Renewing the Heart: Catechists Gather at Aquinas Colllege

February 14, 2018

Catechists from Chattanooga parishes on retreat February 9-10 at the Aquinas College Center for Evangelization and Catechesis.

Twenty catechists from parishes and schools throughout Middle Tennessee gathered this Friday and Saturday for some time apart with the Lord. The retreat, “Becoming a Contemplative Catechist” held at Siena Hall was led by the Aquinas College Center for Evangelization and Catechesis.

“You are here because the Lord called you here. You are hungry. Don’t forget to ask big, because the Lord is going to bless you in a big way,” said Sister Mary Michael Fox, O.P. as she welcomed the participants Friday night. Sister Mary Michael, a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia, nurtures the spiritual life of catechists of all ages through her work at the Aquinas College Center for Evangelization and Catechesis.

“When we’re in the classroom, we’re not just teaching doctrine. Doctrine reveals God’s Face. Part of the work of the Center is to help catechists discover how we can allow God’s Face to be revealed through our work of catechesis.” The Aquinas College Center for Evangelization and Catechesis serves the specific purpose of forming catechists and catechetical leaders to possess an understanding of the nature of their work as well as the necessary skills for being successful. The Center is a direct response to the Church’s request that centers of formation be established to provide “basic training and ongoing formation of catechists” as well as to attend to their “personal and spiritual needs” (General Directory for Catechesis 213, 233).

Longing to be Fed

”I came to just be away…be away with the Lord,” shared Joan Roueche, parishioner of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Chattanooga. “A key insight I received was to come before the Lord in poverty and faith.The retreat has been the perfect time to just be.” Roueche, a middle school science teacher, also leads a Bible study on the Gospel of John. “We’ve been studying [the Gospel of] John line by line for 13 years! It has taken us that long.” Roueche explained the great gift it is to be able to be spiritually fed on retreat, having the time to go deeper in faith without the distractions of every day. Everyone who shares the faith must take time to be with the One shared, to grow in knowledge and love of Jesus so as to share Him with others. 

“Jesus is the one teaching in your classroom. He teaches through you. Let Him do it. Let Him live deeply in you,” Sister Mary Michael shared during a small group session of lectio divina.

Joy of the Gospel 

Friday night, catechists heard an opening lecture by the Center’s Jason Gale on the spirituality of the catechist. Echoing Pope John Paul II, Gale encouraged catechists to seek the primary source of their joy: “Our witness…would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face” (Novo Millennio Ineunte 16). The group gathered to pray Compline at the College’s St. Jude Chapel and then exchanged joys of teaching the faith over a Friday evening social. 

“These people just love being Catholic!” said Gale, Director of the Aquinas College Catechist Formation Program. “The Friday evening social has been a time to break down any barriers, establish an

openness that helps the discussion that follows,” said Gale, co-host of this weekend’s retreat. Gale’s work at the Center focuses on training Catholic adults to teach the faith. The Catechist Formation Program currently trains catechists for the dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville. Additional dioceses access the program online for the ongoing formation of catechists. 

Retreat sessions included lectures on the spirituality of the catechist, prayer for those who share their contemplation of God’s Word with others, and how to lead others to an encounter with Jesus through catechesis. Lectures were based on key passages of Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Henry Newman.

On Saturday afternoon participants prayed with Scripture in small groups. Participants had a short walk to Corpus Christi Adoration Chapel on the Aquinas College campus, Nashville’s chapel dedicated to daily Eucharistic Adoration. A holy hour of Eucharistic Adoration with opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was followed by Holy Mass at St. Jude Chapel, celebrated by Rev. Kevin McGoldrick. 

Becoming a Better Catechist

Aquinas College has long been a center of support for Catholics seeking to deepen their faith. Whether attending day or evening classes toward degrees in Education and the Arts and Sciences, or training for the work of catechesis, adult Catholics today can find a variety of ways to be strengthened in relationship with Jesus and formed for evangelization.

Dorothy Grimes, one of the retreat participants, is an alumna of Aquinas College, now working at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Clarksville. Speaking of her years at Aquinas as a young adult student, Grimes reflected, “Those were the best years of my life. I still remember the things Sister Mary Bernard taught me about T.S. Eliot, even today. Those years turned my life around.” Now working with middle school students, Grimes is delighted to return to Aquinas College for further formation as a catechist. “I loved the retreat, really every part of it. It’s good to be back on campus.” 

Critical Need to Train People for Mission

The need for ongoing formation for catechists is greater than ever, and is a topic of focus for the bishops. The changing landscape of popular culture has prompted attention from Church leaders, calling for a reimagining of the approach to catechesis. “It is a combat for the hearts of our young people and young adults and those entrusted to our care in catechesis,” said Bishop Frank Caggiano in a talk to catechists November 7. “Missionary Discipleship, Pope Francis teaches us, is all about going out and mission to those who need to mediate the presence of God one person at a time.” The Center’s Catechist Formation Program, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, and active collaboration with individual parishes and dioceses to meet their needs are responses to this changing landscape.  

Siena Hall, completed in 2016, provided the perfect setting for this weekend’s intimate gathering. The new residence hall will host numerous programs for adult faith formation in the months ahead. More information about the work of the Center for Evangelization and Catechesis and Center for Catholic Education at Aquinas College can be found at Programs for catechists and Catholic school educators are offered throughout the academic year and during the summer.

Siena Hall