St. Mary parish: Take the catechism, please

AIKEN—St. Mary Help of Christians Church is one of many parishes helping people learn more about the faith by making copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church readily available.

As of early November, 2,796 copies had been distributed through St. Mary’s catechism ministry, which was started by Father James L. LeBlanc, shortly after the pastor arrived in 2002.

The small, paperback editions are available in every pew in the main church and also in adjacent St. Angela Hall, where overflow crowds attend Mass each Sunday.

Each book comes with a small envelope inside. People are asked to make a donation of $5 if they take one of the copies, and place the envelope in the collection plate during Mass.

Vici Jackson, a member of the parish RCIA team, said any money collected goes back into the ministry. The donation is only a suggestion, and people may give whatever they can afford.

“The goal is to get the catechism out to as many people as we can, not to make a profit,” Jackson said. “Each week Father LeBlanc announces a count of how many copies have gone home with people.”

The copies are supplied by Random House for about $4.68 each. Jackson said over the years the cost has been about $15,000, with the parish only spending about $3,000. The rest of the money came from donations.

Jackson said the ministry has helped many people in the parish, both cradle Catholics and converts, learn more about the foundations of the faith.

“The catechism is our whole life, it’s just the way we live our lives as the body of Christ,” Jackson said. “It encompasses everything. The catechism shows us what the church believes, what she lives, what she prays and what she celebrates. We’ve been very blessed by this ministry and because of it have a deeper understanding of our faith, which leads us to be more confident in sharing it with others.”

RCIA lessons rely heavily on both Scripture and the catechism to convey church teaching, she explained, and it’s been helpful to have the book readily available to students who might not have one.

Having the catechism in each pew has changed the way some people prepare for the sacraments, according to Jackson.

“At our parish reconciliation services, I’ve witnessed parishioners prayerfully reading the catechism as they await their turn,” she said. “I know I have reviewed the Ten Commandments to examine my conscience while I wait. We can do this because the catechism is in the pews.”

Bob and Pam Nestor of Aiken know firsthand how helpful the catechism can be in teaching Catholic values to young people. Mrs. Nestor said that for about a year and a half, the family read two chapters together weekly after Sunday Mass while their five children were still in school. Their children are grown, but the couple still regularly reads the catechism for reference and gives out copies from St. Mary to interested friends, both Catholic and other faiths.

She said the book has helped their friends answer questions about church teaching, and cleared up misunderstandings non-Catholics might have about the faith. The couple also uses the catechism in Marriage for Life presentations that they conduct, and Mrs. Nestor said it’s helpful to have copies readily available in the church for students.

“Years ago, it was really exciting to be able to go over the catechism with our family, and I still pick up the catechism when I’m curious about how the church presents a particular topic,” Mrs. Nestor said. “It’s so helpful because it covers everything about church teaching with such a degree of love. The catechism gives you an appreciation of how much God cares for us through the church.”