Teachers of Faith, Teachers of Light

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Dianne McGrath and Merryl Foster each received awards in honour of their 55 years of ministry teaching the faith to Catholic children in public schools in Sydney. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Catechist Sunday

Catechists honoured for their inspiring work

At the annual archdiocesan Mass, Sydney’s longest serving catechists have been honoured for a lifetime’s service to the Church.

If only people knew the privilege and blessing of teaching children about God’s love, more might respond to the call to be a catechist, says Merryl Foster.

The parishioner at Ryde-Gladesville parish received an award for her 55 years of ministry, along with 46 other long-serving catechists who were honoured at the annual archdiocesan Catechists’ Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral last weekend, celebrated by Bishop Danny Meagher.

Dianne McGrath of Padstow parish also received an award for her 55 years as a catechist, while Elizabeth Roth and Denise Barbara were each recognised for their 50 years of ministry.

Bishop Danny Meagher praised catechists’ “grace and energy”. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Mrs Foster told The Catholic Weekly she gives full credit to the Holy Spirit that with only five years of formal education herself, she was able to teach the faith to children at all, much less for 55 years without a break.

“The parish was appealing for catechists and I had always worked in the parish, but I thought well I couldn’t possibly do that so I’m in the clear this time,” she laughed. “But they kept asking and no one was coming forward, so I said I would do it for a few weeks until they found somebody.

“I was given six weeks of training and went into a classroom of about 30 children, Year 1 to Year 6 together all on my own and that was it. It was a bit daunting. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness!’” Mrs Foster began at Balmain Public School where she taught for more than 30 years and said she will never forget how supportive it was of her coming in each week to teach the Catholic children about God.

Helping the shepherds: long-serving catechists (from left): Elizabeth Roth, Denise Barbara, Merryl Foster and Dianne McGrath with Bishop Daniel Meagher and Sydney clergy after having been recognised for their service on 3 April at St Mary’s Cathedral. PHOTOS: GIOVANNI PORTELLI

“When you have the same children for a number of years, you come to love them, they were like my own,” she said.

Now a great-grandmother of 17 children, she says she “just loved being a catechist”.
“The joy you get, even from teaching a little child how to bless themselves, it’s just an absolute pleasure,” she said.

“I’ve been so very blessed in my life, but it’s the Holy Spirit that has given me the help to teach the children. I would love to keep teaching but am physically unable to now.

“I keep very involved as the coordinator of the parish’s catechists and I pray for all them. I don’t want to get out of it and anyway, they won’t let me retire!

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful calling. If people only knew.”

Mrs Foster only retired about 18 months ago and praised the people at the CCD for a “wonderful and immense job” providing training and resources. Mrs McGrath was already a professional teacher when the Sisters of St Joseph asked her for help before their 1979 withdrawal from Padstow parish.

“I’d just come back from a holiday with my husband and young baby and was told I was to attend a meeting the following week and would be taking over classes at the start of the next year,” she said. “There were three others who were asked, one of them also had a baby around the same age.”

Focused on teaching classes in Kindergarten to Year 2 and also running the sacramental program for some years, Mrs McGrath said a highlight was seeing children gradually develop in prayer and going to Mass.

director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Doug Mawhinney. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Having retired from the classroom, she also considers herself still very involved by praying for the catechists.

“I’m prayer partner to one and I just pray for more catechists, we have lost quite a number in recent years to cancer,” she said. One of her favourite memories was fairly recently, in a lesson about prayer for kindergarteners.

One of the questions for that class in the syllabus is ‘Who taught you to pray?’. “And one little one wrote down, ‘You did, Miss’. And I thought, God bless him!” Another stand out memory was of a Year 6 boy, known for challenging behaviour, who noticeably settled better in the school due to Mrs McGrath’s influence.

She was also full of praise for the support offered to catechists by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which she said gets better each year.

Bishop Meagher thanked the catechists who go out with “grace and energy to bring Christ’s peace and goodness to our children”. CCD director Doug Mawhinney also thanked all of the archdiocese’s volunteers, saying “through what you do children are able to respond to the hope and the joy Jesus brings”.

Are you called? Speak to your parish priest or catechist coordinator, call CCD Sydney on (02) 9307 8330 or email [email protected]

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Catechists needed: to apply, pray now