through five utilize Finding God from Loyola Press.

“There is a scan code in each lesson, and it brings up a video,” she said. “It is great because the family sees the video and they start talking about it.”

Sixth and seventh grade use One Faith, One Lord from Sadliers, grades eight and nine utilize Chosen from Ascension Press.

“Father John R. Yonkovig has been so gracious this year to take our tenth graders, and he is going to be using Ascension Press’ Jesus, the Way the Truth, and the Life,” Bugbee said.

For “older kids, I found a diocese that’s using a Bible Trivia and, once a month, they send out Bible questions for families. They look up trivia questions and submit their answers. If they get them correct, they win something like a free pizza,” proffered Bugbee. “Also, we like to send parents a YouTube clip, it could be from BustedHalo, or Father Mike Schmitz, for families to view with their kids.”

Response from parents and students
“Our families are excited to be back, students included. We’ve even added a few more,” said Gonthier.

Bugbee added, “Parents are thrilled that the kids are back into religion. I can’t tell you enough how parents are appreciative.”

“The key to our program is parental support,” Leahy said. “The day that we shut down last March was the day that our second graders were scheduled to make their First Reconciliation. The kids have been waiting a long time to receive their sacraments. It is definitely a group effort. We have a group of young families that we are fortunate to have with us. Our pastor, Father Giroux is very warm and welcoming to our families. He works with them, whatever is needed.”

“One thing that has been very helpful is Cathy Russell and the (diocesan) Faith Formation office having Zoom meetings,” Leahy added. “To hear what other people are doing, the issues, problems, and challenges and how they’re overcoming, I just find that reassuring in many ways.”

“At any time when numbers were low on a given day, I would remind myself – or any catechist that may be concerned – that we need to remember those who are with us. And ‘where two or more are gathered in my name,’” said Gonthier. “We are to work on building a relationship with those who are with us. In time, others will see and want to have that experience for themselves. We are always going to be faced with challenges, but need to persevere with the right intentions and do our best. That’s all He is asking us to do.”

“I’m really happy to see that Anita Soltero (from the diocesan Faith Formation office) is going above and beyond, trying to connect with the parishes and the ideas that she’s bringing forth,” added Bugbee. “It’s important that families see the bigger picture of our Church besides just what we have within our classes and community, that it’s a broader family. So, I’m really excited with the approach that the diocese is starting to take, and with our youth minister, Tom Semeraro. They are really working hard to build this bridge.”

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