Becoming a Catechist: What's YOUR Story?

dv1940038At this time of the year, many people are being asked to consider the possibility of becoming a catechist for next year. This is a monumental responsibility of the catechetical leader: to discern which individuals God may be calling to this privileged vocation. By the same token, those who are invited to serve as catechists are faced with discerning whether or not this is their vocation.

Part of that discernment is listening to the stories of other catechists. You and I can assist by sharing our stories of how we were called to become catechists. No story is too mundane to share: God works through the ordinary experiences of everyday life to create extraordinary opportunites!

So WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

About Joe Paprocki 2115 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press. He has more than 30 years of experience in ministry and has taught at many different levels. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Catechist’s Toolbox and Under the Influence of Jesus.

34 Comments on Becoming a Catechist: What's YOUR Story?

  1. My first experience teaching catechesis was a couple of years after graduating college. My parish in New York was in need of Catechists (as most parishes are) and the idea of doing that sounded like something I would enjoy. My class at the time was made up of students from 3rd to 8th grade that needed to prepare for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion, sort of like a catch up class. Unfortunately, that

  2. I teach 6th grade Religious Ed at my Catholic parish. 2008-9 was my 5th year of doing so; each year it gets better; I refine my lesson plans in writing every year. Before that, for 5 years or so my wife & I team-taught RCIA and an adult class. We enjoyed it, we had some great people in the classes. She’s a professor, and I taught at the college level for a couple of years as well, so the older the student, the better, as far as I was concerned. Before teaching I’d done a lot of reading in order to explain Catholicism to my Baptist/ Fundamentalist fellow Christians here in Upstate South Carolina…what I call counterevangelization. Being able to explain your faith matters where I live.

    Anyway, at one point there was a need for a 6th grade teacher, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. I really was not interested in dealing with kids…what do they care about the Council of Nicaea?

    But God does work in mysterious ways. The kids are 11-12 years old, and I was wrong to think I’d have to dumb things down for them. As an age group, I’ve found them to be ready to learn, ready to think, ready to know more about God and Faith. They have an as-yet unjaded view of life, and a natural disposition to take God seriously. They grasp big ideas quickly, adjust to new information, and leap to conclusions in a single bound. Their brains are more nimble than an adult’s brain. They like to be respected as people, not just as children. They will meet high expectations and enjoy doing it. They get serious substantial content, but in a way that works with kids at 7pm on a schoolnight. My deal is I will treat them at the highest level of maturity they can manage.

    What motivates me (briefly!):

    1. Having the kids learn what I wished I’d learned about God and Catholicism before I grew up.

    2. Training them to see the Bible and Catholicism as a single thing; to think Bible is to think Catholic.

    3. Giving them a faith framework, a faith worldview that they won’t outgrow, but that can grow with them.

    4. Understanding big ideas about God.

    5. Making them work to learn through constant Q and A.

    6. Preparing them to evangelize, even if it’s just answering questions about Catholicism.

    7. Changing the Future.

    As long as I’ve been married (21 years) I’ve sensed that God gave my wife to me, in particular; that I was preparing all my life to be her husband but didn’t know; and that it’s by a great and loving act of God that she’s my wife, not something I did myself (although I helped it along… just ask her!).

    And that’s the same way I feel about being a catechist.

  3. Christian, I guess what I meant by that was that when I started the year, I performed a “task” every Monday night for an hour. I taught a lesson and answered questions. As the year went on and my students challenged me (they didn’t know they were challenging me, but they were) my sentiment began to change.

    This transformed itself from a “task” to a “ministry”. I felt a drive to go beyond the textbook. I felt critical of the text because I was able to determine what my students were lacking in knowledge and the text did not cover that material in sufficient depth. I began to put more and more thought and time into what I wanted to cover each week. I did more research. I looked at the Bible and the Catechism more. I spent time looking for mainstream music to bring in whose lyrics taught a lesson, just so I could make a connection to the generation. I realized that I needed to make the lessons more interesting and dare I say entertaining so that I could get the message across and have it stick.

