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Teachers, catechists: models of mercy and joy

Teachers, catechists: models of mercy and joy Photo courtesy of the USCCB Catechetical Sunday
St. Peter Chanel, priest, teacher, missionary and martyr, lived from 1803-1841. One of his students was asked why he believed what St. Peter was teaching. The student responded, “He loves us.  He does what he teaches.  He forgives his enemies.  His teaching is good.”  Our Catholic school teachers, catechists in our religious education programs and homeschool parents are called to do the same thing for the young people entrusted to their care: to love, show mercy and joyfully teach the truth by example.

There are approximately 253 Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Burlington, some 695 people who lead our parish religious education classes and a large number of homeschool parents, all striving to share the love and joy of Christ with their students.  At the Sept. 18 Jubilee of Mercy event, we will honor and pray for all of them. 

What are teachers of the faith called to do? Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel” states “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; He gave his life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”   Quite simply, they are called to share and model Jesus Christ with the young people entrusted to their care.

Carmen Tarbox, of St. Paul’s School in Barton shares how much she loves teaching the children of God’s love: “How I introduce God is very important, and the best way I have experienced this task is to associate God with the word ‘Love….’ By the end of the year, the most satisfying feeling I have is…hearing the students say sincerely, ‘God loves all of me!’”


One of the goals of the Year of Mercy is to inspire people of faith to be “Merciful Like the Father.”  There are countless opportunities for teachers to share God’s mercy.  Eileen Kendall, catechist at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield mentions, “I think as a teacher you are always required to show mercy….It’s part of the job description.”   For Mary Dove Herrera, a homeschooling mother in St. Albans at Holy Angels Parish, it is helpful to think about how God is merciful to her when she works with her children. “I try to think about how God teaches me in daily life in comparison to how I respond to my own children… when my children are tired, frustrated and confused. Do I act the same when God is trying to teach me through my life experiences?” 

Inspiring saints of today

Sharing the rich stories of the lives of the saints can help model the Gospel to students. As Tarbox notes, “The students and I read about the saints and discuss how we can be modern-day saints even as young children.”  Celebrating the saints is a way of teaching and living the faith in the Herrera home.  Her girls love St. Therese, so on her feast day, she buys roses at Costco and the children give out roses to random people. “The kids can choose to whom they gave the roses.  We have given roses to police officers, construction workers and even fast-food employees.” 

Prayer and Growth

The national theme for Catechetical Sunday (Sept. 18) is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.”  Catechists are both sustained by prayer and models of prayer. When the apostles watched our Lord pray, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Lk 11:1).  No doubt the apostles had been taught their prayers from an early age, but something in the way our Lord prayed, perhaps an intimacy with God the Father that they hadn’t seen previously, attracted them to His prayer.  Jesus responded by teaching them the “Our Father.”  In my years as a DRE, I was always encouraged when I saw my catechists spending time in prayer in the church either before or after their class.  And, like the students they teach, a teacher’s faith is always “evolving…constantly growing” Kendall said.  A note of thanks to all our teachers, catechists and homeschool parents for their tremendous efforts to pass on the faith and a prayer that they continue to grow in and live the faith they pass on!

Article written by Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington.
Vermont Catholic Magazine © 2016 Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington