Becoming an intentional disciple of Christ, and developing a personal relationship with Him, begins early. That is why St. Robert Parish invests time, talent and treasure in religious education. In our Parish, Gail DeFrancisco, Director of Religious Education, leads the ministry. Gail described the challenges and successes of the Religious Education program in a recent interview.
The Religious Education program serves about 100 students through the 8th grade. Activities include Vacation Bible School, which is held in early August, Children’s Liturgy of the Word, and faith formation classes. Information on these activities and more can be found on the Parish website at http://www.strobert.org/Light_0043/Religious_Education_0080.html.
Faith instruction is the central element of the program. Religious Education classes for children in K5 through 8th grade begin September 21, last through the end of April, and run for an hour between the Sunday morning Masses. However, faith formation is more than just classroom instruction, and the program at St. Robert is based on the principle that disciples live their faith 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Each grade is involved in an outreach of their choice to bring Jesus alive to others. Thus, there are a variety of outreach projects associated with the classroom learning, including the House of Peace; holiday food boxes, and collection of pull tabs for Ronald McDonald House. These provide children an opportunity to implement what they are taught, which can be much more effective than book learning.
The principle that Catholicism is lived, not merely studied, is carried through to the classroom. For example, children learn about the lives of the saints, that is, how those saints practiced their own discipleship. Each grade learns a saint each year, and, to provide a broad perspective on Catholic spirituality, students must study a saint whose life had not been studied by previous students. The product is a series of posters that are displayed in the church throughout November.
For younger children, the Parish offers the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It is a Montessori approach to the religious formation of children. Children work with the materials to help them ponder scripture, the liturgy and nourish their relationship with God. The Catechesis is offered Parish-wide to three- and four-year-olds. As with the Religious Education classes, the Catechesis is offered from September through April between the Sunday Masses, to minimize the demands on family schedules.
The Children’s Liturgy of the Word is another important element of Religious Education. Children’s Liturgy is offered throughout the school year, to children in grades K5 through 2nd, during the 11:00 a.m. Mass. Children are led from church after the Opening Prayer, to the basement meeting room, where they listen to the Word of God spoken terms that are understandable at their age. They return to church during the Presentation of the Gifts.
One of the chief successes of the Religious Education program has been the enthusiasm of the children. For instance, Gail noted that during the Liturgy of the Word, the general intercessions come from the children’s hearts, and while they may be humorous at times, they are very dear to them. Another success is the enthusiasm that the program has generated among the catechists: “It’s a joy, not a job.” Parish teachers are fully engaged in their mission, and some develop a rapport with the children by staying with them as they progress through the grades. (The first group of catechists is just now getting to the point where they are ready to start with a new group of children.)
In this context, “joy” is an appropriate word, and its source is no doubt related to an observation made on the origin of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (http://www.cgsusa.org/about/history.aspx): “She [Sofia Cavalletti, a founder of the Catechesis] saw in that child and in numerous other children since, a way of being in the presence of God that is both unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice.”
While the Religious Education program has been growing, the biggest challenge currently is to sustain the growth, by providing adult support for catechesis. Leaders for the Children’s Liturgy are very much needed. If you have considered participating in a Religious Education ministry, be assured that both you and the children will benefit.
There are many other ways in which adult parishioners could also contribute. One example is service on the Religious Education Committee, which works to coordinate the objectives and activities of children’s, youth and adult education. One does not need to have a child to be a member of the Religious Education Committee, or to serve in any of the Religious Education ministries.
At the least, parents can support religious education by taking interest in what their children are learning, and by modeling it in their own lives. Religious education is a process in which the children of the Parish come to know and love God. It is done in various ways, and the example of parents is one of the most effective. It benefits everyone, for as Jesus said:
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matt 19:14).”
If you would like more information on Religious Education activities, either to enroll your children or to serve as a catechist, please contact Gail DeFrancisco at the Holy Family Parish office, 414-332-8156. Gail also leads other ministries, including the Prayer Shawl Ministry and the Separated and Divorced Ministry, which will be the subjects of future articles.