    My mind and heart were opened to the calling, to the ministry and to the purpose. It was no longer the program’s purpose, it was my purpose. The year changed me.

  4. When I answered the call to become a Catechist just one year ago, I was just beginning to go through a period of discernment about what God was wanting from me. My son was just going into 7th grade, our DRE spoke at Mass one day practically begging for Catechists and, at that moment, I innocently volunteered.

    I didn

    • Greg, your enthusiasm is contagious! I have no doubt that you will inspire others to become catechists whether it is through folks reading your comments or listening to you speak from the pulpit! Thanks for sharing!

      “The hills are alive…!!!” 🙂

  5. Greg, great post….

    “how was I going to handle questions from junior high kids! Panic!”

    Oh yes. My first year I needed about 3 (or more) hours of preptime for each 50 minute class. While reviewing the textbook material, I made a lesson plan in pencil on a lettersize legal pad. One page of notes leads equals 1 class. Each year the lesson plan refines through erasing, new notes, margin comments, support sheets etc. All go into a 3-ring binder. This last year, my 5th year, I needed about 1 hour of prep for class.

    “Read! This means books about the Saints, Catholic periodicals, online tools, and anything we can get our hands on.”

    Yes! Kids want to see how Faith applies to current events. Speaking of periodicals, my wife & I like to relax with a couple of beers and take Joe’s Catholic IQ Test in each month’s Catechist magazine.

    “Use your class

  6. Greg, what a great story!! So many common themes between many of the stories I’ve heard, and even my own. It is somewhat comforting for us that are just starting out to know we are not alone as we continue to build on our calling.

    One other resource to consider for learning more is the Podcast community. I listen to a few podcasts that I find very educational. You may want to consider “The SaintCast”, “iPadre”, and “BustedHalo Cast” (meant for adults, but works for our personal learning). I’ve found these to be good resources in furthering my understanding of our faith and it’s history.

  7. Christian and Carlos. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement and also thanks for the recommended resources! You both have very inspiring stories.

    Christian, your description of class prep in your first year describes me perfectly! Notes written and rewritten on a legal pad, 3 hours plus, yep, that’s it.

    I do look for Joe’s Catholic IQ test every month……a humbling experience as I try and answer all the questions 😉

    I don’t have a blog to share my thoughts although I have to say it is a great idea. There is so much to share.

  8. Greg, did you come across any difficulties with having your son in your class? Do you, Joe, Carlos or Chistian have any pointers for making sure this doesn’t become an issue? I’m teaching 6th grade for the first time this year, but this is the first year since 2nd grade that my son will be in my class.

    • Katharine, I’ve never had that situation myself (I subbed once for my daughter’s class) but I know many catechists who have been in that situation. Many decide to do it (with great success)while some decide it’s not something they want to put their child through! 🙂 It all seems to depend on the relationship at the time. If parent/child are getting along well, go for it. If it’s one of the those situations where the child is in a phase of not wanting to be seen with their parents, avoid it. My advice is, if you and your son are in a good place, just enjoy the experience. Ask him how he feels about the situation. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “perform” – rather, prepare lessons that focus on what the children will be asked to do…keep the spotlight on them and not on yourself. Be yourself. I’m sure your son and his friends see you in everday situations…this is just another one of them.

      Let’s hear from someone who can speak from their experience of teaching their child’s class!

  9. Carlos, went and checked BustedHalo on YouTube, watched the Confession vids, and also Anne Rice’s interview about her Jesus novels. I’ve read the first two and found useful info in them for Rel Ed…she’s clearly done a ton of research.
    Thanks, I’d never visited Busted Halo.

  10. Katharine, I had no difficulty at all having my son in my class. Sure, he did see me sometimes when I wasn’t at my best (and vice versa) but the conversations we had in the car about topics we discussed in class made any awkwardness well worth it.

    He was rather quiet in class during the first half of the year but was always wanting to answer my questions in class during the second half of the year. I did enjoy seeing his friends outside of class and knowing that we had the bond of being in class together (even though they may pretend they don’t know me outside of class ;-). Just kidding.

