Catechists across the Diocese share their stories and reflect on their vocation in honor of Catechetical Sunday on September 19, 2021. The day honors the role that each baptized person plays in handing on the Catholic faith and being a witness to the Gospel.
Catechists across the Diocese share their stories and reflect on their vocation in honor of Catechetical Sunday on September 19, 2021. The day honors the role that each baptized person plays in handing on the Catholic faith and being a witness to the Gospel.
Catechesis is a vocation: “Being a catechist, this is the vocation, not working as a catechist. So keep this in mind: I didn’t say to do the ‘work’ of catechists, but to ‘be’ catechists, because this is something that embraces our whole life. It means leading people to encounter Christ by our words and our lives, by giving witness.” — Pope Francis, International Congress on Catechesis, Sept. 27, 2013.

These words of Pope Francis remind us that being a catechist is so much more than being a volunteer. Rather, it is a true vocation rooted in our baptism — a calling from God to lead others to Jesus Christ! The call comes in a variety of ways, “but they are all means which God, through the Church, uses to call people to his service” (“Directory for Catechesis,” 112). The Directory for Catechesis uses such beautiful imagery to describe this vocation. The catechist is, among other things, “a witness of faith and keeper of the memory of God” (#113). Imagine that — a catechist is one who keeps alive all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus throughout the ages — and continues to do for us now in the present moment. As such, the catechist is also “a traveling companion” — one who walks with others amid the realities of life, and encourages them to encounter Jesus on the journey, and to find a home in the Church as a beloved child of God.

Perhaps this past year of pandemic made the vocation of the catechist more relevant than ever. They walked (often via Zoom or Google Meet) with children, young people, families and adults, and brought the light of God’s love to this challenging time.

So, through their catechetical/youth ministry leaders, we invited catechists from throughout the Diocese to reflect on their vocation. We are grateful to those who were able to respond to this invitation. May their words and witness inspire all of us — and also cause many to ponder and pray, “God, are you calling me to ‘be’ a catechist?” 

— David G. Amico, M.Ed., diocesan director for the Office of Lay Ministry and Parish Faith Formation

Adirondack Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Mary Rosmus.
After leaving a teaching career of over 25 years, I feel that Jesus led me to becoming a catechist for the First Eucharist class. I still needed that connection with children. Jesus truly helped me, not only through a life transition, but also through these difficult months of the pandemic. — Mollie Bell teaches sacramental prep and has been a catechist for 20 years.
Prior to the pandemic, life was getting very fast-paced. This past year has allowed our family to re-prioritize our lives, slow down and keep God present in our everyday lives. Making God an important part of our everyday lives has strengthened our friendship with God. — Mike MacDougall teaches Grades 7-9 and has been a catechist for six years.

Catechetical leaders: Alex Ghent and Rebecca Robarge.
I have enjoyed being a catechist for the last 30 years. Teaching children about God’s love and forgiveness as well as our Catholic traditions is very important to me. Children are naturally interested in their faith and enjoy discussing history and their religious topics. I have been blessed to pass this information on to the children and families of our parish. — Margaret Watkins teaches Grades 1-2.

I truly love passing on my faith to a younger generation. I am particularly excited when a student brings a friend to one of our classes and gets involved. I think this speaks volumes about the character of young people. It brings me great joy just to know the kids have a place to talk about God and investigate a little. — Maureen Tagliafierro teaches Grades 9-10 and has been a catechist for over 20 years.

I believe that being a catechist means being a positive example of our faith and a spiritual guide for the youth of our parish. Being a catechist brings me joy because I get to share my love of this life I have been given with the youth of our parish. I get to welcome them into our faith community and help guide them to find the joy of living the word while strengthening my own understanding of the Scriptures and my faith. — Theresa Crombach, catechist.

Catechetical leader: Leona Stone.
Over the past year, my vocation as a catechist has deepened my fellowship with Jesus. I was offered the opportunity to teach an online eighth-grade class in my parish’s faith formation program. My sixth-grade class was being homeschooled because of the pandemic. I wanted to continue teaching in the program, but was hesitant to work with older students. Jesus was with me and my class every step of the way! Turned out that my students were the same students that I taught in sixth grade … super polite, smart and dedicated! Although technology was challenging, I never had a worry about navigating Zoom and Google Meet. Whatever was needed to make the year a success, the Lord sent someone to help! The bottom line is, we should have no worries! During good times and even extended difficult times, Jesus is with us always! Dear Lord, help us to recognize You and feel Your presence in others! Amen. — Mary Anne Flanders teaches Grades 6-8 and has been a catechist for 30 years. (Read our exclusive interview with Mary Anne Flanders about her time as a catechist, available here.)

