Mary Anne Flanders has been a catechist at St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls for almost 30 years. (Emily Benson photo)
Mary Anne Flanders has been a catechist at St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls for almost 30 years. (Emily Benson photo)
Mary Anne Flanders has been a catechist at St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls for almost 30 years. An alumnus of the church’s school and a Glens Falls native, Flanders knows the ins and outs of her parish as well as her faith formation classroom. In the latest installment of Catholic Voices, staff writer Emily Benson sits down with Flanders to talk about her time as a catechist, her work as a teacher in the community and the impacts of both on herself and her faith. 

TE: Tell me about your upbringing? 
MF:
My family moved to Glens Falls in the late 1950s. My father is from the Mohawk Valley, near Fort Plain, and with his job we came to Glens Falls. My parents were delighted to see there was a Catholic school, St. Mary’s. I was going into kindergarten and my older brother was going into high school and my younger sister was starting school, so we all went to school here. Deep roots.

TE: Would you say your ­family had a strong Catholic faith? 
MF:
We’re a family that came to church every Sunday and the holidays were important to us. Going to a Catholic school, that just gave us the details for our Catholic faith that our parents just reinforced at home. I don’t think my parents were overtly religious but I do remember my father, during Lent especially, he would have his rosary with him and he would even say it on the way to work. Or he would stop in church and do the Stations of the Cross. 

TE: That’s a sweet gesture, do you think that made an impact on your faith? 
MF:
I think the seeds were planted. I was very active in my Catholic faith in high school and college, going to (The College of Saint Rose). Once I started my career, I did start my first teaching job in the Albany Diocese. And then I moved away and taught in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. I think once I retired, I had more time to re-acquaint myself with the church. I always went to Mass on Sunday but I got involved in faith formation, and I got involved with small groups, like Bible study and groups who meet and talk about Scripture and faith and different experiences you can have with the faith.

TE: Tell me about your ­education?
MF
: I went to The College of Saint Rose and studied teaching. And my very first job I was hired on Labor Day! I had gone through college and I didn’t have a job. And I don’t think it’s any different now; teaching jobs are hard to find. But back in the mid-’70s, they were very hard to find. But St. Joseph’s School in Green Island was my very first teaching position. It was half-day as a kindergarten teacher. Talk about God watching over you: I said yes, but I had no transportation and I was living in Schenectady. Looking back, it’s like what was I thinking? But it all worked out. The person who told me about the job was my roommate at St. Rose and her husband taught at St. Joseph’s. So I would take the bus to the Mohawk Mall in Schenectady, then get a bus to downtown Albany, he would pick me up and I rode with him to school. 

TE: Where else did you teach?
MF
: I was at St. Joseph’s for two years — and it was a great place to start — then my husband’s job relocated to northern New Jersey and I taught at a Catholic school there, Corpus Christi in Hasbrouck Heights (from 1980-85). It was five or six miles from the George Washington Bridge and I looked at the Empire State Building every day. Little Glens Falls girl hit the big time! It was very exciting. And then I came back up here. My marriage ended and nobody wants that to happen. I left my job and the friends I had at the time and I was starting from scratch. And again, God was looking over me. I did not have (a job) and I had moved back with my parents. Right from the beginning, I put my name on the substitute teaching list, and on the very first day of school I was called to sub at Lake George Elementary School. One thing led to another and I joined the staff full-time and I was there for almost 30 years. I was very lucky to be there. It was team-teaching, multi-age, open classrooms, at your own pace; very progressive compared to other schools. I was very lucky. I’m telling you, talk about God in your life. 

TE: When did you get involved in faith ­formation? 
MF:
When I moved back to the area in the mid-’80s, that’s when I got involved in faith formation which took different forms over the years. Sometimes it was meeting with students after school on a Wednesday afternoon, sometimes it was on a Sunday morning before they went to Mass or after Mass. (St. Mary’s) had a family faith program that I’ve also been involved with, when in the evening, kids come with their families and we read together and do a short prayer together and talk about upcoming feast days, holy days or saint’s days. The director of the program meets with adults, we have groups that meet with the children, and then we all get together at the end and have light refreshments. Families have little packets that are provided for them that the director of the program puts together. We only meet twice a month for that. 

