My Mom was my first catechism teacher. I’m not just talking about what she taught me at home – she was the real deal for about 15 of us for an hour every Thursday afternoon throughout the school year. Back when I was in her class (and here I date myself, because when this all began the Mass was still in Latin), we had something called “Release Time,” during which public school children were allowed to leave school early in order to go “off campus” for religious instruction.

She had gotten involved in all of this innocently enough. Father had asked for volunteers to walk us youngsters from the school to the church, which was about a tenth of a mile up the road. This involved rounding up stragglers, counting lots of heads, and discouraging snowballs in the winter.

It wasn’t long before that same pastor “hinted” that the sisters, who came to us from another town, could really use some help in the classroom. The next thing we all knew, my Mom was teaching first-grade catechism, and she was given the choir loft as her classroom.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, 15 fidgety six-year-olds seated in choir-loft pews, overlooking the rest of the church. If it occurred to you that every couple of minutes someone – maybe even a couple of someones – just had to pop off their seats to look down on the other classes, then you have an accurate picture of what it was like. I do remember that finally, Mom got all of us to stand in a row, peering over the edge, at which point she announced, “That was your last look. Now, sit down and let’s get on with our lesson.”

What we were learning that day was the Guardian Angel Prayer. We were all pretty wide-eyed when she told us that every single one of us had our own angel, right there next to us, and that our angel was with us all the time. She was so convincing that we all scrambled, moving over enough to give our angels a place to sit beside us. I think her own angel was smiling a bit and nodding in approval.

This was also at a time before Xerox machines and images you could download off the Internet, so my Mom didn’t have access to either of those conveniences. What she did have was artistic talent and loads of carbon paper. Each week, she would painstakingly draw pictures related to the upcoming lesson for us to color and take home, tracing her work on stacks and stacks of paper and carbon. I felt especially privileged because, when everything was copied, I got to color the original at home, long before my classmates saw it.

In retrospect, I think what I learned the most in my first-grade catechism class was that faith was something worth taking a lot of time and trouble to pass on.  To my Mom – thanks.

—Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.