Catechetical leader: Abigail Herlihy.
For over the past 15 years, I have been blessed to teach your children our beliefs and this alone has deepened my faith! In my teaching I have learned how much Jesus loves me and I hope to convey this special love to my students. They say that time flies when you are having fun. My time as a catechist has flown by! — Carol Basilio teaches Grade 1 and has been a catechist for over 15 years.

In preparing lessons, I spend more time reading, thinking and learning about Jesus. And so I share my love of Jesus with the children. It warms my heart. — Ann Francato teaches Grades K-10 and has been a catechist for over 10 years.

I have been a catechist since 1999, when we began to put together Liturgy of the Word for Children in our parish and I have expanded that experience into my faith formation sessions. From their responses in our sessions, the children and young people share their faith in Jesus, their closeness to God, their love of their families and friends and pets. The Word of God resounds within them, and they echo it out, and that deepens my faith, bolsters my hope and brings joy to my heart. — Daniel Leary teaches Grades K-10, and has been a catechist for 22 years.

Catechetical leader: Patti Abbott.
Faith enables us to believe, hope enables us to trust. By living those two virtues we grow in Jesus’ love and learn to persevere in good times and bad. — Carol Ferone teaches Grade 2 and has been a catechist for 33 years.

In this last year of pandemic with its uncertainty and anxiety, I found that I needed to trust Jesus completely and in a way I’d never thought possible. He alone gave me both the courage and peace I needed so that I could bring Him to the children each time we met. — Chris Brown teaches Grades K-1 and has been a catechist for one year.

Beverwyck Vicariate

Catechetical leaders: Mary Ann Hospodar, Patti Staerker, Rose Ann Garry and Bridget Zigrosser. 
The Decision Point videos are instructive, not only for the students but for myself as well. Also, I wanted to provide “context” around the weekly Gospel readings which caused me to research the Gospel writer and/or the meaning within the reading. By doing so I came to appreciate the reading much more. — Bill Kolberg teaches Grade 10 and has been a catechist for three years. (Note: Kolberg was serving in the reserves at Ali al Salem base in Kuwait during the 2021 session and continued to teach his 10th-grade Confirmation prep class — such a commitment!).

This past year I taught two virtual sessions a week and I was able to develop some supplemental activities, too. In doing so, my own faith has increased! — Margaret Porciello teaches Grade 6 and has been a catechist for two years.

Reminding ninth graders of the myriad of ways Jesus shows up in their lives serves as a great reminder to ME of the myriad of ways Jesus shows up in mine. — Jean Leonard teaches Grade 9 and has been a catechist for seven years.

My friendship with Jesus has been deepened by working with our teens on service projects, particularly during this very tough year. It has reinforced, through their eyes, my relationship with God by showing me the glory of his youth. These teens exemplified strength with their leadership, their conviction, optimism, intelligence and grace — particularly during COVID. Our teens renewed my faith and renewed my joy in helping! — Cat
Alderman teaches Grades 6-10 and has been a catechist for eight years.

Being a catechist is a tangible way to “give back” rather than just receive the gift of faith. Teaching young children requires simplifying the Gospel teachings which strengthens my own relationship with Jesus by focusing on vital, core beliefs. — Gail Pietrafesa teaches Grades 1-2 and has been a catechist for eight years.

Catechetical leader: Kari Kurtz.
I learned that nothing can stop the need for faith (for adults and children). In fact, I saw parallels between what the pandemic brought and the things Jesus taught us: take time to pray, honor your mother and father, help your neighbor. We are all in this “boat” together. The children in our faith formation Zooms seemed to understand that Jesus was with us every step of the way — Lisa Petrocelli teaches Grades 5-6 and has been a catechist for 20 years.

We rely on friends in times of need. Prior to each Zoom faith formation session, I silently prayed, “Sweet Jesus, let the technology work.” — Gloria Bruschi teaches Grades 3-4 and has been a catechist for over 25 years.

Catechetical leader: Ann Smith.
Being a catechist has deepened my friendship with Jesus by leading young minds and hearts to Him. In today’s world, children more than ever need to hear the Good News of Jesus. Helping young people realize that Jesus wants a relationship with them has helped me to be more aware of God’s grace in my own life. — Kathy Ercolano teaches Grade 3 and has been a catechist for nine years.

