Invisible heroines and heroes

This coming Sunday, the Catechetical Office will honor women and men who, week in and week out, year in and year out, minister to children and families in parish religious education programs or to those who are entering the church each year through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, vicar for clergy, will preside at the annual Catechetical Recognition and Certification Ceremony in the beautiful chapel of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Ossining.

Catechists who are certified through levels one and two of catechist formation and who have given 25 years to the ministry, receive the Catechetical Medal of Honor. Many continue on and they, too, will receive special recognition from Cardinal Dolan. Those  who have completed certification at various levels – one, two, three and four (three and four are intensive Bible study) – will receive their certificates. Those who direct or coordinate the parish programs and who have completed the first part of the Catechetical Leadership Program, Basic Leadership Training, will receive their official pins. Catechists of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based early childhood religious education method, also will be certified at levels one, two or three.

However, whether or not they are receiving certificates and awards, this day honors salutes more than 9,000 people who are handing on the faith to just under 92,000 children and youth in the Archdiocese of New York. They are not always visible to the general population of a parish. However, most of these people are volunteers, who have other jobs or a houseful of children or both. They give more hours than most people realize to the ministry of religious education.

Each parish is mandated to offer 50 hours of religious education classes a year, including five hours of family catechesis. Our catechists and program leaders give up evenings and weekends to get the proper training in theology, spirituality, teaching methodology and administration.

The catechists prepare lesson plans and follow up each class, just like religions teachers in Catholic Schools. For each hour they are visible in the classroom, you can be sure they have put in several more hours behind the scenes.  The parish coordinators and directors of the programs, who are like school principals, don’t always get recognition for all the work of running these programs, which educate children from pre-K to eighth grade in the faith. They are busy all the time. The prep and follow-up of administering a religious education program is labor intensive, whether there or 40, 400 or 1,400 children (yes, that many) in the program. Just think of the record keeping alone. This is no once-a-week job for someone without proper training.

So as we salute these selfless women and men this Sunday, we should all give thanks for their gifts and for their willingness to answer God’s call to this vital ministry.

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