MAGNOLIA — When Catholics tell Father Matthew Guckin that they had a good Lent, he asks in return, “Are you having a good Easter?”
“The church gives up 40 days of Lent, but the church gives us 50 days of Easter,” Father Guckin told an April 14 Catechetical Day convocation for the Diocese of Wilmington, held at St. Thomas More Academy.
While Catholics seem to have a handle on how to observe Lent through sacrifice, they have trouble properly celebrating the good times the church offers, such as breaking the bonds of death for eternal life.
Father Guckin, director of Catholic mission and identity for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, spoke on “Forming Missionary Disciples in a Secular World” at the Catechetical Day. During the program, 43 catechists (religious education instructors) were honored for almost 700 years’ combined service, and Patricia Freedman, religious education director at St. Polycarp Parish in Smyrna who died on Easter Sunday, was remembered.
Topping the honorees were Rosemarie DeLong, a catechist with 46 years of service, and Patricia Berrigan, religious education director with 40 years of service, both from St. Matthew in Wilmington. They accounted for about 13 percent of the tenure of all honorees combined. They were among four honorees with more than 35 years of service; the other 39 were cited for service at five-year intervals, from five to 35 years.
Interestingly, the next two in seniority were another director of religious education-catechist pair from Our Lady of Lourdes in Seaford. Peter Kowalski was honored for 40 years’ service, while DRE Debbie Depta was cited for 37 years. Five other Our Lady of Lourdes catechists were honored; combined, the seven accounted for 122 years of service.
St. Mary Refuge of Sinners in Cambridge, Md., also had seven honorees, including five with 15 years’ service.
DeLong and Berrigan are both retiring from the religious education program at St. Matthew’s.
All of DeLong’s service was at St. Matthew’s, mostly third-graders and later middle-schoolers. Her tenure has allowed De Long a luxury: “I’ve taught grandchildren of children I taught earlier.”
“I enjoy sharing my faith with them,” she said. “I love the kids.”
Her influence on religious education has not ended. Her daughter Stacey Mattia, who began as an aide to her mother after she completed eighth grade, was honored for 30 years’ service at Corpus Christi in Elsmere. “Now her daughter Genesia is working with her,” DeLong said.
Berrigan, DRE for 13 years at St. Matthew’s, has helped with the after-care program at St. Ann School in Wilmington. Next year she plans to continue that, and to possibly substitute teach.
Her 43 years of service includes teaching at three Catholic schools in the Wilmington Diocese: Corpus Christi, Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., and St. Peter the Apostle in New Castle.
“I have wonderful catechists,” Berrigan said, which made her job as DRE at St. Matthew’s much easier. Most have at least five years’ service, she said.
Kowalski began as a catechist in 1969 but took several years off, so “40 is a good number.” He is in his ninth year at Our Lady of Lourdes, having moved to Seaford in 2008. His previous service was in New Jersey.
Depta, his DRE, said she appreciated Kowalski’s “passion for the Blessed Mother,” his strong pro-life stance, and how he works to ensure his students know their prayers.
Depta has been director of religious education at Our Lady of Lourdes for 25 years and was a catechist there for another eight years — ever since she moved to Seaford.
She enjoys hearing students tell their parents or friends after class about what they learned. At the same time, she is challenged to “reach those children who are starving to have religion in their lives” and those who struggle with the faith but “keep questioning and working on their faith life.
“We couldn’t be charged with a more important task, especially in this day and age,” Depta said.