By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

When students’ eyes light up or they raise their hands to answer questions, volunteer or plunge into an activity it means success in the frontline mission of evangelizing and catechizing the youth, say directors of religious education and catechists in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

p 7 catechesis.tif

Catechist Kirsten Collins interacts with sixth-grade students involved in a small group discussion as part of a lesson on God the Father during a parish school of religion class at St. John the Evangelist Church in Prairieville.  Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 

 

At St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge, communication and flexibility help the religious education program thrive, according to Lisa Trahan, the program’s director.  

St. Patrick’s religion school program differs from many others in the diocese. Rather than having a year-round parish school of religion, they have a concentrated, two-week PSR.  

“What we faced is that we had some divorced families whose children were available every other week rather than every week,” said Trahan.  

She said other children have extracurricular activities that conflict with the PSR schedule.  

“We did a poll of families involved in religious education to see if there was an interest in a summer religious education program and 80 percent were in favor of making the change,” said Trahan, who had observed a successful summer PSR program in the Diocese of Lafayette.  

The concentrated PSR helps students retain the lessons and develop stronger relationships with each other, Trahan said.  

There is 90 percent parent participation in summer PSR and if a family vacation is planned, Trahan is notified in advance and plans are made for the students to make up what they miss. Children from other parishes may also attend the summer session.  

Providing options is also the key to succeeding at forming children’s faith, Trahan said. Parents who regularly practice their faith can follow a parent-led catechesis during the year, with the children taking a lesson review to assure they are retaining what they learned.  

The St. Patrick confirmation program is unique in that it is based on the Dynamic Catholic’s confirmation program and encourages church ministry participation rather than doing service hours, said Trahan. This includes ushering, singing in the choir, ministering to peers in youth ministry, serving in seasonal ministries such as the Advent Giving Tree, serving gumbo after the Christmas concert or Vacation Bible school.  

“We are a ministry-driven parish and we invite confirmation candidates to sign up for two ministries so they can find the best fit, and after confirmation, they will hopefully pick one,” said Trahan.  

Because conversing with families is critical to religious education and sacramental preparation, Trahan sometimes meets with parents after hours.  

“We all know that ministry in our church is not 9 to 5,” said Trahan. “If you are going to work with people it has to be on their timeframe.”  

She added that timely communication is also critical to success. 

“I’m a one-on-one person and I want to make sure you have gotten the information,” said Trahan.  

She meets with catechists, confirmation and VBS leaders to “see how things are going” and evaluate how the program went after its completion.  

“Over the years we have modified the different ministries preparation that we do. Each year we re-evaluate and see if there is something we should do differently to stay fresh,” said Trahan.  

Being open to recommendations from the bishop, pastor, office staff and ministry leaders is vital to Trahan.  

“I believe God gives us our gifts, and the gifts I have are not the only gifts we need to serve,” said Trahan, who has served under five pastors in her 23 years as DRE.  

She and other DREs value the hard work of their catechists.  

On a recent Tuesday night, sixth-grade PSR students at St. John the Evangelist Church in Prairieville warmly greeted Susan Livaudais as they entered the classroom and prepared to learn about the Passover supper.  

“They don’t pay too much attention when you read from a book,” said Livaudais. “They’ve been in school all day. I learned that what works better is for me to put it in my own words and do some illustrations on the boards, and sometimes I bring props.” 

She held up a sculpture of the Last Supper while talking to her class about Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and connecting it to the Passover supper.  

The students are bright, inquisitive and ask good questions, said Livaudais.  

“They’re curious and that curiosity comes out,” she said. “They will ask things such as, ‘Why are there bad angels?’ and ‘Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?’ Really good, deep insightful questions.”  

One of Livaudais’ favorite times in class is students’ “aha” moments.  

“The kids will have a look on their face when you’re teaching something and they get it,” she said.  

That “aha” moment is something fellow St. John catechist Kirsten Collins treasures.  

“You know when they get it,” said Collins, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade catechism. “One of my favorite ‘aha’ moments is when they realize ‘Oh my gosh, I did know this or I do understand that.’ I think it’s the best moment because they are pulling it together for themselves. All I did was point it out to them.”  

Collins spoke enthusiastically as she scrawled key words across the board for a lesson on praying the Our Father. Like Livaudais, she uses creativity in the classroom.  

On a lesson about the importance of prayer partners the students made paper airplanes containing written prayer intentions and threw them across the room. The students picked up another student’s airplane and prayed for the intentions for a week.  

She also sent them home with a Scripture cookie recipe for them to make with their families. They have also spent time prayer doodling.  

Through exchanging questions and faith stories with their students, the catechists said their own faith has grown.  

“Every week I learn there is more growing I need to do, more researching and understanding, and what better way to do it than with these wonderful bright-eyed kids who come in with different perspectives,” said Collins.  

The dedicated catechists who come each week with joy and enthusiasm to help children know that Jesus loves inspires, said Marlene Bruce, St. John DRE.  

“There are around 1,300 students involved in formation from Sunday School through 11th grade. I cannot stress enough that without all of our faithful volunteers, there would be no way we could do this. We do our best to meet families where they are,” said Bruce.