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Religious ed teachers say devoting the time and energy brings rewards

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About 17,000 Catholic public school students reunited this month with their 1,500 religious education teachers to learn about God and the Catholic faith.

Just like school teachers, religious education teachers, also known as catechists, have been preparing for months for this school year, studying the curriculum and making lesson plans. Most religious education instructors, however, teach young people once a week on Wednesday or Sunday for 30 weeks as volunteers - all while juggling full-time jobs and family responsibilities.

"Many, many sacrifices are made by catechists in order to make it on Wednesday nights," said Patty Griffith, director of religious education for St. Pius X Parish in Omaha. "Some of my catechists come straight from their jobs to the classroom, and some find babysitters for their young children. They make these sacrifices joyfully, though, and that's stewardship."

Joyce Dohman said teaching religious education for nearly 35 years for St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus has been a sacrifice of her time ... but it's been worth the effort to see her students grow in their love and understanding of the faith.

"What we do is important, and if you plant the seed now, maybe it will carry further on," she said.

A convert to the Catholic faith, Dohman said the experience has helped her grow in her own faith.

Jeanie Miller said her nearly 20 years of teaching religious education at St. Mary Parish in Spencer has made her a better Catholic. Archdiocesan training, the lessons she teaches and the students help her learn about the church, its teaching and how to live the faith, she said.

"It's always a challenge to find the time," she said, "but the old adage that you get more than you give is so true."

Joe Simoens, who is starting his 13th year as a catechist for St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue, said he got involved in part to make a difference in the lives of children, including his own. He taught his oldest son, Brice, has watched three of his five children celebrate the sacrament of confirmation, and said he plans to continue teaching until his last two children - currently in grades 5 and 6 - make their confirmation.

"I grew up with parents who set a good example," he said. "This gives me a chance to spend more time with my family and set a good example for my children."

Catechists bring individual strengths to their ministry, such as creativity and organization, Griffith said, but all of them want to share the faith with children and young adults.

"Each catechist on my staff responded to a call from God, a whisper sometimes or sometimes a verbal invitation that took them totally by surprise," she said. "However they received the call, it tugged at something deeper. It tugged at a desire to share faith."

WANT TO BE A CATECHIST?

Cathi Snyder, coordinator of elementary catechesis and catechist certification for the archdiocese, said materials are provided to help volunteers teach the faith, and they also should:

Have a love of their faith and a desire to share it with others.

Be in good standing with the church and open to ongoing faith formation for themselves.

Take advantage of courses offered through the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, as well as any other formational programs approved by the archdiocese.

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