From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

As schools begin a new year, so do religious education programs

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 3, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

The parish center at Sacred Heart Church in Tekoa was abuzz with activity Sunday, Sept. 22. Religious education classes had started and every room in the center was filled with students and their teachers.

The scene was much the same in the other parishes of the Spokane Diocese, nearly all of which began religious instruction in the past couple of weeks.

What takes place in a parish’s religious instruction program? How are the children taught, and what is taught? A random sampling of Directors of Religious Education (DREs) answered those questions.

Joe and Mary Jo Heffron direct the religious education program at Tekoa and also teach the high school class. The parish is small, and the number of children varies from year to year.

Because of that, Heffrons and the parish religious education committee have had to be creative in arranging class groupings. This year Tekoa has about 35 young people in six groups, from preschool through high school.

Another parish that combines grade levels is St. Francis of Assisi in Spokane. Geri Wasson, who has taught RE classes for the past seven years, is the parish’s new DRE. She said there are four groups with approximately 40 children.

For curriculum, she chose a Scripture-based program called “Faith First.” Students study their lessons, have some kind of arts and crafts, and do some kind of activity each week, all tied to the lessons. Classes got underway Sept. 29.

Marv Grassl leads the high school group at St. Vincent Parish in Connell. Their weekly sessions get underway this month with about 100 students.

Grassl said they use a program called “Understanding Catholic Christianity.” He also uses Scripture and occasionally blends in other publications. There are “lots of good materials” available, he said. Many times he gives out information to take home.

Barbara LaCombe directs the preschool through eighth grade program for a group consisting of students from two Spokane parishes: St. Joseph on Dean and St. Anthony. The number of students fluctuates, but LaCombe said that this year enrollment was for about 50 young people, half from each parish. They meet in classrooms at St. Joseph.

LaCombe said they are using a new program with weekly materials based on the Sunday Scripture readings. That is what appealed to her about the program, since it “ties in with the parish,” she said.

Brenda Senger is the DRE at St. Peter Parish in Spokane. There are from 60-70 students involved in St. Peter’s program, from preschool through ninth grade. Classes started Sept. 22 for the preschool through sixth graders.

They, too, use the Faith First program, with children receiving instruction on certain topics each year. The older students work with a thematic approach, Senger said, which this year is “Living Our Faith.” Denise Briggs leads the junior high group for grades 7-9.

Deacon Wynn Webster directs religious education for all ages at Sacred Heart Parish in Brewster. Most of the students are Hispanic. The program has two elementary level tracks, one in Spanish and one in English. “We plan it so we are on the same page at the same time,” he said.

He said the Brewster parish also helps the Catholics in nearby Bridgeport with their religious education program. Bridgeport is in the Yakima Diocese.

Between parishes large and small anywhere in the diocese, religious education programs have many similarities. Many parishes hold their classes on Sunday, between, before or after the scheduled Masses. Teachers are usually parent volunteers who have had catechetical training. Volunteers, whether teachers or helpers, are critically important and DREs are very grateful for all those who work in their programs.

Sacramental preparation is usually conducted separately. The video generation continues through young people today and most catechists make use of audio-visual materials.

Nearly all of the programs adopt projects to help others. Operation Rice Bowl is popular. For one year’s service project, Grassl said, his students painted over graffiti in Connell. Deacon Webster said Brewster students collected items to put in shoeboxes that were sent to Third World countries.

Students at St. Peter Parish students fixed Easter baskets for the children at St. Margaret Hall. The baskets were filled with toys and all kinds of other goodies. LaCombe said the St. Joseph and St. Anthony students have “done things like collect socks” for the House of Charity and have also helped Our Place, a ministry to low-income families.

Building fellowship is also important. Grassl said for several years, the Connell group has made an annual trip to Chewelah, joining the youth group there for a day of skiing at 49 Degrees North. Heffrons take Tekoa’s high school students on a retreat at a lodge in the mountains. One of the projects for the teens in Brewster is to attend Lenten services at other churches in town, said Deacon Webster.

What kind of changes have catechists noticed in their years of working with kids?

Grassl said sometimes lesson plans need to be put aside when important issues come up that “need to be talked about.” He mentioned the high school shooting in Moses Lake as one example; another was the tragic death of a Catholic classmate who died of cystic fibrosis.

Mary Jo Heffron in Tekoa explained it this way: “We’re teaching things we never had to teach before, issues like homosexuality, abortion, and about other religions.”

Senger sees more parental in-volvement, with religious education programs being more family focused. “We try to make it a community experience with the whole parish,” she said.

Nevertheless, the goal is the same. Said Senger: “We work for a conversion of heart, as well as teach key concepts of our faith. We try to help students develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

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