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Directors of Religious Education call on parents as primary instructors of faith

 092322Religious Education

St. John the Evangelist religion teacher Greg Rabito shares details of the parish's restructured religion program on Aug. 28, while students attend class with catechists. The new program encourages more parent involvement. (Lynda J. Hemmerling photo)




      Parishes throughout the Diocese of Gary are working diligently to draw entire families into the religious education experience and to help parents recognize their importance as leaders of their domestic churches.

      Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, religious education programs had to adjust over the past few years, with students often spending more time at home and less time with teachers and peers.

      Cathy Scolaro, director of religious education at Our Lady of Consolation in Merrillville, said she has been adapting her program over the years. And this year is extra special because the OLC program is being combined with Holy Martyrs Parish.

      “We are getting our families together,” Scolaro said. “We are making our families a big part of the program. They are being invited to events and instructed on what to teach their children at home.”

      As a domestic church, the family is where children first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek His will for themselves. Scolaro encourages families to build their domestic churches through a life of prayer that can help all the members of the family.

      Sean Martin, director of religious education for the diocese, stressed the importance of the Catholic faith within the family. “It pertains to more than matters in this life; it deals with eternal life,” he said. “It’s important to learn about the truths that God has revealed to us. We want to know the most about whom we love. It helps all involved to know, love and serve the Lord.”

      With the help of parents, Martin has great aspirations this year. He said, “My hope is for a good holy, fruitful year, for our children in Religious Education to fall deeply and madly in love with Jesus Christ and know that they are deeply loved by Him.”

      Joyce Malecki, DRE for 20 kindergarten through eighth grade students in the religious education program at St. Martin of Tours in LaCrosse, believes in the domestic church. “Children learn by example and commitment in having God as the center of each family,” she said. “We all must learn to form our faith in Christ's love and live by his commandments.”

      Shirley Ortega, of St. Francis Xavier in Lake Station, is excited to begin her second year as DRE. “One of the very best things is helping the kids learn more about our faith, our religion,” she said. “My goal is to help keep them in the faith, learning and growing into the future.”

      Ortega wants parents to recognize the importance of providing firm parameters for their children. “It is hard for us as parents, but there are things that we don’t ask of our children; we can tell them. When they are young, you can push them and tell them what to do, that they are going to church or something like that. But more than that, you want to instill a love of Jesus in them so that they will want to go to church.”

      DRE Emilija Lapas, of St. James the Less in Highland, said faith formation is important because the more people discover about God, the more they discover about ourselves. She said, "As we discover more about ourselves as being children of a Heavenly Father, of a God who is Love and seeks out a relationship with us, we should be filled with a joy that is contagious. If we look around us today, doesn't the world need more joy – true joy? Not momentary pleasure, but genuine, unshakable, lasting joy.”

      Parental involvement is also part of sacramental preparation. “One way that we incorporated families last year and will do again this year is to have the parents of children who are receiving either First Reconciliation or First Comm come for three Sacrament enrichment sessions for themselves,” Lapas said. “This gives the opportunity for the parents to not only deepen their understanding of the mysteries of the faith, but it also equips them to speak with their children about these sacraments, as well as connect with and share experiences with other parents.”

      St. James is taking steps to help students learn about the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist by having weekly Eucharistic Adoration on Monday evenings. Adoration is open to the public and coincides with the last half hour of our Faith Formation Program “making it accessible both to our classes and the parents waiting to pick them up,” Lapas said.

      For Amy Goggin, DRE at St. John the Evangelist in St. John, religious education began in August for the Sunday morning and Monday evening programs with 136 students. The program has been restructured to include more parental accountability.

      “Parents are the primary educators of the faith,” Goggin said. “Children will not grow to be good, active, practicing adult Catholics unless they have that example lived out in the home. If parents prioritize weekly Mass, daily prayer, regular confession and a commitment to religious education, their children will learn to value this as well.

      “Teaching the faith to children as early as possible and continuing that education throughout a lifetime is the most important thing you can do,” she added “Our end goal is heaven. The only way to accomplish that is to learn to love Christ and His Church.”

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