The theme of Catechetical Sunday for the school year that is coming to a close has focused on “Stay with Us,” or helping the young faithful to stay close to their Catholic faith. Convenient Grace has shared stories throughout the year of how volunteer catechists live out their call to be witnesses to the faith in religious education classes.
Jayne Ragasa-Mondoy serves as director of religious education for the Diocese of Honolulu. In a recent article in Catechist Journal, she expressed what this calling means.
“Being a catechist is not just a job or weekly voluntary commitment. We don’t ‘do’ catechesis and then go back to our usual lives. We are catechists, and our whole being is immersed in this mission. Even though we turn off the lights in our classrooms at the end of our sessions, our mission continues: to adopt a worldview illuminated by the light of Christ, a worldview that allows us to see through his eyes and carry the Truth to the whole world with love and compassion. As Pope Francis explains, it is a splendid mission:
‘A Christian’s mission in the world is splendid, it is a mission intended for everyone, it is a mission of service, excluding no one; it requires a great deal of generosity and above all setting one’s gaze and heart facing on High, to invoke the Lord’s help. There is a great need for Christians who joyfully witness to the Gospel in everyday life. The disciples, sent out by Jesus, “returned with joy.” (Pope Francis, Angelus, July 3, 2016)
Two catechists from St. John the Evangelist Parish, Goshen, have embraced this call in family life as well as catechetical life in their parish. Sarah Roeder grew up in Goshen and received her sacraments of initiation at St. John. She and her husband, Robert, have been married for 35 years and have five children.
“I have been a catechist for 23 years. I taught third grade for most of those years and now teach the first-year sacramental preparation class with my daughter Helen,” stated Sarah.
Helen Roeder is a young adult living in Elkhart. “Although my address is Elkhart, I call Goshen my home,” she said. “I was baptized at St. John and made my first Communion and confirmation at St. Mary of the Annunciation in Bristol.”
“I grew up listening to the Gospel stories from my parents. Our mom taught me and my siblings who Jesus is with great joy and animation of the Scripture stories. It was a no-brainer that I would eventually follow in my mom’s footsteps of being a catechist; I just started teaching earlier than I anticipated.” Helen has taught religious education for five years. For the past two she has taught the Sacramental Preparation for Youth class with her mom. The class is preparation for first holy Communion, and students in the class are usually in fourth, fifth or sixth grade.
Virginia Munoz, director of religious education for the parish, explained the class. “The SPY class was created for this group of children because they were just a little older than our first, second and third grade students. In this class, we use different catechetical material that is more age-appropriate for them,” she said.
Sarah has a passion to share the love of her faith with the children entrusted to her. “These children are like little sponges; they soak up every story with great enthusiasm and get so excited when they hear the historical stories of the Bible and the lives of the saints.
“We don’t just read from the book but bring the stories to life through animated storytelling and acting out the Scriptures. Most of the children know the basic stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark, but when we tell the story about the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how the brothers would fight, they relate to this very human characteristic. It’s so exciting to see their hands go up in a Jeopardy-type game because they know the answers and just about jump out of their seats to share what they know.”
Helen enjoys teaching with her Mom. “I love how we work together on lesson plans and our teaching styles complement each other. We begin with just the basics. I find it very rewarding to be part of a child’s early faith formation and watch the light bulb go off when they understand what they are learning. My favorite lessons to teach are the miracles of Jesus and to witness the children’s reactions as they learn of Jesus’ love for them.”
Although the ending of this catechetical year came to an abrupt halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roeders pray for their students and their families every day. “This mission is an extraordinary calling. If you think you could never teach a class and retain the children’s attention, I challenge you to give it a try,” said Sarah. “It is so rewarding when a child wants to continue to know more about their faith, and as you teach you also strengthen your own faith.” Helen shared, “Not many people get to teach the faith with their mom, it is a joy and very special. I encourage anyone wanting to be a catechist to just jump in headfirst.”
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