    I will likely move to 8th grade with him next school year as I would like the experience of teaching 8th graders as well and then I will be “on my own” so to speak.

  11. I began teaching RE 7 years ago when my neighbor asked for help with my sons first grade class. I was reluctant at first because I had other young children at home. We had a great time that year, the following year I took on my fourth grade sons class and have taught every grade twice now as I have continues with each of my four kids. This past season was fourth grade for my third child and first grade for my youngest. Our DRE is the greatest, we are very well prepared and all supplies are provided (even cut to size). I have deepened my faith with each lesson I prepare, there is so much to learn about our faith. RE is truly and enjoyable experience, I would encourage anyone to give it a try!

    • Carol, isn’t it funny how most of us catechists are reluctant at first? And now, here you are encouraging anyone to give it a try! Thanks for sharing!

  12. “I have deepened my faith with each lesson I prepare”

    How true….who among us wasn’t surprised by this discovery?

    Interesting that apparently none of us volunteered on our own, but had to be asked. The Holy Spirit hands out gifts you don’t even know you have.

  13. My husband and I had created young friendships and new connections in our parish. Our pastor had become a dear friend and would stop by our house as he rode his scooter around the neighborhoods for a coke (and a smoke -outside). After our daughter was born and our son was ready to begin preschool, Father nabbed me very willingly to begin teaching preschool classes on Sunday morning. My heart was already willing and my teaching imaginals stirring as I had been a teacher by vocation. Sunday mornings were busy. I brought our oldest to class and taught. My husband brought our younger son and daughter to Mass where we met as a family. I regulary took the bows or hair ribbons from him and fussed over our daughter as we walked into Church. Fifteen years ago, our pastor sat in my family room one night until I returned home from parent meetings at school to ask me to direct our parish program. It has been 27 years and my vocation has changed and my heart still energized.

  14. When I was a junior in high school, in 1963, one of the sisters at the church I attended asked if I would like to teach a 2nd grade class for the year. That was the “honey” that got me into the hive and I have been there ever since. As I got married and we traveled from state to state in the military I was always a catechist teaching many different grades in different areas of the country. It was my passion, my vocation, my ministry and my honor to be of service to the Lord wherever I lived. Since we settled back into Michigan I have taught all these years with the exception of 1-1/2 years, teaching all levels from pre-school to seniors. I went back to school at 41 to get my degree in religious studies and now after 18 years as a youth minister, I have taken on the role of DRE in my home parish where I catechized for 33 years. It definitely has been my calling, the use of my gifts and talents, and my passion to share the love of Christ with all the students I come in contact with. I cannot imagine not doing this and will continue to be a catechist is some form until I pass on. I have been doing this ministry for 46 years now and hope to do it for at least another 20!

    • Bobbi, you’ve been in ministry almost as long as I’ve been alive! What an inspiration to me and to all the folks reading your story! Thanks for sharing!

  15. “…teaching all levels from pre-school to seniors”

    Do you have an age preference, and why; also are you as happy being the DRE as you were teaching?

  16. My call to the catechist ministry began at the age of 19. I was in Japan with my parents on a military base and was very unhappy living at home. During my confession with our pastor I mentioned this and he recommended helping in the first grade as an assistant catechist. I did volunteer and from then on nearly every year I helped or taught a grade, even with my fiance with the 9th grade. I really felt the call when I was asked to be youth ministry here at Sacred Heart and then four years later the Director. My life is full and I am very blessed with a wonderful church family.

