ELLEN KEUTERMAN WITH her children: Evelyn, age three, and Colton, one.
ELLEN KEUTERMAN WITH her children: Evelyn, age three, and Colton, one.
Ellen Kueterman's family could be found in the stands of all of her home matches when she was the head women's water polo coach at Siena College in Loudonville. Through the smell of swimming-pool chlorine and the cheers of excited fans, she always had the support of her family.

Times are changing for the Kuetermans, but they keep swimming forward.

Mrs. Kueterman is the new pastoral associate for kindergarten through fifth-grade faith formation at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany. When she learned in July that she got the job, Mrs. Kueterman left Siena after 12 years of coaching water polo and serving as life skills coordinator for all the Siena Saints athletes. She provided drug and alcohol prevention education, career planning and more for students.

"I'm used to recruiting athletes and retaining them," the new catechist told The Evangelist.

New recruits
Now, Mrs. Kueterman is recruiting catechists to work with her on bringing religious education to the children of St. Vincent's.

So far, she said, her goal has been making sure that the faith formation program has ample volunteers who are excited and willing to commit to being catechists for the duration of the school year.

Although this is Mrs. Kueterman's first job for the Catholic Church, she is a lifelong Catholic. Raised in San Diego, Calif., she earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where she was on the water polo team.

Right after college, she began coaching at Siena and attending Mass at St. Pius X parish in Loudonville. She also met her husband, Paul, who is Siena's head swimming and diving coach.

In her new role, Mrs. Kueterman's biggest cheerleaders include her children: three-year-old Evelyn and one-year-old Colton.

Waters of faith
Both of them learned to swim before they could even walk.

"We mostly taught them for safety reasons, as they would be around the pool so much," Mrs. Kueterman said. "But now they both enjoy it!"

Water isn't the only thing in which the Kueterman kids have been immersed: They are also being brought up in a home that values Catholic education. Evelyn attends pre-kindergarten at St. Vincent's, staying close to her mom during work hours; Mr. Kueterman attends Mass with the family every week, although he isn't Catholic.

Evelyn loves the liturgy, Mrs. Kueterman told The Evangelist.

"She understands it a bit more now, and we're trying to really use that," said the pastoral associate. The family discusses Bible stories and encourages Evelyn to go to the children's Liturgy of the Word that St. Vincent's offers on Sunday mornings.

Mrs. Kueterman said she'd love to think that all children grow up learning about the faith as she did and as she is teaching her children, but she knows that's not always the case.

Working with teenagers for the past decade has shown the new pastoral associate how important it is to strengthen a child's faith at a young age. At Siena, she said, she met some students who did not attend weekly Mass or actively participate in their faith.

As life skills coordinator, Mrs. Kueterman even organized a few blessings for the student athletes, praying for safe play, success on the field and friendly sportsmanship on both sides.

Roles are similar
Providing faith formation for younger children won't be fundamentally different than working with the college students, she believes.

"Teaching is teaching," she told The Evangelist. "I think, for a lot of children, [faith formation is] their first introduction to religion. It's their groundwork, their framework for religion and faith."

Classes resume at St. Vincent's soon, the catechist noted. She's excited to meet new faces and "implement a good program with good values."

Looking back on her career at Siena, she mused that "athletics is a framework to teach students about life," and faith also gives students the tools they need to live well-rounded, wholesome lives.

Mrs. Kueterman won't be giving up on athletics completely. She plans to officiate at several matches at Siena this season.

Her main focus, though, will be her work at St. Vincent's. Mrs. Kueterman hopes to "grow and learn in the St. Vincent community, serve others and continue on my faith journey."