TE: What made you reach out about faith ­formation? 
MF:
When I was in high school I think my mom had taught a high school class of faith formation and I knew it was something she had done. And from the bulletin, there are always messages and I knew teaching was something I knew something about, so I thought maybe I could do that. I met a lot of wonderful people and had great faith formation leaders. 

TE: What was it like ­teaching during COVID?
MF:
Since I do mostly elementary kids, they did faith formation with their parents at home and the faith formation director provided the materials for them. But the older students do their classes online, and since I wasn’t teaching a class in person, they had a need for an eighth-grade teacher online and ... seventh, eighth and ninth grade is out of my comfort zone, and online technology is not my strong suit, but I’m telling you it was the best thing ever. It ended up being that I already had most of the (students) when they were in sixth grade! I didn’t have to worry about the technology because they could help. And three of the most faithful students were these three boys. They were always there, and in October, we were doing the rosary and I forgot to mention bringing a rosary to class. So I said we’re only going to do a decade of the rosary, so see if you can find one and this boy, he rolled his chair back and reached to the doorknob on his closet and grabbed a rosary! It was one that a parish woman had made for us in sixth grade and he still had it on hand. Things like that warm your heart and make you feel like you made a difference or that someone is connecting with them somehow. 

TE: What was it like to retire?
MF
: As much as I love teaching, I always knew I wanted to teach for 30 years, then you get your full benefits. It’ll be eight years ago next month (that I retired) … I just think God has been watching over me all the time. And I love teaching, it was a blast, but when I retired, I never subbed. Since I retired, I’ve enjoyed every single day of retirement. There are so many opportunities.

TE: What are you involved in?
MF:
Besides faith formation, I do a lot of volunteer work. I’ve always been active in the local reading council; it’s an arm of the New York State Reading Association. We do programs for children, we’ll bring in authors during the after-school program. This past year during the pandemic, we did professional development. We do community programs and partner with the library to do Dr. Seuss birthday parties; we do “Books for Babies” for the Snuggery, which is the maternity section of Glens Falls Hospital. And I’m involved in a business and professional women’s group in Lake George; it’s a service organization where we help women and families that need extra support with home heating or gas cards or cards to the grocery store.

TE: What do you think the impact a catechist has on students?
MF:
I think students today are more aware. They’re taking what they’re learning about God and in faith formation class, and I think they do more with applying it to helping others. I just think they’re more in tune to using the information they have in class and using that to go out and help others and basically that’s the whole point: to get out of yourself and help others. And by doing that, they’re like living models of evangelization. 

TE: How has being a ­catechist impacted you? 
MF
: I can learn from their example too; it’s like a big cycle. I see them getting excited over all the things even though they’re so young, (the projects) are big things. They have to raise the money, they have to get the materials, they have to put them together. It motivates me and makes me think I should be able to do so much more. Most projects (are done) when they leave me and get into the youth ministry program at the parish. They’re all things the teenagers are doing. They collect winter coats in winter, and we have a good pantry here at St. Mary’s, so we’re always collecting (items). 

TE: Do you have a favorite lesson to teach to ­students? 
MF: I always liked the holidays and the season of Advent and Lent to do activities because they’re so relevant to the celebrations that are part of the liturgies. But I especially like Bible history and the history of our faith ancestors with Abraham, Moses and King David, Joseph and his brothers. And it correlates with what they’re learning in social studies in school. They’re learning about Egypt and they’ll say we heard about Moses in social studies class, and now they’re seeing the faith part of it. 

TE: Have students ever thanked you?
MF: I do get kids (saying that) when they’re older. The kids from the older group will say, “Hi” and smile. Just to be remembered and recognized is good for me. Teenagers are shy, so that’s why them saying “Hi” is enough for me. Just them doing that is good. And this past year, (over Zoom) just the fact that they came every week and were such good participants, to me that’s rewarding.