COVER STORY: Catechists help lay religious foundation

Volunteers are the heart and soul of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Without the dozens of people who share their time and talents, our parish would not be as vibrant as it is.

One very important group of volunteers is the Faith Formation catechists, who — along with parents — teach our children about their faith and what it means.

This year’s catechists are:

  • Kindergarten: Graceann Guzski.
  • First grade: Michelle Babbie.
  • Second grade: Lisa Hyatt, Sarah Trunfio, Marylisa Vella.
  • Third grade: Michelle Commisso.
  • Fourth grade: Josette and Rick Bilodeau.
  • Fifth grade: Leigh D’Agostino.
  • Sixth grade: Patricia Rizzo and son Joseph Rizzo.
  • First Reconciliation / First Communion: Terri Panuccio.
  • The team of junior-senior high teachers are: Christine Gray, Jennifer Tran, Jackie Campese and Anne Elacqua.

“More Good News” wanted to find out more about those who play a big role in our children’s lives. We asked them three questions: Why did you become a catechist? Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children? What is one thing the children have taught you?

Here are the responses from the elementary-education teachers.

Graceann Guzski

Why did you become a catechist?

My grandmother was very religious and a member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel. Fifteen years ago she passed away, and at that time I was approached to become a catechist. This is the way I honor my grandmother, and feel it was her calling to me to share our religion.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

Faith formation is important to me and the children because it plants the seed for the foundation of their religion. The children are so willing to learn and I am honored to have the opportunity to develop this foundation.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have taught me to be creative and to always plan for a fun lesson. The children remind me each week of their innocence and I look forward to the fun we have. 

Michelle Babbie

Why did you decide to become a catechist?

In lots of different places, and from lots of different people, kids are shown so many examples of how NOT to be a good person. I chose to teach faith formation so that I could help children know that they are loved, know that they have a purpose and see that God isn’t something distant and remote, but a close, constant presence.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

It’s an opportunity for all of us, both me as well as the children, to share God’s love in real and meaningful ways. 

What is one thing the children have taught you?

That even when it seems the things you say and the things you do aren’t sticking with your students, somehow, some way our time in class makes an impact.

Marylisa Vella

Why did you become a catechist?

I became a catechist to develop and nurture the youth of my parish.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

It is important to educate them in their Catholic faith to ensure a bright future for the parish community.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

Through teaching the children I had been shown the joy of our faith. The children are outward expressions of our faith and love displayed. They have shown me the presence of God’s love.

Lisa Hyatt

Why did you become a catechist?

My involvement in the parish began a few years ago as a helper in the (First) Communion class. I thought it was a great way to be a part of the community and parish. When my children started attending faith formation classes, I knew I needed to take a more active role in their religious education. I felt as though I needed to practice what I preached. What better way to set an example than by showing all children, including my own, the joys of spreading God’s word.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

My own faith began to grow and deepen as I became more involved in teaching in the Faith Formation program. Although I was an active member of the church growing up, I am still always learning about my relationship with God. This is why faith formation is so important. We are helping children have a greater understanding of God and what it means to have him and his love in our lives. 

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have definitely taught me to continue to be curious and to not be afraid to ask questions. The children in class are so brave when they ask questions. They are not afraid to “ask the wrong things,” make mistakes or look foolish in front of their peers. They simply want to know. What a great way to walk through life.

Sarah Trunfio

Why did you become a catechist?

Really, there are two reasons that I decided to become a catechist — one being that I missed teaching, especially about God. I use to be an elementary teacher, then I was a special education teacher and now I am an administrator. Teaching on Sunday still allows me to be in the classroom and teach young minds. Another reason I decided to become a catechist is that I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. My first full-time teaching job was the Catholic elementary school that I attended. My mother worked hard and made sacrifices to pay the tuition so that my brothers and I could attend Catholic schools. It truly has been a beautiful foundation that I am so grateful for and want to share my love for God by educating kids on Sundays. 

