October 17, 2019 // Local

Convenient Grace: Profiles in the CCD/Religious Education setting

October is the month during which the attention of Catholics is drawn to pondering the mysteries of the rosary. During the month of the holy rosary, catechists look to Mary, the mother of catechists, to help them guide their students to a closer walk with Christ.

Author Darcy Osby shared in an article for “Catechist Journey” magazine: “Our primary goal as catechist is to lead others to Christ. Who better to serve as our model than Mary, who spent her life doing just that?”

Watching the story of the institution of the Catholic faith come alive in the hearts of children is a blessing that continues to inspire Theresa and Roger Harmon of Bristol. —Photos by Tami Delucenay

Two catechists who emulate Mary’s example are Roger and Theresa Harmon. The couple has been guiding children in a closer walk with Jesus since their move to Bristol in 1993.

A job transfer led the Harmons to Bristol and to the then-small church of St. Mary of the Annunciation. Theresa came from a teaching position at a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Although she accepted a new position in the public school system, she knew she wanted to continue sharing the Catholic faith with children.

“Our first year at St. Mary’s, I taught preschool in the church basement,” said Theresa. “The following year Roger joined me in teaching the fourth grade. We would bring our youngest son, Billy, to class with us in the walker. Our two oldest sons, Chris and Matthew, were also in CCD, so each Sunday it was a special family time. Then in 2001 we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, and continued the tradition of having her with us in class.”

The Harmons prepare older children to complete the sacraments of initiation on Wednesday evenings at St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish.

The Harmons began teaching the second grade first reconciliation and Communion class in the fall of 1995 and continue to teach it to this day.

“The time I get to share the love of Jesus in the classroom on Sunday mornings refreshes me — every time I’m with them,” stated Roger. “I learn right along with the kids. Watching them receive the sacraments for the first time is so amazing.”

Roger is also a minister of holy Communion and is filled with joy, he said, when he offers the body and the precious blood to the children for the first time.

“What excites me about teaching these sacraments is watching the kids start out not knowing very much about their faith, and then to see their growth and knowledge of Bible stories come alive in their hearts.”

“I get goosebumps just thinking about watching the children grow and learn about our faith and then receiving Jesus for the first time.” echoed Theresa. “It’s also heartwarming when they get so excited about receiving their first Bible. We like to bring the Scriptures to life by reading the text in their Bibles and then acting it out.

“One of my favorite lessons is the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep, Theresa continued. “We place a chair in the middle of the room and make an obstacle course to show how you can lose your way, but through the sacrament of reconciliation you can always find your way back to Jesus. He will come and find you with open arms,” she explained.

Four years ago, older children began coming to the program without having made their first reconciliation and received their first Communion. Roger and Theresa began teaching them the sacraments on Wednesday evenings, in addition to their Sunday morning classes. The candidates and catechumens attend their grade levels on Sunday and then come to the Harmons’ class on Wednesday.

“I really enjoy working with these students on Wednesday nights,” said Roger. “They get so excited about learning the Bible stories and can’t wait to receive Jesus.”

Theresa shared the example of one of the students.

“Lucian came to us not knowing anything about the sacrament he was to receive. Now, in his second year, his hand is constantly raised ready to recall the Bible stories that were taught the previous week. He loves to get the other students involved as they retell the Gospel stories.

“I see the children grow year after year but I still get emotional watching them receive Jesus, especially the children that have special needs,” she said.

Members of the Bristol community beyond the parish know “Mr. Rogers,” as the kids call Roger, and Theresa as their teacher in elementary school. The couple has not only touched the hearts of the children at St. Mary since their move to Bristol, they have let their love for Jesus shine throughout the larger community; coaching Little League, leading Scouting programs, becoming involved in the Bristol Summer Park Program and being marching band boosters, and volunteering their time and talent wherever else God leads them.

Having recently stepped down from their Sunday morning class, they continue teaching on Wednesdays.

“We have been so blessed these past 26 years to teach the sacraments to so many children, including two out of three of our boys, our daughter and our granddaughter,” said Theresa. “When we’re out in the community, former students of all ages come up to us with hugs. ‘You were our CCD teachers!’ they say. We feel so blessed to be able to be a part of helping guide these children to a closer walk with Jesus.”

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