As students recently headed back to school and settled into their academics, directors of religious education and catechists from around the Diocese of Gary prepared for another year of religious education.
Alfredo Flores, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is starting his fifth year as a DRE and said his favorite part of the position is interacting with the kids.
“I hope and pray that they don't see us, myself and the teachers, as just more adults telling them what to do or what to believe in,” he said, “but see us as people that they can trust and know that we are here for them.”
Flores conveyed that it can sometimes be difficult to have big hopes for the program due to the time limitations, pointing out that the teachers only have the children for 90 minutes a week. If he had to share just one wish for this year, it would be that the children get to know Christ.
“I have amazing teachers that will teach the sacraments and commandments,” he said. “And I hope they retain them but if they don't, I hope they learn that Christ is there for them through thick and thin.”
Flores further shared that while he may be the director, the parish has many skilled and wonderful teachers that give selfishly of their time for their children. However, he feels a child’s interest in the faith boils down to the parents.
“If mom and dad don't take the time to teach the faith, or maybe not so much teach it, but practice it – pray, go to Mass, help the poor, etc. – then their children won't do it,” he said.
Flores said this year the Hammond parish is implementing parent classes. Towards the end of children’s classes, parents return for a quick lesson. The lesson is a 15-20 minute overview of a teaching of the Church they perhaps had never learned.
Queen of All Saints in Michigan City also actively invites parents to take part in its religious education program. DRE Laura Wozniak explained that once a month the church has adult catechesis, family classes. This year she plans to incorporate more activities during the classes where the parents and their children can learn about and share their faith together.
“My hope this year is for the students to have an encounter with Jesus,” she said. “I want them to develop a strong prayer life and to feel connected to Jesus and the Church.”
Jason Yurechko said Nativity of Our Savior parish will continue to help parents make good on their promise proclaimed at their child's baptism to be the primary catechist.
“We will help educate the parents and they will in turn have the tools, knowledge and grace to empower and feed their children, just as Christ did with his first disciples,” he said.
Yurechko, the DRE at the Portage parish, said many can struggle with the priority and role of Christ and Catholic faith in family life, which can lead to Jesus taking a back seat to “busy family lives and extracurriculars. They fit Christ and the Catholic faith into their lives versus allowing Christ to be the foundation of our individual and family lives.”
“We who have that great responsibility of directing families in our Catholic faith have to show families how to bring Jesus back to the center of their busy lives,” said Yurechko. “We can help our families by challenging them to think about their priorities and sharing practical ways to live the faith and foster their relationship with Christ.”
“We are all in this together,” he added. “Our Catholic faith is more than just a Sunday thing; we celebrate the failures and victories on Sundays but practicing our Catholic faith is daily!”
Emily Hackett, the director of religious education at St. Thomas More in Munster, said it can be a struggle getting parents to be involved in their children’s religious education and getting families to make religious education and Sunday Mass attendance a priority. Therefore, her hope for this school year is to likewise help more adults to get involved in their children’s religious education.
Hackett, who has held her position for 11 years, believes parents are the primary educators of their children and that within Catholic teaching, the home is to be considered a Domestic Church. Religious education programs, she said, are intended to support and supplement what is already being taught by parents and being done in the home.
“Religious education catechists, no matter how experienced and dedicated they may be, cannot pass on the Catholic faith to the students in the same way that the students’ parents can,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Hackett appreciates the opportunity to work with parents and children to strengthen and deepen their love of the Catholic faith. She also enjoys celebrating sacraments with the children and families – a sentiment echoed by others.
“I enjoy watching the children grow in their faith,” Wozinak said. “Helping to prepare them for the sacraments is also spiritually rewarding for both of us!”
“I get to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of our youngest parishioners,” said Yurechko.
Caption: Nativity of Our Savior in Portage began its family catechism classes for this school year on Sept. 10. Students report to their assigned classrooms while parents attend a meeting in the school gym monthly. Pictured is catechist Patty Martinez Castro and her aide Diane Belcher leading a lesson for fifth graders. (Provided photo)