Every Wednesday night for 40 years Norma Robinson has prepared a gem of a scripture lesson for her Catholic Year 2 students at Canley Heights Public School.
The Cabramatta parishioner says she learns as much from them as they do from her.
“They’re very bright children, so beautiful and innocent. It’s just been a real joy and you’d be surprised how much you learn from them,” she said.
Back when the 83-year-old was a busy working mum of four she gave her first lesson at the invitation of her parish’s then-catechist coordinator Sr Jean Montgomery.
“I went with her and she said, ‘What did you think?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, it was really good, and then next week I had the class on my own and after that she said ‘It’s all yours.”
“I went ‘What?’ And I’ve been there ever since.”
Norma was one of four catechists who received a Cardinal Gilroy commemorative plaque for her 40 years teaching scripture to Catholic students in state schools at the annual Archdiocesan Catechist Mass on 19 November.
Also honoured for four decades of service at St Mary’s Cathedral were Kogarah parishioner Rose Said, Church Hill parishioner Lance Brooks and Lurnea parishioner Maureen Wright.
The principal celebrant and Episcopal Vicar for Education, Bishop Daniel Meagher, also presented a papal blessing or award to catechists who had given 20, 25 or 30 years of service.
“It was really special. Tears welled up in my eyes a few times,” Norma said.
Fellow catechist Mary Pankiw used to co-ordinate the program at Cabramatta and is more than happy to sing Norma’s praises.
“She’s loved at the school and with her experience as a mother and grandmother she’s able to engage the children on their level, and really bring the face of God to them,” she said.
“She’s always immaculately dressed when she goes to teach Scripture, so they have that respect for her and the message she’s bringing to them.
“But her main contribution is that she doesn’t just teach the faith, she really lives it in her day-to-day life in the way she interacts with everyone.”
In his homily, Bishop Meagher shared his story of being asked when he was a university student by his parish priest to teach catechism classes at Sydney Boys High school.
“We were all asked, and we had that moment of, ‘Do I say yes, or do I say no?’ And thanks be to God each one of us had the generosity to say yes.”
Reports of mental health problems increasing among young people should confirm catechists in the value of their work, he added.
“With our knowledge of the scriptures and our awareness of the spirit of God we can witness to the fact that God loves us, God exists, God is the meaning and purpose and the foundation,” he said.
“There is nothing to be afraid about, nothing to be anxious about and if we can witness to that to the children, we can be of so much value.”
Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Doug Mawhinney thanked the catechists for their support of each other so that children “respond to the hope and joy that Jesus brings.”
For anyone wondering if they could be a catechist, Norma said the best thing to do is just to give it a go.
“It’s only half an hour a week and it’s beautiful,” she said.
“Sometimes the class doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to but you walk out thinking, ‘I did my best’.
“And that’s beautiful as well.”