In Your Midst

A Photo Essay

November 2003

If it’s October, it must be time for the Religious Education program at St. James to gear up for the school year.

And indeed, on Sunday, October 19, the corridors of Cathedral Place and O’Dea High School across the street were bustling with parents and their children—from preschool through high school—ready to start another year of classes. St. James’ Religious Education program has grown dramatically over the last few years as the Cathedral has attracted more and more families with children. This year, a total of 150 students are enrolled in the program, with 22 of these preparing to receive sacraments over the course of the year.

As the Jubilate! choir rehearsed across the hall, a classroom with nine wiggly four-year olds began by arranging themselves in a circle. They tried hard to sit still, as teachers Jennifer Bender Griffin and Rachel Bungay asked them what they can do at home, at church, and at preschool to help out. “I can sing!” one little girl announced proudly. “I can help clean,” said another. Then it was off to the table to color—bright pictures of Noah and his ark—and a lot more wiggling and giggling as they settled in to their work.

Meanwhile, the kindergarteners (clearly an older and more sophisticated group than the preschoolers next door!) began their lesson by linking arms in a circle to hear a story about families and fair play. Their teachers prompted them to listen and then respond to simple questions, helping them relate a story about two families of cousins to their own lives.

Upstairs, an energetic group of 25-plus second and third graders sat around a big table and talked about the sacraments they’ll receive over the next year: First Reconciliation and First Communion. It’s early in the year still, and none of them was quite sure what they were in for except that it was going to be pretty exciting!  (article continues below)

In the pre-school class, Jennifer Bender Griffin asks the children what they do to help out at home and at school.  "Be good" is the most popular answer!

A brightly colored rug, a cross, and a candle provide a focal point for prayer in each classroom.

Two friends color pictures of Bible stories.

Kindergartners make a circle to pray together with their teachers (Ana Puloka is on the far right.

Next door, their parents talked in small groups about what their children’s sacraments would mean for their families. Like their children, the parents weren’t quite sure yet what the year would hold. On this Sunday, they were getting to know each other better, sharing their hopes for the year, and comparing anecdotes about their own experiences with First Reconciliation and First Communion.
Down the hall, Robert Laing’s fourth graders were hard at work making paper feet cutouts for the upcoming Time and Talent Fair. Their feet, they said, will guide people around the room… and maybe get them to help out more. (Although several kids remarked that they weren’t exactly sure how THEIR feet could do all that!)

Across the street, in a classroom at O’Dea, a group of fifth and sixth graders sat in neat rows and talked about their skills: soccer, cooking, helping others… and then talked about the rewards they get from using their skills. By this age, the students are more thoughtful and articulate, and clearly relished the opportunity to respond to their teachers’ questions and to each other’s comments.

Down the hall, the classes grew increasingly sophisticated as the age of the students increased: an intrepid group of four senior high school boys were in the middle of a detailed Scripture analysis with teacher Colleen Harris.

At around 11:45, the quite hum of the classrooms erupted into noisy bustle as parents swarmed in to collect their children and hurry off to the noon Mass. Youth choir members rushed down the hall to get ready. Altar servers scurried off to the sacristy. And finally, as the rush subsided, the teachers repacked their boxes of supplies and hastened across the courtyard themselves for the children’s Liturgy of the Word.
“It’s going to be a busy year,” says Paula Evitts, who directs the Religious Education program. “And it’s so valuable for us as a parish to have this many families and children so involved and committed.”

It’s also essential for us, the parish, to understand more fully our responsibility in supporting these parents and witnessing our faith. This is why at St. James we celebrate Baptism in the context of the Sunday Mass, in the midst of the entire faith community. It helps us bring life and concreteness to the reality of what it means to be a Catholic Christian in our world today.

Phil Hainley and Jennifer Acevedo lead the Sacramental Preparation class.  "What Sacraments are we preparing for?"  Everyone knows.  "First Reconciliation and First Communion!"

In the next room, the parents meet.  Breaking into small groups, they talk about their own experience of First Reconciliation.

The lively fifth and sixth grade class talks about Mother Teresa.  "Did she get paid?" teacher Marie Stuppard asks.

After a lively discussion, children agree that Mother Teresa did get paid by knowing the good she was doing for others.  This leads to a discussion of the ways they themselves try to do good.  They talk about their own gifts and how they can use them in service of the community.

Mary Bourguignon is a volunteer in the Children's Religious Education program.
Photos in this article by Maria Laughlin.

Link to other articles in the November Issue:

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