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Dedicated catechists share their knowledge of faith

St. Mary Refuge of Sinners catechists are, from left, Rosemary Robbins, who is also the director of religious education, Cecile Cone, Lisa Flynn and Barbara Steiner. Not pictured: Anne Harris.

Mary Robbins considers herself blessed as she prepares for the new religious education year at St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Cambridge, Md.

The parish’s director of religious education has a very experienced core of catechists (as the church calls its religious education instructors). Five, including Robbin, were cited for 15 years of service at the Diocese of Wilmington’s Catechetical Day last spring.

“I am so blessed to have these devoted catechists share their faith with youth and adults for more than 15 years,” said Robbins, the parish’s director of religious education. “The overall program is greatly enriched by all of our catechists’ knowledge of their faith.”

This Sunday they and other catechists at St. Mary’s, and at Catholic churches throughout the diocese and across the United States, will be commissioned for this school year as the church in the United States celebrates Catechetical Sunday.

The theme of this year’s observance: “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.”

Colleen Lindsey, who heads the diocesan office of religious education, said the commissioning provides catechists the opportunity to rededicate themselves. But she said those commissioned are just a few of the church’s catechists, those who pass on the faith; they just do it in more formal ways.

“Everyone is a catechist,” Lindsey said, in that baptized Catholics are called to bring the life of Jesus and God’s teaching to the world today. Parents are the “first catechists” in passing on the faith to their children, she said.

About 10,000 students participate in parish-based religious education programs for children, Lindsey said.

The diocese does not keep track of the total number of catechists, she said.

She appreciates the longtime dedication of St. Mary Refuge of Sinners’ most tenured catechists. “Fifteen years is a long time to be a catechist and a volunteer.”

The five illustrated the diversity of religious education efforts: classes for children, sacramental preparation, adult education and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. They became involved in religious education in different ways. All have served most of their tenure at St. Mary’s.

They are:

Cecile Cone, who currently works with the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. She answered a need for catechists after a church hall was built at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Church Creek, part of St. Mary Refuge of Sinners Parish. The RCIA program is for non-Catholics interested in learning more about the church as they consider joining it.

She’s taught every grade from third through the RCIA program adapted for teenagers, “whatever is needed.” Her goal is “to model a faith-filled life and that love of God [and] Jesus should be the center of each person’s life.”

Lisa Flynn, who began as a catechist at Ss. Peter and Paul in Easton before joining St. Mary Refuge of Sinners, where she teaches second grade. A desire to learn more about the Catholic faith and its traditions led her to be a catechist.

“Once I began to learn the Bible as history, the Catechism, and the lives of the saints and holy people, I was amazed and wanted to learn more, as well as share what I have learned. I haven’t stopped learning, so I keep teaching.”

Anne Harris became involved when a friend, Laura Weldon, “introduced me to St. Mary’s in 1998 and convinced me to become a catechist the following year.” She signed on as an aide for the fifth and sixth grade class “but a lead catechist never appeared, and I became the lead.” She and Maria Castro, third and fourth grade catechist for five years, will lead the confirmation program this year. She had some prior catechist experience, teaching fifth grade at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Baltimore while in college.

Over the 15 years she has taught at St. Mary’s “our society and culture and family units have changed dramatically. We need to be sensitive to the changing family dynamics while still teaching our faith and Catholic beliefs.” News and social media outlets “concentrate on the negative and evil in the world,” she said.  “We as catechists need to emphasize the good and God’s love and forgiveness. … [O]ur job is to spread love and teach the kids of God’s love and that everyone is created equal in his image.”

Barbara Steiner has worked with the adult program. She took an EPS (Education + Parish + Service) Certificate Program at Trinity University in Washington, which she said was “established to provide adults with spiritual formation and the highest quality theological, spiritual and pastoral education. Upon completing the EPS Program, I decided to help with the adult learning in our parish.”

She started with seventh-grade students in 1972 then stopped while teaching for 35 years in the Dorchester County public school system.

Rosemary Robbins began as an assistant to the pre-kindergarten program and taught at various grade levels as needed. She also led the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, where children up to fifth grade join a catechist who breaks down the Gospel and Scripture readings of Sunday Mass to the children’s level. She earned a master’s degree through the Loyola Institute of Ministry Extension program in 2003, then started a youth ministry at St. Mary’s. When Franciscan Sister Kathleen Winkelman retired as director of religious education in 2008, Robbins became DRE.

One of the advantages of such a tenured group of instructors is their ability to “share experiences and guide the less-experienced catechists with their questions or concerns,” Robbins said.