By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Paul’s Church offers a new program for religious education classes
WHITESBORO –– During the busy school year, shuffling children to and from religious education classes can be a strain on the entire family.
Father Abraham Esper, pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Whitesboro, described the scene in previous years at his parish. “I would see kids coming to class with bags of fast food in their hand, their soccer uniforms in the other,” recalled Father Esper. “It was difficult for some families to fit the classes into their busy schedules.”
To help meet the needs of today’s active families, Father Esper decided to try something different this year for the children in St. Paul’s second through sixth grade religious education classes. Rather than the traditional classes, typically held during the school week or on early Saturday mornings, this “new model” for religious education was scheduled for two weeks during summer, from Aug. 4-8 and 11-15, from 9:30 a.m.to 12:30 p.m. The 90 children currently attending the summer religion classes will not have to attend classes during the school year because the summer program meets the hour requirements according to the diocesan guidelines for religious instruction. It is a win-win situation for both parents and children, said Father Esper. “This makes it so much easier for parents who are running their children here and there during the school year and the children enjoy it because they aren’t coming from one classroom right into another,” said Father Esper.
Karen Crocilli, parent and part of the all-volunteer teaching staff who assist the program under the direction of Father Esper, agrees. “You want your children to grow in their Catholic faith but taking them to class after school, between sports and other activities, can get to be stressful,” said Crocilli. “For me, this is a blessing.” In addition to two weeks of classes during the summer, students will supplement their faith formation throughout the school year. “This is not a bible study group,” pointed out Catherine Cornue, regional director of religious education. “Religious education is a continuing process and it will be carried into the year through different activities.”
Come fall, kindergarten through sixth graders will be invited to the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses for “child church.” Here, the children will discuss the readings as they relate to youth while the other parishioners are at Mass. Following the readings, they return to Mass and join the congregation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. “We want them to keep their faith alive,” pointed out Father Esper. The new summer classes were not the only aspect of the religious education program that got a makeover; the parish also decided to approach the at times monotonous classes in a different way. Rather than have children learn about faith from a textbook, the program is interactive and designed for them to have fun while learning. “We want this to be an interactive, hands-on program,” Father Esper said. Each day begins with a prayer service. Then, students break into their respective classes for lessons, which include readings and plenty of fun.
The third grade class, led by teacher Wendy Karas, spent time making cards for shut-ins. Earlier in the week, the children blew bubbles into the air, symbolizing how sins are forgiven and “blown away” during the sacrament of reconciliation. It has worked; the enthusiasim for exploring their faith seems contagious. When asked to describe their classes, the fifth graders, with huge grins on their faces, used phrases such as “It’s cool,” “It’s educational,” and “It’s awesome.” “Yes, there is fun, but there is also learning as well,” said Karas. During their daily “faith inventory” quiz, led by Father Esper, students from all five classes eagerly answered questions about the day’s learning. Karas is impressed with the students’ knowledge. “We are really slamming the kids with the Holy Spirit and they are doing a great job taking it in. They are so strong in their knowledge of faith at such a young age,” Karas said. “We want them to be proud of this faith and bring it into the community.”
The innovative program at St. Paul’s Church has been well-received. The teaching staff believes that this is a tribute to the dedication Father Esper has to the children of St. Paul’s Church. “The success of the program is a credit to Father Abe,” Crocilli said. “To him, it is all about the kids. He is always saying that they are the generation that will carry our faith into the future.” It is likely that with busier schedules and growing time constraints, more parishes will have to adapt the traditional religious education program to fit the lifestyles of its parishioners. St. Paul’s is a leader and should be commended for their attention to families, said Cornue.
For those children who were unable to attend the summer religion classes, St. Paul’s will still offer the traditional classes beginning in the fall. ““It’s all about making things work for the families,” said Father Esper.