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 | Lauren Nelson, a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc, Lisle

St. Joan of Arc’s Teachers Also Teach Religious Education

A favorite hymn of mine, The Servant Song, includes the line, “I will hold my hand out to you; speak the peace you long to hear.”

As the assistant director of religious education at St. Joan of Arc Parish, in Lisle, I have spent a good portion of the last year pondering how I can bring peace to the families in our program when there exists such turmoil in the world?

Last summer, our new director of religious education, Barb Caruso, who is also the campus minister at our school, created an experiment to address this question. We tasked our dynamic schoolteachers with teaching our religious education students. Our schoolteachers were already teaching religion to the schoolchildren; it seemed to be the ideal solution to entrust them with the responsibility of teaching all of our children.

My daughters attend St. Joan of Arc School and the main attraction for us has always been the quality of teachers. I consider them a true gift in the lives of all of our St. Joan of Arc families. I watched the teachers rejoice when our students returned to school last August, and my heart melted when I heard my first grader proclaim, “I’M HOME!” as she ran toward her teacher.

I know that these teachers are a blessing, and I wanted to share them with the families in our religious education program.

Karyn Barenbrugge, my youngest daughter’s much beloved first-grade teacher, shares Jesus’s friendship with the first graders registered in our religious education (RE) program. Colleen Clark, who is a popular second grade teacher, not only prepares our school children for first reconciliation and first holy communion, but also our RE children. 

Our lucky third graders get to experience Carol Flynn and her dynamic approach to faith formation. All of our fourth graders are blessed with Kim Graves and her knowledge of Catholic tradition. This innovative arrangement even extends to our junior high students in 5th-8th grades, whose lessons are prepared by Barb Caruso.

While COVID-19 may have put a stop to our in-person RE classes this year, the tireless efforts of our schoolteachers have helped ensure that all our children get a wonderful faith foundation at St. Joan of Arc.

This new program, which included switching curriculums so that all students could learn from the same textbook, has proven to be immensely popular. A third-grade parent commented, “The curriculum, combined with placing St. Joan of Arc teachers as the instructors, really makes me feel like our parish has the best interests of all of its children at heart, not just enrolled students of the school.”

Providing families with a good faith foundation is our primary goal in RE. We are constantly working behind the scenes to find new and innovative ways of teaching. A second-grade parent recently remarked, “I felt engaged with my son during the lessons. Mrs. Clark makes it fun for him and educational for us parents too! I feel like I am learning more about the Mass than I ever did before as a cradle Catholic.”

It makes me proud when a parent calls and says, “Where have you been hiding Mrs. Flynn? This year my daughter is learning more than she ever has before,” or when a mother whose son has special needs remarks that Mrs. Caruso really seems to understand how to reach her son because the lessons are taught at his own pace in a way that makes sense for him.

I recently overheard my daughter, who is a St. Joan of Arc student, and her friend, an RE fourth grader in Mrs. Graves’ class, talking about a lesson on the sacraments. This new program is bringing together the children of our parish in a way that did not exist before and creating a community at St. Joan of Arc that is based on unity and inclusion.

Yes, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in our world, but the Servant Song, from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible, reminds us to, “…hold the Christ-light for you, in the nighttime of your fear.” The schoolteachers are doing a fabulous job of holding the Christ-light for all our parish’s children, so they know the love of Jesus.