Each week, Peter Picciano drives 50 miles round trip to teach his ninth grade faith formation class at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Windsor. Over the many years he’s taught, there have been Sunday mornings when he arrived at class just off an overnight shift at the Children’s Home in Binghamton, perhaps a little tired but still ready to teach his students about connecting their faith with their everyday lives. Even a heart attack in January didn’t keep him from returning to his classroom as soon as he could. And yet Picciano says he doesn’t feel he’s done “anything special” to warrant recognition for his catechetical ministry.
Religious Education Associate Nancy West, however, thinks differently. When she read about Catechist Magazine Honors, a new opportunity to recognize the work of dedicated catechists in the national magazine, she knew just who she wanted to nominate.
“Pete is just a remarkable person,” she said. Her nomination letter cited his creativity and knowledge in the classroom, his kind and caring personality and his dedication to the community and the church not just as a catechist but also as a lector. Picciano is also a member of the Knights of Columbus and a Scout leader.
The nomination committee agreed with West and selected Picciano, along with 23 others in catechetical ministry around the country, as a member of the inaugural class of Catechist Magazine Honorees. The honorees are featured in the October issue of the magazine.
“We wanted to create a way to honor the volunteer catechists and directors of religious education and the people in the parishes who really give a lot of their time,” said Cullen W. Schippe, publisher of Catechist. “The committee looked for compelling stories that spoke to other volunteers. The 24 honorees [selected] represent scores of others who were nominated, people who do what they do for the love of God and the Church.”
Picciano had no idea he’d been nominated by West. When she told him he’d been selected, he was surprised. “All I’ve been doing is teaching,” he said.
Picciano first taught faith formation during his senior year in high school as part of his religion class. He returned to it years later, having resettled in the Southern Tier following jobs out west with the Forest Service and the Boy Scouts. “I decided to help the church out,” Picciano said. “I had the time. I thought I might as well give it a shot. It turned out they needed someone [to teach] right in the middle of the year.” Other teachers had quit because of the class’ behavior, Picciano said, but he connected with them and the rest of the year went well.
When he began working for Broome-Tioga BOCES and moved to Endicott, he continued to commute to Our Lady of Lourdes. “I liked teaching [the students], I liked the parish. I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere,’” he recalled.
Picciano said his lessons focus on preparing his students for Confirmation but also offer “real life lessons.” He and his classes have talked about the death of a former student and the death of another student’s father. “You never know when something might happen, and you’re going to need your faith when it does,” Picciano said.
Indeed, prayer and faith helped Picciano through a particularly hard period earlier this year. In January, his brother passed away after battling multiple sclerosis. The night of the burial, Picciano suffered a heart attack. He returned to his class as soon as he could.
“I wanted the kids to know that you can’t walk away. You’ve got to heal yourself. And faith is part of your healing,” he said.