By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

Jerry Williams, a parishioner of St. Benedict the Moor Church in Napoleonville, will never forget the first time she was called upon to teach the word of God. She was in sixth grade at St. Benedict the Moor School when the principal asked Williams and her fellow students to work with the students in first grade.  

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David Dawson Jr. speaks to catechists at the annual Convocation Celebrating Catechists on Aug. 29 at the Catholic Life Center. The event wrapped up with a commissioning ceremony by Bishop Michael Duca. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

“It was instinctive,” recalled Williams. “I always wanted to teach after that. So technically I became a catechist at 12 years old.”  

Fifty years later, Williams still finds joy teaching others. After retiring from a 34-year career in education, Williams is the director of religious education at St. Benedict. She was among more than 200 religious educators gathered at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge for the annual Convocation Celebrating Catechists on Aug. 29.  

“(This event) is about fortifying our catechists on their faith journey, on their prayer life, on their confidence in being catechists,” said Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “It’s also about us understanding more about our lives and our witnessing and how we testify to the truth in Jesus Christ. It’s also a celebration because a lot of catechists are volunteers.  

“We’re celebrating the fact that they are stepping up after hard long days during the week to come and be a catechist and to form those people that God places before them.”  

During his message on the theme of “Stay with Us,” Bishop Michael G. Duca said the phrase comes from the scriptural story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus when they encounter Jesus but thought he was a stranger. He noted the story was not only a eucharistic story but also a catechetical journey, “and hopefully give us some encouragement when it seems like some are walking away from the church.”  

The bishop said the disciples were in deep discussion of the events of Jesus’ death and “in their sadness, they explain to the stranger what has happened.”  

“They were lost,” Bishop Duca said. “They were confused. ‘What do we do now?’ And, Jesus begins to catechize them. He begins to teach them, unveiling the Scriptures in light of not just Jesus’ teachings but his death on the cross, pointing them to his resurrection.”  

The bishop explained that the disciples previously looked at the Scriptures in “light of old constructs” but Jesus “is opening it up into a bigger text,” including the story of his death and resurrection. Bishop Duca noted the importance of the disciples learning this “in ways that they could not, on their own, understand.”  

According to the bishop, the disciples needed Jesus to give them that insight and to renew their faith and they wanted to learn more so they said, “Stay with us! Stay with us!” 

“When they sat down to dine, they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, which is kind of a complete catechetical moment,” said Bishop Duca. “He was there in the breaking of the bread and that sign would become the core of gatherings of Christian people, the new covenant of the body and blood of Christ.”

The message resonated with Janice Pintado, director of Christian Formation at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part for 50 years. 

“I think the most important thing about being a catechist is how much on fire are we, and if we’re on fire and we’re serving as a catechist then we’re an example to others,” said Pintado.  

Luke LaVergne, a retired district judge of the Family Court of East Baton Rouge Civil Parish, is passionate about his duties as a catechist for St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge.  

“I want to convey and pass on to the young people the meaning of being a good Catholic and our faith in Catholicism and the history of the Catholic Church,” LaVergne said with enthusiasm. “It’s really a joy to teach the history of the Catholic Church from the beginning, its formation and its authority from the Bible.”  

The convocation included guest speakers David Dawson Jr., director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Archdiocese of New Orleans; author and theologian Judy Klein; Deacon Alfred Adams, director of the Office of Black Catholics; and, Danielle Van Haute, associate director for the Office of Respect Life.  

Besides providing inspiration, the gathering also provided an opportunity for other catechists in the Diocese of Baton Rouge to network and connect.  

“It’s always good to see other people who are doing the same thing, going through the same struggles I had but they’re also going through the same joys and we’re here because we love it,” said Williams of the convocation.  

The event ended with a commissioning ceremony by Bishop Duca.