donnabenik

Caption: JoAnna Benton and Donna Benik, fourth grade EFF catechists, are two of many EFF stewards, who bring a message of faith to children.

What does it mean to be a catechist? Teaching young children about faith and helping them establish a personal relationship with God means stepping into a role as a personal representative of Jesus – quite a meaningful task! Each week, over 100 volunteers come together at Saint Elizabeth Parish to make the Elementary Faith Formation (EFF) program happen for parish children in kindergarten through sixth grade, along with the Encounter program, designed for seventh and eighth graders. Forty-five catechists serve as teachers, while many others contribute as assistants, teen aides, babysitters, office helpers, and car line attendants. Those who decide to become catechists have answered a call to share their faith with parish children and foster the next generation of Catholics.

“So many amazing people are involved in this program,” noted Director of Religious Education, Beth Riordan. “Each week I am inspired by the creativity, preparation and patience of our catechists. Motivated by a desire to bring children into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church, they are people of prayer and service.”

Many catechists attend a summer training session and are encouraged to pursue the Archdiocesan catechetical certification. Each weekly lesson is based on a book series, with content provided by the publisher. Yet at the heart of every class is the personal expression of faith and inspiration brought to the students by their dedicated teachers. “It is evident that they spend time praying over their lessons and how to present them to the children,” added Beth.

“They research so many creative ways to engage their students in both the presentation of the weekly Gospel and their specific lesson. It is an honor to work with these devoted and faith-filled volunteers.”

Fourth grade EFF teacher Donna Benik explained, “My experience as a volunteer in the EFF program began 10 years ago when my family moved into the area and my son was starting kindergarten. I initially volunteered as an aide, and soon after that, answered the call to become a catechist. With the help and support of experienced catechists and the EFF staff, the transition came naturally. I knew this was where I needed to be on Monday afternoons. Praying together and reading the Gospel are part of our weekly routine. We also incorporate internet media, music, and movement. This year, I have invited parents and family members to participate in oursessions. Freely sharing our faith together is a great feeling!”LisaKelly

CAPTION: Lisa Kelly (center) says that being an EFF teacher is one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.

“My EFF journey began six years ago when my son was in first grade,” added Lisa Kelly, kindergarten teacher. “His teacher was so energetic and passionate, which inspired me. When she first asked if I would teach, I was dumbfounded. I didn't think I was holy enough! But I agreed to do it, and it has become one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of my life. Along with the children, I have deepened my faith, and feel much more
intimately part of our church community. I have met so many wonderful parents, children, and catechists who have taught me about my faith and myself.”

“I believe we are at our best when we support each other as part of a community,” noted Bill Kelso, a second grade EFF teacher. “After attending a retreat a few years ago, I felt empowered to use my talents to help others in our parish. I feel we have an obligation to help guide the next generation, not in place of parents, but along with them. Everyone in our EFF program is welcoming, supportive, and helpful. We are blessed in our parish and it shows in our children, who are smart, polite, and attentive. This is the real strength of our community. As a catechist, I have received far more than I have given. Guiding students through their First Holy Communion, and watching them hug their parents after their First Reconciliation, are memories that will last forever.”

“Being a catechist has certainly brought me joy and enriched my life,” added Donna. “I have met so many amazing parents and children. I have watched them receive sacraments for the first time and witnessed their faith grow and develop. My own relationship with God has become more vibrant and
meaningful. I have made friends that share the values and faith that I hold so dear. And although I am the one teaching, I am also the
one who has learned from the children of our parish. I have learned to keep my heart open and to have more of that childhood
enthusiasm at life's endless possibilities for joy.”

Many catechists here at Saint Elizabeth agree, the experience has deepened their faith and allowed them to receive so much more than they are able to give. To learn how to volunteer with the EFF program, contact Beth Riordan at briordan@stelizabethparish.org.

                                                                                                                                                                                           - Julie Krumenacker