Being a catechist motivates me into a prayerful life. In all that I do as a catechist, my connection to and appreciation of Jesus and his journey advances. This evidence of Jesus and His life deepens my awareness of His presence and friendship, and His strength in adversity. — Liz Condon teaches Grade 5 and has been a catechist for four years.

Catechetical leader: Lisanne Jensen.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus strongly reminds his disciples: “I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it. Then, Jesus took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them and blessed them.” This quote has followed me as an elementary teacher and in my career in public school districts. Now retired, I found a way to work with children. As a catechist, I am humbled to follow Jesus’ example to love all children and share God’s good news with them. Amazingly, being a catechist refreshes my soul through the eyes of children. — Noreen Santa Maria teaches Grade 5.

I taught virtual faith formation classes to preschool and kindergarteners. As a virtual catechist, I not only taught the Catholic faith to my students but also shared it with their families that were assisting the children during virtual sessions. It brought great joy to me, to be able to see the children open up more during sessions, through the support of their families. The more that the children participated, the closer I felt to my students, their families and to Jesus. Looking back on this faith formation year of 2020-21, I feel that we were all brought closer to Jesus. — Michelle Lemme teaches PreK-K.

Catechetical leader: Roberta Grieco.
Reflecting back over my time as a catechist, I realized why Jesus had such a love for children. We (My husband, Rob, and I taught together) would generally start or end class with asking the kids “Who do you want God to bless today?” The answers were simple and from the heart. To have the heart of a child, and to love fully and completely with it, is a true gift from God that children have. I learned from this experience and taught the children that praying to God should be as easy as talking to a friend. The children challenged me to work at understanding my faith more and to really include it in my daily life. Being a catechist has forever changed who I am and how I practice my faith. Has my friendship with Jesus grown from my years of being a catechist? Yes, it has! — Mary Coolidge teaches Grades K-3 and has been a catechist for 11 years.

Preparing for class has given me the opportunity to read more Scripture and to learn more about Church tradition. I believe this has strengthened me in prayer in a way where I can just talk to Jesus as if he was in the room with me. — Chris Marra teaches Grades 9-11.

Hudson Valley Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Ruth Ellen Berninger.
Prior to the pandemic, sharing my faith with young people in person allowed us conversation and reaction to feelings and insights. Of course, all that changed this past year. A completely new set of challenges arose for young people, their families and myself. But wait, Jesus’ ministry had multiple challenges. He was driven from his home synagogue, hounded by the Pharisees, had no job and relied on the generosity of supporters and was expected to throw off Rome’s oppression. Yet Jesus continued to constantly care for others, rely on God and trust God. He did this by making sure he spent quiet, one-on-one time with God. Jesus always shows the way to meet challenges. The past year brought new insight into relying on and trusting in God. — Ann Vehlies teaches upper elementary.

The past year has been challenging, yet it has helped me appreciate even more the Word of God and the gifts He has given us — especially His Son. Receiving and sharing the message of Christ helps us to heal and grow. When I see and hear students’ positive reactions and responses to the various discussions we have, it reinforces Jesus’ presence and the love He has for us all. One can’t help but feel a closer connection to Jesus as a result — and for that I am most grateful. — Mark Wilson teaches young people/confirmation prep.

Leatherstocking Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Chrissy Blanck.
My ministry as a catechist has deepened my friendship with Jesus by teaching me patience and acceptance that God’s plan is not necessarily my plan, and His plan trumps mine! — Mary Margaret Kuhn teaches Grade 2.

The gravity of the responsibility to share God’s Truth as a catechist helps to create the humility for me to rely on the Spirit versus my own wisdom. I examine my life frequently to ensure I am living what I am teaching by asking the question: “Do I follow and believe what I am teaching?” While imperfect with many flaws and sin, I use all my sacraments to help me to strive for perfection as Paul commands and to live internally what I present externally to the young people. — Rob Bohm teaches Grades 7-8.

This past year, the third and fourth graders learned about the ways in which we share God’s love using the gifts God bestowed upon each of us. Nothing pleases God more than when we use the gifts that He has given us to share His love. If we strive to be the person described in the Beatitudes, we learn how to live every day as disciples of Jesus. — Cynthia Kukenburger teaches Grade 4.

My service as a catechist over this past year has kept me close to the heart of Jesus by allowing me to learn more and grow in my Catholic faith. It has shown me how “to be not afraid.” — Diane Grigoli teaches Grade 5.

