Teachers learn their fill at Catechist Day


COLUMBIA – Anticipating next year’s 40th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Diocese of Charleston scheduled a Council expert for its annual Catechist Day on Nov. 11. Timothy Mullner of Texas told about 60 Catholic school teachers and parish catechists in a hotel meeting room: “Vatican II isn’t just history; it’s a living tradition. It’s the way we’ve handed down the Good News for centuries. Every time you catechize (teach religion), you are handing down the tradition.”

Mullner went through a detailed history of Pope John XXIII’s assembly, the battles that led to the 16 final documents of Vatican II and the personalities involved. He taught the consequences of the changes in the life of the Catholic Church wrought by the famous gathering of bishops and theologians. He said after his presentation that all adults who teach the faith to children need to know church history “for their own Christian identity and spiritual formation.”

Participants found the information fascinating. Christy Bethke, a social studies teacher, told about her attempt to teach history in a public school and how her students knew Martin Luther King but not Martin Luther. She agreed with her colleagues at St. John Parish in North Charleston, Kathleen Erickson and Ellie Jacobs, that the history of Vatican II might be, as Paul Schroeder said, “the greatest story never told.”

“So many of our kids don’t know the history of the church,” Erickson said.

And Jacobs, who admitted to living through the council years as an adult, said that Mullner’s presentation “was a history lesson for me.”

Schroeder is the director for the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, sponsor of the one-day seminar. He said that the diocese channeled resources into bringing national speakers to South Carolina to further just such an opportunity for learning and sharing. Dan Rogers, from St. Peter’s in Columbia, relished the opportunity.

“It’s good to know where we’ve come from so we can appreciate our faith more,” Rogers said. “You can ask the question: what have we learned?”

Some things that participants learned during the first part of Mullner’s presentation had to do with pluses and minuses in church life since the Vatican Council.

Mary Riley of St. Edward’s in North Augusta learned about the changes since 1962 from her grandmother. “Things don’t seem to be as sacred since before Vatican II,” Riley said.

Mullner said that it is essential for people in parishes across the diocese to discuss the impact of the almost 40-year-old church council.

“That’s especially true over the next year,” the catechist leader said. “It’s an important piece of process, since some bishops after Vatican II did not initiate a systematic catechesis on the documents.”

Mullner interspersed humor throughout his presentation and, in fact, taught the teachers in an afternoon session how to inculcate humor into their classrooms. He also gave lessons on using the press and modern technology to catechize. The result was a day packed with useful tips and fascinating content. Schroeder said that catechists deserve no less.

“They give up their time and talent to teach our children and often can’t get away for national conferences. Our office has made it a priority to bring those kinds of messages and ideas from nationally known speakers to them.” He said the diocese plans to offer its Catechist Day again next year.