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

Faith formation is valuable to me because it allows me to help young children of God understand their value and to value each other. If you build a community with children at a young age, they will feel like church is their home — their safe place — a place where they belong and are valued. It is also valuable to me because it has helped provide a solid foundation for my girls. 

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have taught me that the best way to see faith is through the eyes of a child.

Michelle Commisso

Why did you become a catechist?

I decided to become a catechist quite accidentally. I happened to be filling out the registration form for my daughter (who was in kindergarten at the time). On the back of the registration form was a checkbox that asked if you were interested in volunteering (not realizing that it meant volunteering to teach). I checked “yes.”

Shortly after, Sister Linda called and asked if I would be willing to be a catechist. I quickly reminded her that my background was in retail management. I was the store manager at B. Dalton Bookseller until the store closed for business. She had much more confidence than me, assuring me that I could handle the task. I agreed and was assigned to teach first grade with Terri Panuccio. I absolutely loved it! The rest is history.

From that moment I realized that I was meant to teach. I went back to school to earn my bachelor’s and then master’s degree in education and have been teaching ever since. Although my children are grown, and our oldest daughter is now a catechist, I continue to teach. I feel it is my way of giving back.

If I hadn’t checked “yes” to volunteer all those year ago, my life would have been much different. I love teaching and will be forever grateful to God for leading the way.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

Faith formation is important because my faith is so very important to me. Religious education was a part of my daily life as a child. I went to parochial schools my entire elementary and high school years, making practicing my faith easy for me. Faith formation is important because it gives children the opportunity to be an active part of their church community while learning about God. Children that are enrolled in, and continue to be a part of the program year after year, create lasting friendships and understand the importance of loving and serving others.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

Children are very intuitive and have taught me to be genuine and to be a good listener.

Rick Bilodeau

Why did you become a catechist?

Growing up, our religion was very important to my family. My mother was a Catholic school and religious education teacher. I remember seeing the joy it brought to her to teach children about faith. I felt this was a positive way to give back to our children, and hopefully they get as much out of it as I did when I was their age.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

I feel that with so much evil and hate in the world today that there is nothing more important than your faith. Hopefully, I can convince them that there is still a lot more good.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have taught me a lot. I think the most important thing is that our church will be in good hands when these children grow into adults.

Josette Bilodeau

Why did you become a catechist?

To show our daughter that religion class is important to us, too, and not just for children.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

So that I can help to show that it is important to grow with the church and also make it fun so the children want to pay attention and not get bored and discouraged.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

To be curious. There is always more to learn.

Leigh D’Agostino

Why did you become a catechist?

When I was in grade 3, I was given a Bible at the end of our school year and was told by my teacher to share the stories of Jesus. This has always stuck with me, and my current classes always ask me why my Bible has duct tape on it. I became a catechist at Blessed Sacrament for the communion program for many years. When my family started attending Mass at Mount Carmel, the parish was looking for a teacher for the Grade 5 level program, which is based on the seven sacraments. With my previous experience, I was ready to explore another grade level.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

Many children come to our program for a foundation in our faith. Their parents do not feel that they have the knowledge to teach, which is not true. By attending Mass each week, we all are members of our faith formation program. Even as adults we can all continue to learn about our faith and strengthen our community.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have taught me that we should not separate ourselves between young and old in our faith. I once challenged the children to do something that they have not done. After going around the room, the children asked me what I was going to do to challenge myself. The children always give me a new, fresh attitude about the teachings of our church which keeps me alive in my faith.

Patricia Rizzo and Joseph Rizzo

Why did you become a catechist?

We became catechists because we believe that it is important for children to know about their faith and to know God loves them.

Why do you think faith formation is important to you and the children?

It is important that the children know that they are not alone in their faith and to make friends with others who share the same religious beliefs.

What is one thing the children have taught you?

The children have taught us that there are no barriers between them and God and they are eager to learn about their faith.