Religious program coordinators help mold children
BY FRAN PERRITANO
At one time or another on our earthly journey, there come one or two defining moments when the course of one’s life is irrevocably altered.
Terri Panuccio and Anne Carlone-Elacqua are no exceptions.
Terri and Anne coordinate St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament’s Faith Formation programs – Terri for children kindergarten through sixth grade, and Anne for grades 7 through 10.
For Terri, her life-altering moment came after a bitter separation from a friend.
“I was hurt by a friend and we weren’t speaking,” she said. “Of course, when we handle situations our way, human nature tells us to get even and seek vengeance against those who hurt you. We all know this is not the right way to handle situations, as that only causes more problems.
“One day, I was driving in my car thinking of ways to get even when I heard a very audible voice say, ‘Terri, don’t worry, I will take care of it.’ I knew it was God, and at that moment I gave all my anger, hurt and frustration to Him. Shortly thereafter, my friend and I were able to talk and resolve our differences.”
For Anne, it was a close encounter to death and a health crisis that solidified her course.
“I had a horrific car accident at age 16,” she said. “They didn’t know if I was going to make it through the night. But God was there for me. He guided the doctors and helped me through my long recovery. It was my strong faith that got me through that very difficult time.”
Her faith was emboldened again last summer.
“I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Because my surgeon was not completely satisfied with some of my test results, he pushed for additional testing,” Anne said. “They found an issue with my spleen. This past August, I had the colon cancer removed and my spleen. Upon further testing of my spleen, it was found that it had a lymphoma. … Through the prayers of so many people, I was blessed that I did not have to have any further treatments.
“God truly was there for me and has always been. He is my rock.”
Terri and Anne have channeled their life experiences into guiding the religious education for the children of the parish.
Faith Formation for the younger students has a focus for each grade level. Grade 1 is The Trinity, Grade 2 is Jesus, Grade 3 is The Church, Grade 4 is Morality, Grade 5 is The Sacraments and Grade 6 is The Hebrew Scriptures.
When the students move on to seventh grade and beyond, the lessons get more in depth.
“The Syracuse diocese has what is called ‘learned outcomes’ that are the concepts, topics, etc., that they want our students to learn about,” Anne said. “They are built on each year going deeper in meaning at the grade level that the student would be. There are many for each grade.”
Terri and Anne realize they only have the students for a short period of time every week. They know that the first – and best – teachers come from the home, and that sometimes is a problem when the adults don’t follow through on their responsibilities.
“I understand that parents and children are busy nowadays, and church is not on the top of everyone’s priorities, but when a child is baptized into the Catholic faith, the parents are given the responsibility of training their children in the practice of our Catholic faith,” Terri said. “They are the first and best teachers of our faith. The church is there to help the parents along on the journey.
“As with building a good house, you need a solid foundation, otherwise the house will cave in. If parents don’t start educating their children early on about God and their faith, and building that firm foundation in Christ, eventually everything in life will start to fall apart. … Unless the faith is lived and reinforced in the home, the children will have a difficult time living and growing in their faith.”
Anne said that some parents have told her when they bring their children to church, the kids don’t pay attention or hate coming.
“My response is, ‘Where are you sitting?’ To which they usually respond, “In the back,’” she said. “I tell them move to the front and give them a play-by-play commentary when necessary. You will find that if they can see what is happening, they will pay attention and want to know what is going on.
“If you are 3 to 4 feet tall and only see tall backs in front of you, it is hard to pay attention. When parents would take my advice, they would tell me, ‘You were right, what a difference it made.’”
Terri and Anne are dedicated to doing what they can for the children. One added bonus for both women is they get something in return for giving their time and talent.
“Being able to share my faith and love of God with so many incredible people is a true blessing for me,” Terri said. “I have met many wonderful families and children throughout the years. Knowing I played just a small role in so many people’s faith lives is so rewarding and fulfilling. Hopefully, the seeds of faith that I have help to plant will bear much fruit for both the children and parents.”
Anne said her life has been enriched as well.
“It has helped me to grow in my faith,” she said. “Working with the older students, I have come to get a better understanding of how they think and what is important to them as young adults. We have a great group of kids here and whenever I ask for help, they are there. Their positive attitude is contagious.”
ABOUT THE COORDINATORS
Occupation: Substitute teacher in the Utica School District.
Parish position: Coordinator of Faith Formation for grades K-6.
Education: Associate degree in liberal arts and sciences/elementary education from Mohawk Valley Community College. Enrolled in the Formation for Ministry program through the Syracuse Diocese. (Will be commissioned a lay minister for catechetical leader in May by Bishop Robert Cunningham.)
Family: Husband, Nick (20 years), daughters Nicole (18) and Maria (16), son Vinny (14).
Things you like to do in your spare time: Photography, shopping, spending time with my family.
Favorite quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Occupation: Organist and substitute teacher (former owner/director of Magic Penny Nursery School).
Parish position: Coordinator of Faith Formation for grades 7 through 10. Also has been coordinating RCIA and some adult faith formation.
Education: Master’s degree in from Touro College; bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in psychology in the educational setting from Empire State College; associate degrees from Mohawk Valley Community College; Thomas R. Proctor High School.
Family: Husband, David, sons David Jr. and Nicholas.
Things you like to do in your spare time: Read, bake and cook.
Favorite quote: “There is always a reason for everything that happens. Sometimes we may not understand it at the moment, but one day we will figure it out and hopefully learn from it.”