COLUMBIA – “Everything You Need to Know About Being a Good Catechist But Were Afraid to Ask” could have been the subtitle of the recent Midland Deanery Catechetical Workshop, “Sowers of God’s Peace,” held at St. Joseph Parish Life Center Sept. 13. Experienced catechists and parish leaders presented topics on prayer, ecumenism, confession, saints, youth ministry, and classroom techniques to assist catechists in transferring their enthusiasm for the faith to their students.
The keynote speaker was Sister Mary Laura Lesniak, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur, who summarized the role of a catechist and how it relates to being a peacemaker. She also gave two separate workshops, one on creative prayer and the other on saints as models.
“We have to teach the children how to pray, how to focus. They know how to focus on a computer so we can teach them how to focus on God,” said Sister Lesniak.
She gave an example of how to teach children to pray with the scriptures, suggesting that when reading from the Bible, the catechist should present vivid images that awaken the senses.
“Children do not have a chance for quiet today,” she said. “Have them sit and get calm; then you will be able to help them make a connection with what God is trying to say to them through his word.”
One of the catechists asked how to teach prayers to her class within the limited class time. Lesniak encouraged the teachers to empower the parents to help and invite them to get involved in a nonconfrontational way. One of the other participants shared her idea of having her students write the prayer on paper with a note to their parents, “Thanks for helping me learn this prayer.”
“I really liked Sister Mary Laura’s talks,” said Patricia Privette, a sixth-grade catechist at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington. “She was just so open and down to earth and made everything she said interesting.”
Karen Dietz, director of religious education at St. Peter Church in Columbia, gave a workshop called “Catechists 101.” She asked participants what led them to become catechists. Lorna Manglona-Williams recalled the day she was registering her children for faith formation at St. John Neumann and was asked to be a catechist by the assistant director, Lori Marciano.
“It was out of Lori’s desperation for catechists that I said ‘yes,’” recalled Marciano, who would have never considered becoming a catechist on her own because she did not think she knew enough to be one.
Dietz said that being asked by a desperate catechetical leader is not uncommon for propelling some people into the ministry. According to Dietz, many people need that special invitation because they do not think they have enough knowledge about the faith to be a catechist.
Dietz’s own call to becoming a catechist was through an invitation shortly after she joined the Catholic Church, after completing RCIA.
“The baptismal water had not even dried off of me when I was ap-proached,” remembered Dietz, “yet someone believed that I had something to share. I am not sure if I would have ended up as a religious education director if it had not been for that initial invitation.”
One of the tools that Dietz has always found successful in the classroom is storytelling. “When we share stories, there is something that catches the attention,” said Dietz, who reminded the catechists that much of the faith was communicated through oral tradition.
Father Sandy McDonald, pastor at Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta, spoke on “Ecumenism and Catechesis and Confirmation — A Different Angle.” The youth director at St. Joseph Church, John Waters, gave a talk on “Youth Ministry: Catch ’em and Keep ’em.”
“It was wonderful to have the opportunity to provide for the deanery a day of formation and fellowship,” said Amy Taylor, director of religious education at Corpus Christi Church. Taylor helped organize the event with other Midland directors.