Mohawk Valley Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Katy Ryan.
Being a catechist over the past year was a welcomed experience as I got to actually hold classes with my students even though masks and social distancing were necessary. Through teaching my students, I get to relive and refresh my teachings I received when I was younger. I know Jesus was with me and answered my prayers for guidance and reassurance that I am connecting and passing on the teachings of Jesus to my students. This has greatly deepened my friendship with Jesus. He continues to be with me every step of the way in being a catechist. — Carol Lott teaches Grades 3-5 and 10 and has been a catechist for five years.

Catechetical leader: Diane Madej.
Just as in any friendship, sharing deepens the relationship. As a catechist who works at echoing God’s word, thinking through each lesson and deciding how to share that message is to go deeper. In turn, my relationship is deepened not only with Jesus but with the church and community. A wise teacher once said to me, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It is a reminder to me that friendship is deepened by word and action — certainly, echoing God’s word can be no less! — MaryAnn Dignazio Louison teaches Grades 3-4 and has been a catechist for 20 years.

Taconic Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Vici Armsby.
Being a catechist is a wonderful vocation because I am always learning something new and continually studying my faith. Despite the obstacles and unknowns, it was a fruitful time, as it was a year that brought me closer to Jesus. I realized to an even greater extent how blessed I am to have been raised Catholic and to be working as a catechist with young adults who wanted so much to be in full communion with the Church. Their faith, commitment and perseverance inspired me to look more deeply at my relationship with Jesus — Sara Detmer teaches Grade 6 and RCIA and has been a catechist for five years.

Being a catechist has deepened my friendship with Jesus and strengthened my faith because I see Jesus in the faces of all of my students. I walk away from our faith formation sessions with a sense of peace because these young children remind me of all the good there is in our world. — Christine Rotondi teaches Grades 2-4 and has been a catechist for 10 years.

Jesus had his disciples, his close friends, but he always took time to share and speak to all. This vocation strengthens my friendship with Jesus in that I am called upon to look beyond myself, to notice others, to step out of my comfort zone, to follow Jesus’ example of loving, caring and sharing our faith. I pray the children watch us and grow their own friendship and faith with Jesus. — Linda Kane teaches Grades 1-6 and has been a catechist for 27 years.

Catechetical leader: Margaret Stockwell.
As a catechist I continually felt our Lord’s presence in my words, lessons and planned activities with the children of our parish. I regularly felt His guidance and presence as I shared His teachings and encouraged their thinking and understanding. I feel accepted and comfortable, like a good friend! — Chrissy Harkavy has been a catechist for six years.

Twin Rivers Vicariate
Catechetical leader: Debbie Ploetz.
I enjoy sharing with my class how Jesus has personally touched my life and, in turn, I love listening to how he has touched the lives of the youth. Having these wonderful and inspiring stories helps me feel a strong connection with Jesus because I realize he is not just a friend I can rely on, but a friend that many people can rely on. My faith, love and friendship continue to grow every day for Him. — Shannon DiCarlo teaches middle school and has been a catechist for 10 years.

It’s helped me realize that sharing my faith, struggles and all, can help me and others see that God is real. He is relational. He is so much more than a history lesson. Nurturing that can be life changing. — Kathy Barrans teaches high school and has been a catechist for over 10 years.

Catechetical leaders: Donna
Simone and Terri Bouchard.
Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” As I read this quote, it truly represented how I felt in my 35 years as a science teacher in public education and flowed into my years as a catechist. I believe a friendship is a two-way street. My friendship with God has always been strong and he has always been there for me. Therefore, my ability to teach children about God is an example of how I strengthen my friendship with God and, at the same time, teach children to develop their lifelong friendship with God. — Michele
Freeman teaches elementary and has been a catechist for 17 years.

Parents had such a trying year last school year. I was more than happy to assist them by teaching little ones about our Lord and our wonderful church. I know that God is there helping me every step of the way. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of being a catechist to sit in on a few classes (we may put you to work!). The kids are fabulous and eager to learn. — Janet Ising teaches Grade 1 and has been a catechist for 28 years.

Catechetical leaders: Donna
Simone and Terri Bouchard.
Meeting with students this past year, although virtual, still allowed meaningful conversation and eye-opening moments. We encouraged one another to take a few minutes each day to talk to Jesus and really open up about our lives to Him; with our struggles and our successes and asking for the strength we need in that moment to continue to be the best version of ourselves. — Maria Frisone teaches several grades and has been a catechist for 10 years.