by The staff of Catechist
Editor’s Note: Catechist magazine is proud to recognize the outstanding work of exceptional catechists. In this section we highlight the lives and inspirational stories of real catechists who are “in the field” enlivening the faith in the hearts of the next generation of Catholics. To nominate a dedicated catechist from your parish, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erica Pipi: Catechist at the Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wood Ridge, N.J. in the Archdiocese of Newark
Your Work: Erica’s ministry as a catechist has taken her where the children of this parish have needed her most. Many parents who are catechists teach the classes their children are in, but Erica has let the Holy Spirit guide her ministry. She has moved from fourth grade to seventh, to eighth and then back to seventh grade. She has helped out on the administrative end and has sought out continuing education as a catechist on her own time. Erica finds time for her ministry as a catechist, for her daughter’s ministry as an altar server and together, this mother/daughter team still find time to squeeze in cheerleading and gymnastics. We live in a world that often makes many excuses when it comes to active parish involvement, but Erica is living proof that you can be in ministry and still lead a normal, active sports life. Erica is an example and an inspiration.
Nominated by: Donna Ryan of Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady
What grade do you teach? I currently teach seventh grade. The enrollment in our program changes year to year so I will end up teaching where I am most needed. I am scheduled to teach eighth grade next year.
What’s the best spiritual book you’ve read? Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. I was surprised at how much the book moved me. Reading about heaven from the pure standpoint of a 4-year-old child gave me new perspective and made me rethink common fears about dying and going to heaven.
What other spiritual practices are helpful to you? Evening prayer. It is very important for me to take a few minutes to give thanks for the blessings God has granted that day, no matter how small—whether it was keeping my family safe during a road trip or the beautiful weather. It helps me clear my head and make peace with the challenges I faced that day.
Who is your favorite saint? I do not pray to a particular favorite saint, however, I have always been drawn to the courage of Saint Mary Magdalene. She was brave enough to stand by Jesus during his final hours of suffering on the cross while most Apostles fled.
Who has been the biggest influence on your faith? My Aunt Lillie was a mentor to me in many ways. Unfortunately, she is no longer with us, and I named my daughter after her. At a young age, I enjoyed discussing Sunday’s Gospel and homilies with her over the phone. It has been 20 years since her passing and I find myself still thinking about her after Mass on Sundays.
What’s the most challenging topic you’ve taught and how did you teach it? I found it challenging to get younger children to understand the true meaning of charity. Most have had their parents buy items for them to donate to toy drives at Christmas or our church’s food pantry, but until it affects them, it is hard to get the point across. With the older children, I ask them to donate a favorite food item to the food pantry emphasizing that there are children in their schools whose families rely on the food pantry.
What teaching tip can you share? Children spend enough time in school so arrange the room you are teaching in so that it is not a typical classroom setting. Gather around a long table or arrange desks in a circle. To engage them more, make them feel that their lessons are discussions rather than have their noses stuck in a book. Engage them to share their opinions and experiences. For the younger ones, break up the lessons with a craft that relates to that day’s teaching.
Share an Effective Teaching Moment: While teaching a seventh grade class, we were discussing the years BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini). It was during this discussion that I noticed a puzzled look on one of the boy’s faces. He raised his hand and I called on him. “Wait,” he said, “I thought AD stood for ‘After Dinosaurs’?” The class was completely silent and then all at once starting laughing good-naturedly. He joined in with the laughing and shook his head. I told him that I was thrilled that, if he remembers nothing from all his years of religious education, at least he’ll now always remember that AD stands for the Year of the Lord.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, April 2016.
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