By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published August 16, 2007
They walked back and forth, pounding the blazing hot pavement between St. Peter Chanel Church and Blessed Trinity High School throughout the day.
Despite the record high temperatures outside, the more than 200 men and women who attended the Catechist Faith Formation Day Saturday, Aug. 4, chatted excitedly to each other as they walked to sessions that were held at the church or the high school. This formation day, hosted by the churches of the Northwest Metro Deanery, gave those who teach in their parish schools of religion a chance to gain more insight into their ministry and to network with other catechists. And for many of them, it was an opportunity that left them anxiously anticipating the beginning of their classes.
According to Kay Smoot, director of religious education for St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock and one of the organizers of the event, plans began taking shape for the day of formation back in January when a few DREs met to “get to know each other and share ideas.”
“By the next meeting we were starting to formulate an idea for a day where catechists from our parishes could get together as a group for certification training and also offer a bilingual track,” she said.
They then approached several religious publishers who agreed to sponsor the event and to provide keynote speakers and tote bags.
The event began with an opening Mass held in St. Peter Chanel Church, followed by keynote presenter Saundra Kennedy, a former Catholic school teacher who has worked extensively with deaf communities. Kennedy, a national consultant for Sadlier Publishing, is an associate with the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross in Merrill, Wisc., and presently serves on the executive board of directors for the North American Conference of Associates and Religious.
After the keynote presentation, participants split up into various workshops based on their interest and teaching experience.
In a late afternoon session, Noël Parro, DRE at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Cartersville, spoke to elementary catechists about hands-on learning through music, art and games.
“Music is such a great part of our religion,” she said. “We really do celebrate our faith in so many ways through music.”
As an example of ways to teach the children, she had the catechists join in a round of “O Candy Cane,” to the tune of “O Christmas Tree,” using words on a printed sheet.
“Sometimes the music doesn’t have to have anything to do with religion, but it’s just something to get them going,” she said.
She gave the catechists ideas to use music to soothe a rowdy classroom and moved to art as a tool to help the children learn their prayers.
“In our parish, we made these placemats,” she said while holding up the laminated papers with common Catholic prayers printed on them. “It really did help them to learn their prayers. But you have to get the parents to use them during mealtimes.”
Other ideas included using the popular “Transformer” toys to teach the concept of the Holy Trinity as well as making cinnamon stick crosses during Easter.
“Kids love to be hands-on. They have to be moving all the time,” Parro said. “We lose 80 percent of these kids after Communion until it’s time for confirmation. If we don’t get them now, we’ll never get them.”
In between workshops, participants visited exhibits and shared ideas with each other.
Mark Fulcher, a 10th-grade catechism teacher from Transfiguration Church in Marietta, said he was pleased he had come to the event.
“I think I’m coming away with some great concrete ideas to introduce to the teens,” he said. “This has been a great event. By having a large program like this, it really creates additional resources for catechists and allows greater learning opportunities than we would have on a smaller basis.”
Gail Holbrook, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade classes in religion at Holy Family Church in Marietta, said she teaches in order to “give back” but also to see what her own children are learning.
The catechist formation day, Holbrook said, was “excellent and very, very helpful.”
“I got some great ideas and some different things to challenge me in my teaching,” she said. “I think this is something they should offer every year. We have an in-service at the parish, but we don’t have a chance to really dig into the meat of how to be a better catechist like we had here.”
Patti McCarthy, a catechist from St. Andrew Church in Roswell, said she teaches second-graders because of the happiness they bring her.
“They are just incredible. They make me laugh. They bring me great joy,” she said. “Some of them come to me at the beginning of the year and they can’t even make the Sign of the Cross. Just to see the transformation they make—it’s just a great personal satisfaction.”
The Aug. 4 event offered her an insight into the role of the catechist in the children’s lives, she said.
“I found it personally very spiritually uplifting, but I also learned a lot of practical helpful hints, especially about children with behavior problems,” she said. “If you’re not up to date with the information about those children with special needs, it can be overwhelming. To understand what is going on with them really helps.”
Though McCarthy has only been serving as a catechist for three years, her roots reach much deeper.
“I had such a great (catechism) teacher—Sister Aloysius. I’ll never forget her. It’s such a great joy to be able to share that with others.”