“How to Be a Great Catechist,” by Judene Leon Coon, has a chapter titled, “Putting It All Together: How to make your religion lesson a part of you and a part of the lives of those you teach.” Catechist Nicole Dupont of St. Jude Parish in South Bend emulates many of the characteristics of how to be a great catechist for her third and fourth grade students.
Dupont answered the call to become a catechist five years ago when the director of faith formation announced an urgent need for catechists. “My two boys were enrolled in the religious education classes, and while they were in class, I found myself just answering emails, running errands or shopping. I liked the third and fourth grade age level so I agreed to teach the class. I’m a very quiet person and this was going to be out of my comfort zone, but it was something I felt I needed to do,” explained Dupont.
Coon shares in her book that in order for catechists’ teaching to be effective, it is not enough to quickly read over a lesson once or twice before and then present to the class. The Gospel message must be a part of a catechist’s life so that it can become part of the lives of their students. Dupont has a combined class, so she takes both grade level books and looks for the Bible stories that reinforce the lesson she’s teaching that particular Sunday. “Our faith formation director gives us lots of support and gives us lots of resources to teach our classes,” she said. “She encourages us to enhance our texts with activities to go with our lessons.
“I like to play “Minute to Win It Games” with my students. One of our games is to see how many fish you can get in the cup by using a straw, and then we read from our textbooks the story of Jesus calling the fishermen to be His apostles.”
Dupont makes it a point to ask each student, every week, what is going on in their lives, and to have them actively involved throughout the class, whether it’s having them lead prayer, read the text or asking them how things are going in their day-to-day activities. “I like to begin our class with the 3-Minute Retreat prayers from Loyola Press. I use them in my daily life as well, to help me center my day and to be the best version of myself.”
Dupont also helps her students understand how to reach out to others through prayer and kind acts.
“One of my favorite projects has been making the sacrifice beads. The students choose 11 beads and a cross and make a decade; they can keep the sacrifice beads in their pocket to count the good deeds they do for someone during the day or pray a decade of the rosary. Even just a smile can make someone’s day,” explained Dupont.
Being a catechist has helped Dupont to step out of her shell in other aspects of her faith life.
“Recently we had a woman attend our Mass and I saw that she was struggling (with) following along with the Mass. I asked her to sit with our family so that she would have someone to help her with the Mass. We found out that she was from Brazil and English was not her first language. We invited her to sit with our family anytime she was in the area. I shared the story with my students so that they, too, can do small acts of kindness to bring joy to others.”
Dupont, her husband and their two boys, Carter and Hunter, live in Walkerton and have been a part of St. Jude Parish for nine years. “My husband, John, came into the Church through the RCIA program the year I became a catechist. I’ve been able to teach both our sons in religious ed. Our youngest is now in fifth grade and our oldest son was just confirmed on the feast of St. Jude. He chose St. Albert, patron saint of scientists, as his confirmation name: I’m a scientist, so maybe some influence there!”
Nicole said she hopes to have Carter join her next year as an assistant catechist, because “this is a great way to help our boys stay close to the Church.”
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