  17. My call to be a catechist came this past year. For years, I wanted to teach the children and be a catechist. I kept putting if off telling myself I was not a teacher. I did not know enough about my religion. With being single and having no children, where did I think that I had the knowledge to know what to do. Everyone always told me, I was very good with children, my cousins children. I would sit there listing to them and talking. Finally, three years after to moving to CT, I became a catechist. It was after mass two of the faith formation coordinators spoke at the end of mass. After listening to them, I decided to become a catechists. It was easy to meet with them; they knew me by seeing me serve as a Lector and Eucharist Minster. During the following week, I gave Kathryn a call and made an appointment to met with her near the end of May 2008. We spoke for a little while and felt it was the best thing I had every done. At this time, I had met the other two coordinators, Marj and Michelle. They made you feel so welcomed. They advised that they would be their to assist us. Also, I would have a co-teacher. They asked if I could work with the second graders. I said I would work where ever they needed me. I was really scared as October approached. In our parish, we get the second graders ready for Reconciliation. Holy Communion is in the third grade. Its better to wait the year and separate the sacraments. During this first year, the children really got me nervous. Hoping you tell them the right thing, but God guided us. I really got to know the children well. On their day of reconciliation, I was asked to assist greet the children coming in and provide them with the Act of Contrition. When the children left, I also got to give them their certificate. It was honestly a beautiful ceremony. We did it! I had decided earlier in the term to make a rosary for each child and got them to tell me their favorite color. Our class was held on Tuesday. On March 17 which is my birthday, I got to give the children the gift. I was so happy. It was a really blessed day for me. The children really liked them because I gave each got their favorite color. Our last class was in mid April. I work full time and made arrangements to leave early on Tuesday and work late during the week. Then, I got scared because a company bought our company. I discussed it with management and actually begged them to not take it away from me. I can gladly say that my manager said we can work around it. It was not a problem. Now, I really miss Tuesdays and can’t wait until October. During the year, I was also attending St Cyril classes and attending seminars. Right now I’m trying to read everything to help me on my journey. I can honestly say I am very blessed with the support of my family and the people I know through the church.

    God bless you all!

  18. Hello Everyone,
    My name is Jessica Arroyo and my story began 2 years ago when I was offered the DRE position in the chapel my husband is stationed at in Iwakuni, Japan. Being in the military this is the first time I have ever been away from a civilian parish and I have had to utilize the base services dealing with a chapel. I will say that my first year I felt like a person that was brand new to the Catholic faith. Even though I have been a Catholic all of my life, been in Catholic school as a child and attended a Catholic college. Now, two years after the initial shock has worn off I can say that I am glad that I chose to pursue this career and I enjoy my call to serve. Also, it has taught me a lot about the faith too.

  19. I have been teaching Old Testament for 15 of my 19 years. I learn something new every year that I teach. I just attended session 2 of “Journey Through Scripture” by Dr Scott Hahn. It is a marvelous program and teaches the correlation of OT to NT in program #1, the Bible and the Mass program #2. I have #3 and #4 to attend yet. It opened my eyes even more to God’s great gifts.

  20. dearest my beloved friend hope u can send more about how to teach being a catechist ok thanks a lot love you,GOD BLESS

  21. Authenticity is vital to being a human being practicing the Catholic faith as well as a catechist in the classroom. There can be no separateness . I have met some of the children in McDonald’s and they just smile so big. They see me as a real person who actually eats!! I greet them and they can put me in the symbolic place of the “Church” for the moment. Again it is vital that we are not seen at inappropriate places either by members of the Church. As a professional DRE or a catechist we take upon a new life that can not be part time..Are you ready to do that?

  22. I became a pre-school catechist in 1987, 2 weeks after moving to Minnesota with my husband (then an active duty member of the military). There was a request for catechist in the church bulletin and I volunteered. I also enrolled our 2 then preschool sons in the program. I made wonderful friends, got to know the community and the parish church, and discovered that I loved teaching the children.
    Over the next few years, we lived in 4 other states, all of which I found opportunities to be a catechist, get to know the communities and the parish church. After being discharged from the military, we moved back to Ohio, which is where my husband and I were born and raised.
    Fast forward to late 2014, I am now in my 24th year as a catechist (I took 3 years off when our younger, developmentally disabled son, was giving me too numerous behavioral problems than I could cope with while teaching). I have taught 3, 4 and 5 year old preschool religious education, 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th grades. I currently teach 2nd grade (I am in my 15th year of doing this grade) and 5th grade (I am in my 5th year of teaching this grade).

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